The latest dispatch from our senior director of food policy advocacy Katherine Miller explores how potential cuts to food stamps affect the whole food system, and how chefs and diners can fight back and take a stand to help preserve the program.
For those of us at the James Beard Foundation, food is our life and livelihood. Whether it’s curating delicious dinners at the historic James Beard House or organizing Impact and advocacy events around the country, we spend all our time thinking about how to ensure that everyone has access to high-quality food choices.
This isn't easy. Food choices can be complicated, even controversial. There is also a lot of unintended judgment when it comes to those choices, especially for Americans on limited budgets. For many families, it simply isn't as easy (or affordable) to just pick the "healthier" or "better" option at their local store.
We see judgment and stigma introduced in policy debates all the time. This is especially true when we talk about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
SNAP helps 44 million working families, children, and seniors around the country to access food, including fresh fruit and vegetables. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the average food stamp benefit is $252 per month. Current proposals before Congress could cause the monthly amount to fall by 31 percent, to an average of $173 a month.
Critics of the program often make claims and cite studies to reinforce stereotypes that SNAP recipients are lazy, commit fraud, and try to stay out of work. These myths are simply that: myths.
This is a program meant to assist people truly in need: read Tracie McMillian's personal essay in the New York Times to learn more about the assumptions and misunderstood statistics around those that get a helping hand from SNAP programs.
In addition to providing energy and nutrition to millions, SNAP benefits also support farmers and retailers. Because of the way our food system works, the cuts to individual benefits means that less money will be spent at farmers’ markets and even stores like Walmart or Aldi's. One group, AlixPartners, found that retailers could lose up to $70.7 billion in sales over a ten-year period.
This means that in addition to making it harder to feed families, we could lose jobs in local communities, leading to less money flowing back to farmers and ranchers. We are all connected through the food system: a cut to SNAP is a cut to businesses (small and large) and to the bottom line of farmers and food producers everywhere.
Members of Congress will be in their home states and districts for most of August. It is likely they will host town halls and meet-and-greets to discuss budgets, taxes, foreign policy, and more. Chefs around the country will be asking their representatives to oppose cuts to SNAP, showing up at town halls and, when Congress returns in the fall, participating in advocacy days.
Your voices are needed in these conversations. It is important for the food movement to help the public to see how interconnected all these issues are. It can't just be about SNAP; it must also be about farmers. The fight to protect the tools that help our neediest citizens must include a broader coalition.
As Mark Bittman recently wrote,
“This is all interrelated. You can’t address nutrition issues without addressing agriculture, because as long as there’s monoculture, there will be junk food. And you can’t fix agriculture without addressing immigration and labor. You can’t fix immigration and labor inequality without empowering women and so-called minorities, or without rationalizing both energy and agriculture.”
It's a lot to take on. We know that. But why not start by joining us in standing up for SNAP? By doing so, you’re standing up for a better food system for all.
Katherine Miller is JBF’s senior director of food policy advocacy. Find her on Twitter.