The Paradox of Eating Healthy

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, traditionally known as food stamps, have been providing low-income families with affordable grocery assistance for years. Recently, the Nation examined the difficult reality of trying to eat healthy when you’re on SNAP.

In 2009, the average SNAP recipient received $124.31 per month, which averaged out to less than two dollars per meal. Researchers have studied the link between obesity and food stamps, and in the summer of 2009, Ohio State University released a study showing “that the body mass index (BMI) of program participants is more than one point higher than nonparticipants at the same income level. The longer one is on food stamps, the higher the BMI rises.” People who receive SNAP benefits are conscious of unhealthy food choices they might be making, but they simply cannot afford to eat otherwise.

Farmers markets have taken the lead to combat this problem. Recently the Food and Nutrition service made it possible to use SNAP benefits at farmers markets. Markets accept the EBT card issued to SNAP recipients which functions like a debit card. An additional 30 cents is added to the recipient’s SNAP balance for every dollar spent on fruits and vegetables.

According to the Farmers Market Coalition, the new program has been extremely beneficial to vendors as well as recipients. Pennsylvania SNAP manager Susan Richards expects that the acceptance of these cards will boost sales at farmers markets, support local agriculture and encourage people to buy locally.

Overall the program has proved to be successful:

Over the past five years, the number of farmers markets increased 250 percent.  In 2009 alone, 949 farmers’ markets participated in SNAP and more SNAP benefits were redeemed at farmers’ markets in the fiscal year 2009 during October than any other month of the year…Currently, there are more than 1,100 farmers markets and farm stands across the country using EBT machines.  As of May 2, 2010, there were 1,156 authorized farmers’ markets enrolled in SNAP and of the 3,153 counties in the United States, 496 have at least one EBT-authorized market.

SNAP recipients and families living in poverty should not be shut out of eating healthy because fresh fruits and vegetables are too expensive. Accepting SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets and providing incentives for recipients to do so are great first steps in ensuring that all Americans have access to fresh, healthy, local foods.

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