Grant Bosse: Supporting the public nutrition systemBy Grant Bosse
April 23. 2018 7:32PM
LAST WEEK’S COLUMN on the Farm Bill explored how we could leverage existing federal nutrition programs to connect local farms to local families. But I don’t think I went far enough.
Sure, giving people flexibility over how to spend their public benefits would unleash the power of markets within a moribund system, increasing choice and quality, while lowering price. But at what cost?
How do we know that families would be using their “vouchers” on good, nutritious food? There are some limits on the groceries that SNAP beneficiaries can buy, but the program provides vastly more choice than the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which has strict controls to ensure that the money is being used properly.
Opening up the SNAP program to greater competition would make this problem worse. What would happen if churches start offering low-cost food boxes from their pantries?
We could try to exclude religious organizations from receiving SNAP payments, but a recent Supreme Court decision found that barring religious groups from participation in a government program open to secular non-profits was discriminatory.
We need to make sure our public nutrition dollars are not ending up in the hands of religious groups that are trying to feed the hungry.
Would we be better off by giving control over our nutrition programs to government employees, who we know will always act in the public’s best interest?
Food is something we all need to survive. Some people unfamiliar with history or the law would even call it a right. That is why we need a statewide universal public nutrition system. We must guarantee that everyone has the opportunity for adequate nutrition.
Let us build free, public cafeterias in every city and town in New Hampshire. Everyone in New Hampshire would be assigned to the public cafeteria closest to where they live, where they would receive free breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Lunch might be inconvenient for commuters, but they could grab a brown bag at breakfast.
We will staff them with state-certified cooks, overseen by state-certified nutritionists. They surely know better than we do what to put into our bodies.
While we should trust these professionals with the day-to-day decisions, we need to make sure these cafeterias are accountable to the people. I’m all for local control, so I would suggest locally-elected food boards in each town. These volunteers would set broad nutritional policies in each town, hire the local food superintendent, and set the local food budget, funded by a local food property tax.
If you want Taco Tuesdays, you could run for your local food board.
The rich would still be able to buy their own groceries, or even go out to eat in restaurants. They would have money left over after we collect the taxes needed to build all those cafeterias.
The free market has provided us with a literal cornucopia of food choices unavailable to princes and Presidents just decades ago. Food is so cheap that the most pressing nutritional problem facing Americans today is consumption of too many cheap calories. But if you have a surplus, the quickest way to get rid of it is to put the government in charge.
Critics might complain that the public nutrition system may not work for everyone. But it will aspire to work for everyone, and it’s the thought that counts. We need to set a goal of universal nutrition, whether or not the program we put in place achieves it.
We can no longer justify diverting our public nutrition dollars to the private-sector grocery stores that are scooping up SNAP payments. That money should be building a public nutrition monopoly.
Some would call my plan for a public nutrition monopoly “radical,” “blatantly illegal,” or “really stupid.” But I say the time has come to take control over our food back from the people who eat it.
After all, some things are just too important to leave to the whims of the free market.
Grant Bosse is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @grantbosse.