Nope, I’m not talking grocery store aisle, I am talking about the proverbial political aisle, but I am not talking about candidates or specific politicians, and don’t want to have that be part of this conversation. What I am talking about are issues and actions that have, and will have, an enormous impact on our food system and they cross party lines.
Last week, the 2021 US budget draft was released, and it proposes significant cuts to nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and others. These changes, no matter your political flavor, are not good for anyone. Creating further instability in the lives of low-income families only costs taxpayers more. Food insecurity has costs far beyond the obvious and creating unnecessary instability is not a proactive solution for long term fiscal health, and certainly not human health.
The impacts of poor nutrition can increase healthcare costs and decrease school and job performance. An NBC article reported a study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention sited a potential $1,800 per person healthcare increase for people who are food insecure. There are an estimated 45 million people in the US who rely on SNAP. These cuts will impact the working poor more than any other group. The math leads one to believe the impact of cuts could cost way more than the cuts would save. The food system is complex and not mutually exclusive. These impacts will hit our healthcare and education systems as well as the economy.
Even those who are fiscally conservative should consider the impacts of making cuts to these nutrition programs. Along with added costs to healthcare related to poor nutrition, farmers and food businesses take a hit from these cuts – hence, the economy and business suffer. SNAP dollars and the related incentive dollars that many states, like Ohio, offer to match SNAP dollars for fruit and vegetable purchases at farmers markets add income to farm families and local food businesses. Across the US these incentive programs are growing because households want to make healthy food choices for themselves and their families. That growth contributes to our economy and most economists would agree.
Anecdotally, in our own network of farmers’ markets accepting SNAP and offering matching incentives for fruits and vegetables through Countryside’s Produce Perks programs, over $75,000 in revenue went to those farmers and vendors last year that would not have otherwise via these programs. It’s a small percentage of the total market sales, but for small producers every dollar helps. The programs have seen double digit growth year after year and more families can choose to eat healthier because of them.
When we talk about food, it impacts all systems. When we talk about healthcare, education, climate change, Industry, economics and even politics – we have to understand that food is a critical piece of them all. The term food system is a jargony phrase that attempts to represent a complex construct within society specific to food, from production to consumption, think through the food supply chain from beginning to end. But where we lose people (including law makers) in the conversation is in the fact that it is not its own system at all. Food is intricately woven into to every “system” on earth. Every impact in one or another “system” impacts the others.
I urge people to think this through. Food is not affiliated with a political party, and like air and water, it is necessary for our survival. Whether you agree with social safety nets or not, healthy food helps to keep people healthy. Economically, healthy people work, healthy people shop, they go to school and they spend less time sick – all things that drive our economy. It’s an easy handshake across the aisle – fight to end food insecurity.