Thursday, November 3, 2011

KFC, Taco Bell wants food stamps to be used to buy fast food


Fitness Examiner

Yum Brands, corporate owner of KFC, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver's and Taco Bell is lobbying at the federal level to allow foods stamps to be accepted at its fast food restaurants.
Yum Brands claim that the majority of food stamps beneficiaries do not have access to prepared meals, insofar as indicating that a majority are homeless, lacking transportation much less a kitchen, and their next meal may very well be one prepared at a local gas station (see “Fast-Food Giant Lobbies For Food Stamp Acceptance.”)
However, if nearly 40 million Americans use food stamps (according to The New York Times), is Yum Brands making an obtuse implication that nearly 40 million Americans are homeless and without transportation?

According to new research, “forty-two percent of low-income women in the United States are obese, and the rate of obesity is even higher among women who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- formerly the food stamp program” said Diane M. Gibson, associate professor at Baruch College.

The program is called “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance” meaning it is meant to enhance or complete (definition of “supplemental”) food purchases necessary for health and growth (definition of “nutrition”). Fast food does none of those things.
Using food stamps to buy fast food became a Facebook status update topic of debate. I asked the following, in the form of an email roundtable, what were their thoughts on food stamps being used to buy fast food:
  • Katie Roets: mother of two (currently on food stamps)
  • John Hymers, PhD: professor or philosophy at La Salle University (with a concentration in food and cuisine)
  • Gina Keatley: founder and director Nourishing NYC, a not-for-profit community food program
  • Stephanie F: artist, writer and mother (currently on food stamps)
  • Sara Lunsford: editor and mother (was on food stamps)
Food stamps is mandated by the government not to be used to purchase “prepared foods,” however Yum Brands, corporate owner of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell is lobbying at the federal level to allow foods stamps to be accepted at its fast food restaurants. Do you think this is a good idea?

Katie Roets: Absolutely not. The food stamp program was not created as a way for people to treat their families to dining out. It's there to help provide a way to purchase food in families that may otherwise not be able to. I've seen it said before and I have to agree, dining out is not a necessity. Yes, it is easier to run through the drive through than it is to take the time to plan, purchase for and prepare a meal in your own kitchen. However, the food stamp program isn't there to make your life easier on that level. It's there to make sure you can get food to continue to live.
Prof. John Hymers: Food stamps at fast food restaurants would encourage recipients to eat poorly, and in so doing, endanger their health. These cheap calories will not be so cheap once they result in any number of diet-related illnesses, which of course will then need to be treated by the health-care system. Moreover, if we see food stamps as temporary assistance, then another mistake is being made. Assistance is a leg up. If we allow food stamps at restaurants, we are - as the old saw goes - giving them a fish instead of teaching them to fish. This cycle of being served only ends up in a complete lack of mastery. Not knowing how - or wanting -  to feed themselves, people can become even more dependent on the fast food industry, which in turn will revel in seeing its role as socially responsible. We can't make anyone want to be responsible for their own health - but we can certainly discourage apathy by not financing it.
Gina Keatley: Fast food is a convenience and the intention of food stamps is to provide needed nourishment, not convenience foods. However, Yum Brands have products that are considered healthy--this is still inappropriate. To that point, Yum Brands sells products in grocery stores that already qualify; they just need to be assembled/prepared.
Stephanie F: I am not against these particular restaurants wanting to implement food stamps. It is certainly up to the individual to seek out what is best for them. Everyone has a right to choose.
Sara Lunsford: Food stamps are supposed to be temporary assistance, not a way of life. It's supposed to be a stop gap, and for emergent needs. Fast food is not an emergent need, unless you're living under a bridge and buys you a cheeseburger. It's a treat or a convenience. Dining out, regardless of fast food or "sit down" restaurant is a luxury. It's also unhealthy. As a temporary assistance, by allowing fast food purchases, we're not enabling people to work. All of the chemicals and processing in fast food adds to depression, weight gain, decreased mental acuity... things that make being a productive member of our society difficult, if not impossible.

If your family qualified for food stamps but were required to take a mandatory, free, one-day educational course on making better food choices, would you do it?

Katie Roets: My family does qualify and does receive food stamps. I would have absolutely no issue with taking a course on healthy food choices. I feel that, as a society, we have gotten lazy especially when it comes to educating people on how to live healthier lives. A program, such as the food stamp program, would be a wonderful place to start. It could include various topics such as what is a healthy food, how to feed your family healthy foods while on a budget and maybe even a cooking segment where the families get to prepare a healthy meal. However, like a lot of single parents, I would prefer to see this broken down into sessions. I have two children, one of whom is special needs, that I pick up from school every day and do homework with. My oldest requires trips to various specialists. It's not always possible for me to get away for an entire day.
Gina Keatley: I would, but I have a love of food already. If families were required to take this class would it be an assembly line or something that the clients can really gain knowledge from?
Stephanie F: I would certainly do it as I am always seeking knowledge on ways that I can eat more healthy.
Sara Lunsford: Sure. My family actually still qualifies for food stamps, but we don't utilize them because we know there are other people in more emergent need than we are.

