New York City is putting forth an effort to stop people from buying soda with food stamps. The idea here is that only uneducated, unhealthy, poor people would want to drink soda, and that drive is so strong that the government must stop them from doing so if they are using food stamps.
This is a bullshit argument. I’ll be the first to agree that drinking soda constantly is not healthy and not something you should do. But I don’t think the government should tell people what food and drinks they can and can’t buy with food stamps (beyond alcohol, which is already prohibited). I’ve been on food stamps in the past. I bought soda when I had them, but it wasn’t a huge part of my expenditure. I spent far more money on pre-prepared frozen dinners and the like.
Even now when I buy my own food and drinks, I seldom buy all that much soda, except…
Well, except that I like my caffeine. Every day on my way into work I get a Diet Coke refill of my giant 54oz mug. I almost never actually drink more than half of it, but it’s good to have and helps keep me going. I don’t like coffee and I don’t like tea, but I do sometimes want the jolt of caffeine, and soda is the way I get it.
Now I note with great interest that no one seems to be suggesting we ban coffee or tea from being bought with food stamps. But those don’t carry the same stigma as buying soda with food stamps, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t. They aren’t necessary beverages, after all, and I think most people who drink coffee do it for the buzz.
As far as I’m concerned, if we’re going to ban things because they aren’t as healthy as they might be, let’s ban soda, coffee, any cereals where sugar is the first or second ingredient, any snacks, including chips and cookies, sugar itself and basically anything other than fruits, meats and vegetables. Well, except that there’s people who think meat is bad and unhealthy, so let’s ban that, too.
Ultimately food stamps are a very good thing and while I think there’s legitimacy to banning people from buying alcohol with it, anything else that’s food or drink should be left alone. People, even the poor, will generally make decent food choices if they know what those choices are, have access to them and know how to make them. Perhaps a better idea would be to mandate a course on smart-shopping and basic cooking before getting food stamps. That’d be a hell of a lot more productive.