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Paul Ryan school lunch lie showcases GOP irrationality

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This column originally ran on BalanceofFood.com. The column appears here with complete permission.

What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-march-10-2014/the-amazing-base—power-of-love

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the man who wanted to be vice president of the United States, told a story about a child who didn’t want a free school lunch. He wanted a lunch in a brown paper bag “because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.”

That story would be emotionally telling … if it were true.

Ryan heard the story from Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson at a 2013 Congressional hearing. The story Anderson told was actually based off a TV interview with the boy in the book, “An Invisible Thread.”

Anderson inserted the school lunch program, not mentioned in the book, into the anecdote. And the story in the book is an executive who offers the child money to buy lunch for the week or to make a lunch for the child. The child chooses the brown paper bag lunch because that means “somebody cares” about him.

The representative from Wisconsin later regretted “failing to verify the original source of the story.”

That was 1 of about 8 things Ryan did wrong: the most important thing was telling that story at CPAC knowing that the story was incorrect.

This implies that we are calling Rep. Ryan a liar. Yes, that is true. This speaks to an issue that we have had with some politicians, mostly conservative, on these topics.

Just because someone says something you like or falls in your comfort zone doesn’t mean it’s true. You have a responsibility to find out whether the third-hand story you are telling has a kernel of truth.

The false story that Rep. Paul Ryan told at CPAC literally has no truth to be found.

The damage has been done, of course, which is the point. If you like Ryan, you will believe the story he told, even if the “liberal press” told you otherwise. And someone in a conversation will overhear someone tell that story, as if it were true, and the story will spread.

I could write a column every day for a year filled with criticisms of the school lunch program. But not having a program would never be one of those criticisms.

Ryan spoke of a “full stomach and an empty soul,” the one part of the story that came from him. The implication is that a “free lunch” hurts a child when accepted.

“Full stomach means a full brain” is a slogan we like a lot better. That “free education” the child receives goes a lot better when the stomach is full, making things easier for the child to learn. This is especially true when that school lunch is healthy.

Yes, a number of conservatives don’t like the idea of a “free education,” but “free lunch” is an easier target.

As adults, we can argue the issues of child poverty and the impact of smart children on a society. And we can even discuss the impact of healthy food for school children.

We need two ground rules for this to work: 1) children need to be protected from being literally in the argument (e.g., Salt Lake City taking school lunches from kids), and 2) we need to work from the truth.

Rep. Ryan and any other politician who wants to take on the school lunch program: we want you to be a part of the discussion, but only if you are willing to work with the truth.

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Senate passes Farm Bill with yet more food stamps cuts

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The following column ran on BalanceofFood.com and runs here with complete permission.

“Our political system is basically evil versus spineless now,” former Clinton USDA official Joel Berg.

As someone who has worked well with words over the years, I couldn’t sum up how I felt about the savage attack on food stamps in the new Farm Bill soon to reach the desk of President Barack Obama. The quote above was as close as I could get.

The Farm Bill cuts $8 billion in food stamps in the next 10 years. In practical terms, this means an average cut of $90 per month.

Those cuts are on top of $11 billion over the next 2 years that came a few weeks ago — benefits that expired from the 2009 stimulus bill. The average cut works out to $38/month.

The $8 billion is presumably a “compromise” especially since Senate Dems opened the bidding at $4 billion in cuts. This would be the spineless portion of the negotiations.

Berg is on the frontline of this battle as the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and author of “All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America?”

The politician who has received the most criticism on the food stamps cuts is Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Sen. Stabenow points out that the new Farm Bill gets rid of direct payment subsidies. The senator also points out changes for those who want more support for local and organic foods.

“Our agriculture economy is increasingly based on rising consumer demand for healthy, locally grown foods. We’re investing more in programs to promote fruits and vegetables. We provide over four times more funding for farmers’ markets and strong support for growers who want to transition to organics. We create local food hubs to help institutions like hospitals, restaurants and schools buy more local foods.”

Specifically, the senator states that the new Farm Bill “doubles SNAP benefits for low-income families when they buy healthy produce at farmer’s markets, increases funding for food banks, and provides financing for new grocery stores in underserved areas.”

