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Letter From the Editor: SNAP

The “Dakota Queen,” piloted by George McGovern, had been hit hard by enemy fire while over the Skoda works at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia – a facility that produced arms for the Nazis. One engine had fallen off and the other was in flames. The plane was going down.

McGovern quickly launched his bombs, turned the plane away, and began to figure out how long the crew could stay in the B-24 Liberator.  Most expected to be bailing out shortly, but McGovern had other ideas.

He told his crew he was going to “try to bring her home.”  He ended up landing on the island of Vis on a runway only half as long as needed, but saving everyone on board.

At about same time, and really not so far away, in Italy’s Apennine Mountains, the U.S. Army’s famed 10th Mountain Division was taking on the Germans on the ground.  An enemy machine gun sprayed the upper right arm and back of a U.S. Army lieutenant with bullets.

Except for a large dose of morphine, the young officer spent nine more hours on the battlefield without treatment.  It took three years for Bob Dole to recover and he’s gone through life with a paralyzed right arm, often holding a pen in his right hand as a signal that he shakes with his left.

The Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded to McGovern, and two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star with the combat V for valor were awarded to Dole for his attempt to save a wounded radioman.

McGovern and Dole both served long terms in the U.S. Senate, both lost Presidential elections, and both ended up making modern day food and nutrition policies for the U.S.

Everybody old enough to remember Robert Kennedy’s campaign for President can recall his visit to areas of Mississippi to see  that hunger in America looked a lot like hunger in Africa.

What came from that historic field trip was the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, which existed from 1968 to 1977, with only one chairman,  Senator McGovern of South Dakota.   The “McGovern Committee” carried on the hunger issue after Senator Kennedy’s death.

Senator Dole of Kansas was the Republican member who seemed to pop up beside McGovern every time something big was being pushed up the hill.  The two war veterans from farm states did not fear going where nobody had gone before.

My exposure to all of this came when I was in college in South Dakota and was on multiple occasions able to sort of tag along, or hear from McGovern and his staff.  I recall one time when the committee was out taking testimony about the balance between food stamps and the federal commodity program, which was best known for handing out those big blocks of cheese and other food stuffs.

Senator McGovern was trying to draw a little more out of an elderly gentleman from the Smokey Mountain area, finally asking “Are these commodities useful to you, sir?”

“Oh, yes Senator.” the man said.  “I had some holes in my back wall and I’ve used some of that big cheese to fill ’em up.”

The McGovern-Dole era for these programs is remembered for a couple of things. It brought about the shift away from handing out commodities to issuing food stamps as the federal government’s main tool against hunger. And the Select Committee was the first to recommend that Americans eat less fats, cholesterol and refined and processed sugars.

I’ve always thought since those days that the reason food stamps trumped hunger in America is that McGovern and Dole allowed basic human dignity to trump everything else.  It’s long been difficult to tell a food stamp shopper from anyone else, especially states where grocery stores do not sell liquor.

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) is the new name for food stamps and SNAP is included in the 2012 Farm Bill.  For reasons including the continued weakness in jobs and housing, the Farm Bill’s allocation for SNAP is up to $770 billion over the next decade.

That’s a bucket of money. In the McGovern-Dole era, about 1 in 50 people received food stamps.   After rising steadily and then doubling in last four years, that figure is now up to about 1 in 7 Americans. If and when we get some economic recovery, the Farm Bill expects that number to improve to 1 in 9.  Let’s hope we do better.

With officials and bureaucrats out there like Mayor Bloomberg who want to ration food and drink purchases for the entire population, it’s almost unbearable for some that SNAP recipients are still free to make their own grocery decisions.

But free they shall remain.  Let’s just be happy for once that thanks to a couple of veterans of the Great Depression and World War II that we had this food stamp program in place during the past four years. It expanded to fill a need.

I did not see anyone selling apples on a street corner or any uptick in dumpster diving. Next to a workable unemployment insurance program, which also did not exist during the Great Depression, SNAP provides people with food security and non-alcoholic beverages.

We really don’t need people getting snippy about the details.  We need more people who are thankful that we did not crash or get shot up because we had an effective food program in place when people needed it.   And if you happen to see 90-year-old McGovern or 89-year-old Dole, you might thank them as well.

