Earlier this week Sen. Patty Ritchie introduced a bill in the New York state Senate that would place additional restrictions on purchases made through the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program, more commonly known as food stamps
Even though they don’t hand out “stamps” anymore.
Ritchie apparently doesn’t believe that government benefits should be used to buy what she considers “unhealthy foods.” Although New York already restricts SNAP program recipients from purchasing alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, pet food and any hot or ready-to-eat prepared foods, Ritchie wants to extend the restrictions to “unhealthy foods.”
What is she talking about?
Steak, lobster, cake and energy drinks, for starters.
“At a time when our state and nation are struggling with an obesity epidemic, it is critically important that taxpayer-funded programs help low-income consumers make wise and healthy food choices,” Ritchie said in the language accompanying the bill.
Health concerns may not really be the bottom line behind her proposal, however.
“Many of these items aren’t just unhealthy, they’re also expensive,” Ritchie said. “This legislation would not only help low-income families and individuals stretch their food budgets further and promote health and nutrition, it would also protect taxpayers from abuse of a program that’s intended to help those who have fallen on hard times.”
Once a legislator — or any type of advocate, for that matter — starts throwing around the “a-word,” they’re revealing their true intentions. This bill isn’t about heling people who’ve fallen on hard times stretch their food budgets and avoid obesity, it’s about reinforcing a belief that people receiving SNAP assistance are not only lower in the tax brackets, but also in the morality department.
And that’s despicable.
When is steak not a steak?
By all accounts, Ritchie is a small government-loving conservative legislator from a conservative county in northern New York. Which is all well and good — until she proposed a big nanny-state proposal for government to start snooping into people’s shopping carts to tell them what they can and cannot eat.
That sure doesn’t feel like the conservative approach to preserving individual liberty and freedom.
Not to mention that calling beef, just because it happens to be packaged as a whole-muscle cut, rather than ground and portioned, an “unhealthy food item” is equally wrong-headed. And inaccurate.
You want to curb obesity? Eat more beef, not less!
And by the way? Who gets to decide what’s a steak, and what’s not? Sure, a Porterhouse or a New York Strip qualify as steaks — not that such cuts are typically sitting in the self-serve case at most supermarkets, anyway. But what about flank steak? Philly Cheesesteak? Or Steak-Umms? Are those still “steaks?”
Is it really plausible to trust some grocery clerk to decide which product that may have “steak” on the label is eligible for purchase?
That’s why Ritchie’s proposed bill isn’t about health and nutrition, nor is it about helping poor people stretch their food budget.
It’s the product of a belief that if people aren’t affluent, they’re not capable of making intelligent decisions, whether it’s about health care, food choices or recreational activities. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Ritchie and her ilk not only buy into the false notion that “meat is unhealthy,” they expose their bias toward people who qualify for food assistance, in many cases working families or people who simply lost their jobs when corporate America decided it was cheaper to outsource manufacturing to lower wage countries overseas.
I would call Ritchie’s bill a blatant example of hypocrisy, but that would give it an aura of legitimacy it really doesn’t deserve.
Dan Murphy is a food industry journalist and commentator