The president has always been masterful at branding. No one can take an average to terrible product, dress it up and foist it on the masses like the Donald.
The latest in his line of gilded turds is the cynically named ‘Harvest Box’, a program which is apparently going to partially replace food stamps while saving the federal government $17 billion annually. The administration is spinning the idea as a ‘Blue Apron style’ meal kit service for the poor.
And doesn’t that sound like a wonderful idea? Providing America’s food insecure citizens with meal kits so that they can cook nutritious food at home, delivered right to their door. Except that the proposed Harvest Boxes would not contain fresh or nutritious food, but instead would rely on processed cereals, shelf-stable milk, and canned meat and vegetables to make up the weight. You know, harvest fresh canned goods and processed foods, the ones widely agreed to be nutritionally worse than their fresh equivalents.
For some reason, the food stamp program, called the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), has been a thorn in Republicans’ sides ever since Reagan popularized the mythos of the welfare queen. A few years ago, Fox News ran a story showing that people could use their SNAP money to buy lobster and were gaming the system. Apparently, this is the kind of abuse of social service that can be expected for an average stipend of $4.20 daily.
So, the Trump administration has put the kibosh on lobster dinners for the 16 million households who receive assistance and has taken the decision out of their hands.
One of the hallmarks of SNAP is that the money is loaded onto a card which can be used at a variety of retailers so that recipients can curate their own grocery lists and make the decision about what their family needs. This is to be mostly replaced with a box of generic canned goods – how the government is going to accommodate dietary restrictions, allergies, and religious observances is anyone’s guess.
But that is just the tip of stupidberg, because a USDA spokesperson has admitted that the projected savings do not include a delivery service. Which may come as bad news to Americans who rely on food subsidies because they are poor and cannot afford things like a car to pick up their box of processed food which is now their only alternative to starvation.
There is also the matter of how the government would select which foods are to be included in the box without encountering conflicts of interest or favoritism. Surely the nation’s large food processors would be competing for these plum contracts, and if the conventional method of bidding is how this would proceed, I shudder to think how the lowest bidder would reflect those costs in their products.
That speaks to a larger problem at work in American society, which is that cheaper foods are almost always less healthy than fresher, more costly alternatives. The mechanization of the food system has provided a panoply of processed options for a fraction of the cost of more perishable products. Can the administration really be sincere in their belief that providing a box of processed food will, “improve the nutritional value of the benefit provided” as their release claimed?
Now to the matter of hypocrisies, large and small, inherent in this proposal.
First, the average cost of a single portion of food from Blue Apron is $9.99. Contrast that to the $1.37 allocated per portion for the Harvest Box and reflect that the comparison is just the latest in misdirection and falsehood from this administration.
Remember when Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program, which aimed to provide healthier lunches to school children, was roundly criticized by Republicans for being the machinations of a fascistic nanny state depriving your child of their God-given right to type two diabetes? They claimed that big government had no roll in determining what Americans quaff. Apparently, that libertarian principle only extends to Americans who do not need food assistance. Put another way, not-poor Americans have different rights than the poor ones.
Last, this Harvest Box system reeks of rationing and food lines, the kind of assistance provided in a crisis - not the behaviour of an administration that sees no reason not to increase investment in the largest military on earth, has no qualms with the cost of a border wall, did not hesitate to cut tax revenue so that American’s could have more disposable income. This is an insult to the poor, just as the slashing of Obamacare was before it. The Trump administration declares loudly and repetitively that poor Americans just don’t matter to them.
Harry Hopkins, the architect of the New Deal relief program under FDR, made a very succinct point on this matter when he said, “It is a matter of opinion whether more damage is done to the human spirit by a lack of vitamins or complete surrender of choice."