As for the food stamps cuts, Sen. Stabenow says the bill is designed to reduce fraud and misuse. The “heat and eat” programs — where states can get extra SNAP money for signing up people for home heating assistance — is the primary focus. The senator says any SNAP recipient getting more than $20/year in home heating assistance won’t get SNAP cuts, and those getting less assistance have to show a heating bill to keep their SNAP benefits at the status quo mark.

Even if the bill does address direct payments, the bill still has plenty of crop subsidies and expensive crop insurance. The louder Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) screams, the better the bill will be. Fincher is in the dubious position of taking huge payments to not grow crops while calling for radical cuts in food stamps.

If people are choosing between heating their homes and eating, then we are shortchanging those people.

And if we are saving this much money from payments to those who don’t need the money, then we should be able to afford a boost for those who still need help.

The truth likely rests somewhere in between. The sad part is that we may not learn about whether people are suffering from the food stamps cuts since those stories go underreported. And in a struggling economy, especially without a subsequent raise in the minimum wage, it looks bad to cut food assistance, no matter how that might be done.

I love reforms to make sure those who need help are getting help. But those that need help aren’t getting enough help.

President Obama will be under significant pressure to sign the bill into law. Fights over the Farm Bill have weighed down Congress, but then again, this is part of the GOP strategy. Unfortunately, for Americans who struggle in real life with putting food on the table, the politicians in Washington have other priorities.

Conservative politicians need food security solutions, not rhetoric

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The following column ran on BalanceofFood.com and runs here with complete permission.

Some conservative politicians get upset over the idea of government helping those that need help (as opposed to those who don’t need help). They get really upset with the idea of helping people get food, even children.

We have two stories, one American and one Canadian. While the Canadian politician did eventually apologize, these two stories are a microcosm of an attitude, mostly in the United States, that helping people who are struggling with getting food is one of the worst deeds for government to do.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) is trying to stand out in a field to replace Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) in the Senate. Kingston’s views on school lunches will definitely make him stand out.

Rep. Kingston really has a problem with free school lunches, as he expressed to a meeting of the Jackson County Republican Party.

“But one of the things I’ve talked to the secretary of agriculture about: Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel, to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch?”

Think that is too severe? Kingston is one step ahead of uh, something.

“Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria — and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money. But think what we would gain as a society in getting people — getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”

Even by the standards of the U.S. South, Georgia’s children come up short. More than 25% of Georgia children live below the poverty line (already set pretty low), and the state has the 6th highest child poverty rate.

“Is it the government’s job — my job to feed my neighbor’s child? I don’t think so,” Canadian federal Industry Minister James Moore.

Moore said this in a radio interview about child poverty and hunger in British Columbia, Moore’s home province.

“Obviously nobody wants kids to go to school hungry … but is that always the government’s job? To be there to serve people their breakfast? Empowering families with more power and resources so they can feed their own children is I think a good thing.”

Moore hit on a conservative theme: giving more power to families to feed their own children. Or using private charity to help those in need. In theory, that sounds lovely. It doesn’t match the reality on the streets and in the neighborhoods.

To reiterate, Moore did apologize later for this remarks.

“Great work has been done to tackle poverty and the challenges associated with poverty. And while more work is needed, I know the cause of fighting poverty is not helped by comments like those I made last week. For that, I am sorry.”

Rep. Kingston is worried about poor children thinking the world is full of “free lunches.” MP Moore is worried about people thinking the government job is to feed children who need food.

Children, regardless of social structure and status, do not think about how much food costs. They don’t get that toys can be expensive, no matter how cool they look on TV.

If the children are poor, then they already know their world are not filled with metaphorical free lunches.

The government’s job isn’t to feed people. And food assistance doesn’t do that; food assistance allows people a boost so they can afford rent and food. You can treat it as a subsidy to farmers markets and grocery stores if that will make you feel better.

MP Moore’s suggestion of empowering families to feed their own children is a rather good suggestion, but neither the United States nor Canada is doing so.

USDA school lunch portion control rules gone for good

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lunch 1

The following column ran on BalanceofFood.com and runs here with complete permission.