Pictured: George McGovern (above right); Bob Dole (above left)

Rare B-24 over a recent Paris Air Show

© Food Safety News
  • pawpaw

    Dan,
    Thanks for your reminder that both sides of the aisle can work together for the common good, then and now.
    As a farmer, I’m glad to sell my meats, eggs, produce and preserved foods to my neighbors using SNAP. And through Wholesome Wave (http://wholesomewave.org/wholesome-wave-virginia-partner-abingdon-farmers-market-featured-on-bostons-wbur-npr-news-show-here-now), they are able to double their SNAP purchases.
    As for getting “snippy about the details”, I’m glad programs exist to encourage (even double) whole food purchases with SNAP benefits. Direct purchases so the farmer receives the whole dollar, instead of pennies on the dollar as for processed foods. Is this not more in keeping with the original intent of the “Farm Bill”?

  • heidi thomas

    the fast food industry will benefit the most from the current use of foodstamps, below statistics are only sugary drinks, not potato chips and processed foods.
    Each year, 6% of all food stamp purchases, or $4 billion, is spent on sugary drinks, the largest source of empty calories in the American diet. In an effort to combat the epidemic of obesity, which disproportionately afflicts low-income Americans, several states and New York City have attempted to ban the purchase of these beverages with food stamps. In each case, however, the Food and Drug Administration, which administers the food stamp program, has blocked these efforts.

  • ctuckerforman

    Thank you Dan for reminding us of the service of these two heroic men who survived the depression and WWII and then came home and served their country for many years in the U.S. Senate. When I was working to get Congress to pass the 1977 Food Stamp reform legislation, they were the core Senate support for assuring its passage. Before 1977 poor people had to buy food stamps. As a result many needy people never benefited from the program. They also were the leaders of the effort to pass major child nutrition legislation.
    House passage of both bills was a given. The Senate was a much tougher venue. In fact, without McGovern and Dole, it’s doubtful that either of these laws would have gotten out of the Senate Ag Committee whose membership included some of the most reactionary members of that body: Herman Talmadge of Georgia was chair, members included James O Eastland of Mississippi, Jesse Helms of N.C. and Carl Curtis of Nebraska.

  • Vene

    Heidi, that 6% figure is devoid of context, how does it compare to those without SNAP? You also seem to be grossly misinformed if you think this means anything to the fast food industry when SNAP dollars cannot be spent at restaurants (unless you’re homeless, in which case expecting them to prepare meals in a kitchen is ridiculous).
    We can also see that the place to combat obesity isn’t necessarily the poor, not when there is an empirically validated relationship between the amount of money a man earns and his waist size (http://www.ajcn.org/content/30/5/721.full.pdf). The thing to do is make sure the poor can eat and that healthy food is available to all. But to infantilize the poor by saying they aren’t allowed to make decisions while those with greater wealth can is pathetic and flat out inhumane.

  • Carol Tucker-Foreman

    Thank you Dan for reminding us of the service of these two heroic men who survived the depression and WWII and then came home and served their country for many years in the U.S. Senate. When I was working to get Congress to pass the 1977 Food Stamp reform legislation, they were the core Senate support for assuring its passage. Before 1977 poor people had to buy food stamps. As a result many needy people never benefited from the program. They also were the leaders of the effort to pass major child nutrition legislation.
    House passage of both bills was a given. The Senate was a much tougher venue. In fact, without McGovern and Dole, it’s doubtful that either of these laws would have gotten out of the Senate Ag Committee whose membership included some of the most reactionary members of that body: Herman Talmadge of Georgia was chair, members included James O Eastland of Mississippi, Jesse Helms of N.C. and Carl Curtis of Nebraska.

  • The poor are specifically targeted, Vene, not only by soft drink companies, but fast food companies, and most junk food sellers.
    The commercials tell the folks that no matter how bad things are, the folks can always afford to treat themselves to a little something.
    Can’t afford that iPod? New car? Home? Well, that’s OK, you can afford a Coke.
    And look at what you can get for five whole dollars–look at this array of goodies on the dollar menu.
    None of this is targeted to the wealthy or even most of the middle class. It’s targeted at lower income folks.
    So, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to do a little targeting back, except this time, by people who actually give a darn.
    SNAP money should not be used for soda, end of story. We don’t need to get into the other foods and the issues associated with them, but we could easily make a start with the soda.

  • heidi thomas

    thank you shelley
    i couldn’t have said it better myself
    thank you