If You're on FoodStamps, No Soda For You

It never ceases to amaze me the way that the top 1% continually discipline the poor under the guise of helping them.  It seems that mayor Bloomberg, “has asked the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for permission to add sodas and other sugary soft drinks to the list of items that cannot be purchased with food stamps.”  Apparently, this is in the interest of public health and to fight childhood obesity. Yes, it’s the soda that is making people fat and ruining them for life.  Bloomberg knows that he cannot ban pop, nor can he stop people with means from purchasing it, but he can deprive the poor because empty calories are bad bad bad.

The mayor’s latest campaign to reduce soda consumption wants to be seen as part of a comprehensive anti-obesity program the city is currently conducting. The excessive use of sodas is considered a significant culprit in the ever-growing obesity epidemic that affects many parts of the population, but especially the poor and the young. As reported by The New York Times (October 7, 2010), recently released statistics have shown “that nearly 40 percent of public school children…[living in New York City] were overweight or obese, and that obesity rates were substantially higher in poor neighborhoods.

This is of course is fat phobia and classism in action.  Caring about the nutrients that the poor are consuming should not involve deprivation of so called negative choices; it should involve increasing access to  whole foods.  How many poor live in food deserts, where a tomato is about as likely as a UFO?  Even when they are able to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, their prices are exorbitant — yet the enemy is soda. 

When we consume food or a beverage, we do so because of a need based in survival, but also out of a desire for an experience – pleasure. Why should poverty exclude people from a common everyday experience? While he is eliminating the purchase of soda, will Bloomberg also reduce the cost of things like orange juice to make it more affordable? Why is it unreasonable to assume that given adequate ability to choose, that people will not balance health with items that one would consider a treat?  Oh yeah, I forgot that the by virtue of poverty, people lose the ability to think for themselves.

Childhood obesity have become trigger words.  It is the epidemic that is going to destroy North America, but where are the subsidized programs for sporting events?  Where are the daily gym classes to encourage children to move?   It seems to me that if obesity where such an issue, these programs would be high on list.  These initiatives are not about improving the health of children, they are about stigmatizing and disciplining the poor. We shame people that are fat without recognizing the conditions that lead to obesity. A health initiative means access and the maintenance of hierarchy is certainly not about empowering choice and agency. 

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