The whiny video over the portion size of school lunches did the trick. The USDA has permanently dropped the calorie limits from the rules.

True, the rules were temporarily relaxed after a video surfaced following a cafeteria strike and GOP politicians complained about the cuts in portion size, particularly among carbohydrates and protein.

It’s like the old joke, “The food is lousy and the portions are too small.”

“The USDA made the permanent changes we have been seeking to the School Lunch Program,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) said in a statement. “A one-size-fits-all approach to school lunch left students hungry and school districts frustrated with the additional expense, paperwork and nutritional research necessary to meet federal requirements.”

The changes, established in 2012, also dealt with limits on fat and sodium and increasing fruit and vegetable servings. Those changes didn’t inspire videos, so presumably they’ll stay.

Previous coverage:

School lunch reform happens quicker when conservatives whine

850 calories argument makes for good TV, but falls short on honesty

Mukwonago students strike because their lunches are ‘only’ 850 calories

The changes limited meals for high school students to 850 calories, a reasonable amount in a normal 2,000 calorie day. If the people complaining were those who don’t get enough to eat at home, that response would be completely reasonable against a “one-size-fits-all” attitude.

Then again, those kids aren’t running to make videos; kids with plenty of food have more energy to make videos.

The experts tell us that kids need as many as 10 times to like a new food. So the kids needed time to adjust all the way down to 850 calories. If you go back and look at how quickly these two videos made a wave, Nightline and The Daily Show had both weighed in by the end of September. And by December, the rules were temporarily relaxed.

We never did have the discussion about what the limits should be. 900 calories? 1000 calories? The easing of the rules was basically to say, “here are the rules, except when we want to break them.” To be fair, that was the standard before the USDA implemented the new rules.

A few kids complained in a school outside Milwaukee. A group of kids in Kansas with help from a teacher made a video. That was enough to take away changes that could have helped these children and millions of others. The Mukwonago, WI kids might have been sincere in expressing their concerns, but ultimately they were used as pawns to score cheap political points.

No school lunch program would ever replicate children going home to home-cooked nutritious meals at lunchtime. But in the reality universe that isn’t black and white TV, we have kids who are getting too much to eat side-by-side with kids who aren’t getting enough. And what both sides need are solutions.

photo capture: Kansas video

Farm Bill split should lead to frank food stamps discussion

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Instead of being subtle about its hatred for food stamps, the GOP is being openly hostile by splitting food assistance away from the Farm Bill. But for too long, the combination of subsidies for rich farmers and food assistance has stifled the conversation about changing our food approach.

So to match the aggressiveness of the GOP, the Liberals and progressives and Democratic politicians should fight back to not only hang on to the current food assistance but also increase its effectiveness. Dems would also benefit with pointing out some of the side issues involved in food assistance, such as raising the minimum wage. When fast food workers can’t afford to eat, when people are working more than one job and are still having trouble, the food system is broken.

For more on this, check out the latest column from our sister blog, BalanceofFood.com.

The uphill battle mayors have to fight to remove soft drinks from SNAP assistance

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The following column ran June 25 on our sister site, BalanceofFood.com. Getting rid of soft drinks from purchase with SNAP assistance should be a snap. Thanks to corporate pressure, and the politicians bought with such clout, the tasks of big city mayors will be that much tougher.

If soft drinks didn’t contain high-fructose corn syrup, would you be able to buy them with food stamps? Of course, you can also buy diet drinks on food stamps, but the primary reason for why you can buy soft drinks on food stamps is corporate pressure.

18 big city mayors are fighting to limit those receiving SNAP assistance from buying soft drinks with SNAP funds.

The mayors should have the liberals and conservatives on their side in the fight. Liberals don’t like the idea of buying soft drinks on food stamps because they’re not healthy. Conservatives don’t like the idea of buying soft drinks on food stamps because they’re cheating the government.

Yes, conservatives wouldn’t like the government to tell people what they can buy and not buy on food stamps, but the government already does this.

“It is time to test and evaluate approaches limiting SNAP’s subsidization of products, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, that are contributing to obesity,” — from the letter from the mayors to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

In the battle for a better food system, not being able to buy soft drinks with SNAP assistance is a no-brainer. So why does the chances of this happening are highly slim?

