USDA HARVEST BOXES: a pox on you and your family

It's no secret that I loathe the Orange One.  I don't loathe Republicans nor conservatism. Hell, I take a conservative stance on some issues.  I don't dislike Trump's supporters. I like America. I respect the Office of the President. My problem rests squarely with The Donald.  

I've sneered at his infantile antics since the 80s.  I detested everything he stood for - greed, the sexual objectification of women, and excess during a time when the average American was suffering due to a recession.  I growled at the way he treated the Trump Frump (hat-tip to Berke Breathed and Bloom County, there). His behavior back then disgusted me.  

His current behavior isn't anything new but is magnified ten-fold thanks to his ability to promote himself easily on Twitter.  Everything he does is asinine.

Thus we come to another asinine idea put forth by Trump and promoted by his administration: Harvest Boxes.

Harvest boxes are aimed at saving $120 billion in SNAP over the next 10 years by giving low-income families packages of shelf-stable foods selected by the government to replace their food stamp benefits. "It's like Blue Apron" for poor people!  What moron thought this up?

Initially, it wasn't Trump.  He never has original ideas.  No, this idea has been used in the past and resulted in disaster.

Since 1977, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has bought nonperishable foods to distribute on Indian reservations and nearby rural areas as part of the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. The program was designed as an alternative to SNAP for low-income Native Americans living in remote areas without easy access to grocery stores. The food boxes delivered were filled with canned, shelf-stable foods like peanut butter, meats and vegetables, powdered eggs and milk.

The effects of this kind of government commodities-based diet can be seen all around Indian country, says Jernigan, now a University of Oklahoma researcher who studies the impacts of food environments on Native American health. "There's even a name for it — it's called 'commod bod.' That's what we call it because it makes you look a certain way when you eat these foods."

The name, she says, is a joke, but the health implications of this kind of diet are anything but funny. American Indians and Alaska Natives are at least twice as likely as whites to have Type 2 diabetes, and they have 1 1/2 times the rate of obesity as non-Hispanic whites, according to the government statistics.

After the program began in the 1970s, Jernigan says, "you started to see high consumption of these packaged and shelf-stable canned foods — nothing fresh, no fresh vegetables, foods high in sodium, fat and sugar. And you see the rates of these preventable diseases skyrocket."

Those government-provided food boxes also contained something else: stigma, says Joe Van Alstine, a citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan.

I've heard various arguments in favor of the program.  Most are promoted by ignorant people. The assumption is that poor people use SNAP to buy lobster, steak, and junk food.  They should be grateful that the government is willing to give them free "healthy" food.  Poor people just bitter because they are unappreciative of the tax dollars wasted on them. They want more than they already get.

First of all, I don't know of many people that use SNAP to buy expensive foods.  Yes, I'm sure some do.  That's on them.  The majority use the benefits to buy milk, bread, inexpensive meats, and staples.  They have to stretch those items because the allotment never really covers a full month of food.  

Secondly, many of those "unappreciative people" put years of labor into it.  It's their taxes. They can't help it if they were laid off, or if industry relocated to other countries.  It's not their fault that coal mines closed and fisheries had to thin their ranks.  They can't be held accountable for being elderly and having nothing to live on after two recessions.  They would work, if they could, and many do.  They simply can't earn enough and thus they qualify for benefits.  Stop begrudging them! These are your friends, your neighbors, your family. These people could be your child's teacher, the young family of a cop new to the force, or even me.  They could be you someday.  

That brings me to this brilliant piece of work: Sonny Perdue.  Mr Perdue is the Secretary of Agriculture. You can read all about him in his bio, but here's a little snippet:

"[He] will prioritize customer service every day for American taxpayers and consumers. They will expect, and have every right to demand, that their government conduct the people’s business efficiently, effectively, and with the utmost integrity... As Americans expect a safe and secure food supply, USDA will continue to serve in the critical role of ensuring the food we put on the table to feed our families meets the strict safety standards we’ve established. Food security is a key component of national security, because hunger and peace do not long coexist."

As Secretary, he is at the top of the USDA, the agency rabidly promoting Trump's Harvest Boxes program.  