Do you think the government should prohibit “able-bodied” citizens, i.e.: someone typically considered able to work, and not disabled, from receiving food stamps?

Katie Roets: No. Have you seen the economy in Michigan or in other places in this country? We have more people than we have jobs. I know people who have been trying desperately to find a job for two years. They're in the system, not by choice, but because they need to feed their families. I am in the system, not by choice, but due to circumstance. I am "able-bodied." I am college educated. I am also a single mom of two boys. I don't want them to grow up believing that it's ok to use the system to survive. It's not. The system is there to help. As I told a panelist the other day, food stamps are a life help not a lifestyle. Right now, my family needs a life help. It won't be this way forever.
Gina Keatley: No. I feel that there are circumstances where people genuinely need assistance and I'm proud to live in a country where that service is available.
Stephanie F: No, because although someone may be able bodied they may not be well off financially to afford a meal. In these days and times especially it is awfully hard with unemployment being so high.
Sara Lunsford: No. I think every instance needs to be considered on a case by case basis. Circumstances are often beyond a person's control. I do think that the system needs to be revamped because there are too many loopholes and abuses of the system while people in real need go without.
If you were on food stamps, would you be concerned with your weight?
Katie Roets: I am totally concerned with my weight. As I said in my comment, I'm obese. This has nothing to do with being on food stamps, though. I was obese when I was married to a man making 70k a year. It has only been since I've been on my own that I have started taking control of my life and my health. I don't want to be obese. I don't want my children to go down that path. So far, I've lost something like 16 pounds. I have a long way to go but just because I'm "given" food stamp money doesn't mean I'm going to be lazy. I plan out our meals and our snacks. I try my best to buy the healthiest options we have available. That's not always easy. I don't have a health food store here and let's face it, buying healthier foods costs more. With food stamps, I have a guaranteed food budget each month but I still coupon. I have to stretch that money as far as it can so that my kids can have a piece of fruit after school instead of a snack cake. It's easier and cheaper to buy junk. Buying healthy foods takes preparation.
Gina Keatley: There is a connection between poverty and obesity, I would be concerned and the impoverished overweight and obese clients I work with are concerned as well.
Stephanie F: I am concerned about my weight with or without being on food stamps. I definitely need to be more in shape.
Sara Lunsford: Yes. I was concerned with my weight and my health when I was on WIC. The nutritionist I had to work with wasn't knowledgeable about food allergies and kept pushing me towards my trigger foods.

If you had the choice to use food stamps at fast food restaurants, like KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut or receive a 50 percent discount on meat and produce -- in addition to using food stamps -- at a grocery store, which would you choose?

Katie Roets: I would jump all over that discount. Meats and produce are the largest portion of my grocery bill. It gets discouraging at times when we get to the last week of the month and a bag of grapes is going to cost me $8 but last all of two days in my house. I don't want to give my kids chips and snack cakes to go alongside their lunches but sometimes that's what's left over when the extra money we might spend on grapes or apples is gone. Sometimes it's really hard knowing a box of snack cakes will last four days in this house and costs $1.99 but a bag of grapes will last two and costs $8. Something needs to change. I want to feed my kids (and myself) the healthiest options available but sometimes they're just out of reach.
Gina Keatley: 50 percent off.
Stephanie F: I would use both to be honest. Speaking for myself I do not eat out at fast food places on the regular, but it is okay to indulge maybe one time, not making it a habit of course. I usually buy groceries and make an effort to have balance in what I eat.
Sara Lunsford: Discount and groceries all day long.

Do you think using food stamps to make restaurant food readily available to those unable, i.e: aged, disabled, homeless, is morally sound or will it lead to an abuse of the system?

Katie Roets: I'm not sure if you are aware but to receive food stamps, you have to have a permanent address. You can't say I live in a box on the corner of 5th and Main and receive them. So, in reality, the truly homeless aren't receiving food stamps. I would much prefer a program (which originally was to be included) that allowed people to buy toilet paper and laundry soap instead of fast food.
Gina Keatley: There are already abuses of the system, this can be seen every day in New York City and by adding restaurants to the list of places that accept food stamps it would 1) increase the cost of restaurant food and 2) provide less nutrients.
Stephanie F: Again, I feel that it all depends on the individual and if they decide on eating more on the healthy side than not.
Sara Lunsford: No, it's not morally sound. The purpose of food stamps is to take care of people who can't take care of themselves. By offering them unhealthy choices, we're not truly being charitable or caring for their welfare.  We're feeding corporate greed instead of people.
Let’s Move and SNAP
First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative has partnered with ACTIVE Life, a non-profit supporter of Obama’s Let’s Move, to make healthy eating and active lifestyle choices through nutrition education.

Here’s a link to the article, published on the USDA blog:
This article was originally published on Stefan Pinto's blog, Fat-to-Fit

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