Conservatives, especially those in the House of Representatives, don’t like food stamps at all. We’ve seen this in the votes on the Farm Bill.

Some of them wouldn’t like SNAP even if it worked better or more efficient. Even though we believe heartily in food stamps, we know they can work better.

By spending more money on actual healthy food, the food assistance can work smarter to improve the lives of those who have suffered a setback. More work should be done to help people spend SNAP assistance at farmers markets in a true win-win. Well, a true win-win except for large corporations and the politicians that love them more than their constituents.

Many of these politicians in the House believe heavily in food spending to go to large farms that don’t need the subsidies, including literally their own pockets.

Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) has been the most egregious of those who are willing to subsidize rich farmers instead of people struggling to eat, though Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is more famous of those who personally get large subsidies from the farm bill and vote against SNAP assistance.

Rep. Fincher, in responding to Biblical verses from Juan Vargas (D-CA) on taking care of the least of the brothers and feeding the hungry, responded with his own Bible quote from the Book of Thessalonians, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

Fincher is quoting from a letter from Paul, not from the Gospels. The reference in the Bible is to people who gave up their jobs to wait for Christ’s Second Coming, certainly not applicable here. On top of that, the verse he quoted was exalted by socialists, including Vladimir Lenin.

We should also point out to Rep. Fincher that 80% of those on SNAP assistance are working.

The Environmental Working Group notes that Fincher has received nearly $3.5 million in federal subsidies from 1999-2012, nearly $560,000 in one year alone. Fincher reportedly got about $70,000 last year as a farm subsidy.

Fincher also supported a proposal to expand crop insurance by $9 billion over the next 10 years, a bill where he would literally personally benefit.

A couple hundred people in the House — not all of them Republican, but most of them. Let’s say half of the Senate, another 50 people. The thousands of people directly affected by the potential sales of soft drinks, though the factory worker won’t get as much out of the deal as corporate executives. Let’s be generous and say that adds up to 300,000 people. That’s 300,000 out of 300 million people who are in favor of people on SNAP assistance buying soft drinks. But they have the power.

Big city mayors are the politicians who see the impact of soft drinks in poor neighborhoods. They know what is at stake. Those in Washington? Honestly, not so much.

Conservatives cry out that Washington can’t run things as well as states can, because the states are closer to what the people want. Well, city mayors are closer than states. And the reason why Washington isn’t up to speed on this isn’t because Washington can’t do so. Lift the corporate pressure on politicians and you’ll be amazed at what Washington can do.

Cheerios opening up breakfast to all families

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The following column originally ran on June 5, 2013 on our sister blog, BalanceofFood.com.

If you think a bowl of Cheerios is too healthy, you could mix half and half with Apple Jacks and create your own cereal treat. There the two cereals would be — side by side — in perfect harmony for your mouth.

Of course, some could object that Cheerios shouldn’t be so close to Apple Jacks much less Froot Loops and should stick with other Cheerios.

Now Cheerios even comes in chocolate Cheerios so you can mix regular and chocolate together.

Cereal is universal in that they are all one in the bowl of life. People are that way, too, though you might not think that was true given the negative reaction to the multiracial family in the latest Cheerios ad.

If you eat several different kinds of cereal in the same bowl and close your eyes when you are eating it, you can’t tell whether you are eating regular Cheerios or Chocolate Cheerios or Apple Jacks or Froot Loops. I’ve done this with snack chips and you’d be surprised how much is lost when you eat them all together.

People of all different colors eat all different kinds of cereal. You might hate another human being for a number of reasons, but find that both of you like the same cereal.

People of a mixture of colors and ethnicities, as the young girl in the ad is a classic example, has literally existed long before breakfast cereal was invented. So literally from the beginning of breakfast cereal, families who look like the family in the ad have been eating breakfast cereal together.

All the ad did was bring attention to that fact. Most of us didn’t think much about the connection. It was silly of the girl to pour Cheerios on the heart of her sleeping father, but such silliness transcends everything else.

In life and Life cereal, there is room at the breakfast table for all different kinds of cereal and the people who eat them. Some people just need to scoot over and make a little more room.