Mr Perdue, you spout conflicting messages.  Where is the integrity in pushing food onto people that they may not be able to consume due to dietary or religious issues?  How effective is a program whereupon people will discard what they can't eat?  It's wasteful, sir.  

That brings me to the boxes themselves.  What can we expect?  We've been given a little insight.  

"The idea was modeled after the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides boxes of shelf-stable food to about 600,000 low-income senior citizens. USDA sends these goods to food banks and other nonprofits who then sort it, pack it in boxes and figure out how to distribute the packages to senior citizens in need." - Trump’s ‘harvest box’ plan met with boos

Has anyone ever looked into how much food the seniors utilize from their "food gift"?  My parents have used a food bank.  They throw out half of it because they can't eat it.  Most of it is dented cans and products at the end of their shelf life.  Powdered milk, powdered eggs, high-sodium canned veg, high-gluten pasta, heavy breads, products loaded with MSG.  This diet is fine for a college kid physically capable of metabolizing it.  It won't work for geriatric people, nor for children and expecting mothers. I wouldn't be able to eat any of it. This diet would kill me.

To people like Trump, food is something taken for granted.  To the poor, food is a balancing act.  You have to stretch what you have using the healthiest things you can afford.  This means buying bulk tomatoes and stewing them, then freezing them.  It means buying milk on sale and freezing it.  It means figuring out how many eggs you might need in a week, and adjusting your menu if the carton is too expensive.  

To give you an idea of just how much SNAP provides... at the lowest income tier, a household of 3 with a net income of $1,500 must subtract $450 (30 percent of $1,500) from the maximum allotment for their household, which is $511 per month. They then subtract the $450 from the $511 maximum. The household will receive a food stamp allotment of $61 for the month.

 $61.  That's it.  That's what you use to buy your food.  For 3 people. And Trump wants to take half of that and turn it into food they can't consume.  That leaves them $30.50 for milk, eggs, meat. I wonder what he's having for dinner tonight.  I bet it costs more than $30.50 per person.

What SNAP is supposed to do: 
The Ohio Food Assistance Program (federally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP) is designed to raise nutritional levels, to expand buying power, and to safeguard the health and well being of individuals in low-income households in Ohio.

How much money will be spent on Medicaid to treat the ailments that arise from a low-nutrition, high gluten, high sugar, high salt diet?   Has anyone in the USDA pointed Trump towards a nutritionist or endocrinologist?  An orthopedic surgeon? Cardiologist? 

This food is "just like Blue Apron", according to Trump and his team.  Really?  Let's look:

Commodity Supplemental Food Program box contents: 
cans of veg, including potatoes; 1 can of spaghetti sauce; cereal (corn flakes, oat circles, rice crisp, wheat bran, shredded wheat, and oats); rice; pasta; canned fruit; canned juice; dry beans (northern, kidney, lima, pinto); canned beef; beef stew can; canned chicken; peanut butter; canned salmon; canned tuna. The image to the left is fairly typical of a pantry box.

This diet relies upon grains to fill you.  8 allotments of cereal, ranging from  to 12-16 8oz packages each, shoved into your body and washed down with powdered milk. Don't worry. You can balance that by eating dry tuna - you get 24 12oz cans each month, but no mayo.  NO fresh fruit. NO fresh veg. NO fresh meat. NO fresh juice.

Blue Apron box contents for the week of 12 March: 
(these are to make entire meals!) quick beef bolognese; Hoisin chicken steamed buns; ancho chili shrimp tacos; DIY pizza party.  One week only. Four complete meals for four people.   You get more ingredients for a week than the food program box gives you for a month.

Which of these would you put in your body?  Which is more nutritionally sound?  The image to the left is for a single meal.

The USDA and Trump want to compare their program with Blue Apron but I really don't think these assholes have spent any time investigating the differences between healthy and filler.

"But it's food! Be grateful" 

YOU eat it, Mr. Trump. YOU feed it to your family, Mr Perdue.   Better yet, stop trying to pass it off as anything more than junk grains to make a person feel full even as they starve.  Skip the pretense of "gourmet selection" and do what they did in the old days - supplement and extend your charity dollars by adding sawdust to the grain products.