News Feb 4 2019

February 4, 2019

  1. Trump Administration Goes After SNAP Again: Public Comment Now To April 2
  2. Can You Eat Less Meat on Your Own, Or Do You Need A Policy Push?
  3. Reflections on the Recent (and maybe Future) Shutdown

Trump Administration Goes After SNAP Again: Public Comment Now To April 2

From our friends at the Food Research and Action Center:

Food assistance for the hungry shouldn't have a time limit. Yet, the Trump Administration has proposed a rule that would take away SNAP eligibility for 755,000 unemployed and underemployed adults. That means cutting SNAP food benefits by $15 billion over 10 years. This would make hunger and poverty in this country far, far worse.

Tell the Trump Administration to Keep Hands Off SNAP

FRAC, Feeding America, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Center for American Progress (CAP) are coordinating a campaign to generate comments in opposition to the SNAP rules change.

See FRAC's model comment and submit your comment opposing the proposed rule today. The public comment period closes on April 2.

For the second time, the Trump administration is attempting an executive move on SNAP “food stamp” assistance even though Congress has shown in a bipartisan way that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The man in the White House who wants to sell off federal lands, boost the dying dirty coal industry and eliminate taxes for billionaires is fixated on increasing misery for poor people in this country. Please send in your comments.

Can You Eat Less Meat on Your Own, Or Do You Need A Policy Push?

Most of us by now have heard that we need to eat less red meat, if not become vegetarian or vegan altogether, to protect our hearts and overall health, while at the same time reducing global warming by taking millions of cows and pigs (mostly) out of the pastures where they create methane by passing gas, and take up land where we could directly grow food for humans.

These strategies have long been endorsed by varieties of groups, yet it seems only now has a “science based” diet based on these concepts been created, via an international commission called the “EAT-Lancet “ commission, consisting of 37 scientists from around the world seeking to tackle the obesity epidemic in developed countries, undernutrition in poor countries, and global warming.

The Lancet is a British medical journal described by Wikipedia as “one of the world's oldest, most prestigious, and best known general medical journals”, and has often produced studies with profound insight on holistic issues you wouldn’t think of in connection with medicine, for example on the impacts of war on human health

Plant Based Diet Will Save Lives and the Planet

“Globally, the diet requires red meat and sugar consumption to be cut by half, while vegetables, fruit, pulses and nuts must double. But in specific places the changes are stark. North Americans need to eat 84% less red meat but six times more beans and lentils. For Europeans, eating 77% less red meat and 15 times more nuts and seeds meets the guidelines… The diet is a “win-win”, according to the scientists, as it would save at least 11 million people a year from deaths caused by unhealthy food, while preventing the collapse of the natural world that humanity depends upon. With 10 billion people expected to live on Earth by 2050, a continuation of today’s unsustainable diets would inevitably mean even greater health problems and severe global warming.”

The report, though, seems to place responsibility for achieving these dietary and by extension agricultural changes on individual choices and on all of us doing our own part to make them happen, when in fact we live in a society where our food choices are dominated by what’s available, what’s affordable, and what’s practical. Harry Harris in an article in New Statesman says that “It seems churlish to keep placing the onus for climate change onto individual’s behaviour, when we know that 100 companies are responsible for 71 per cent of global emissions. Nobody is going to argue with the fact that the meat industry is damaging the environment, and that eating less meat as a society is beneficial; but it’s impossible to discuss this whilst divorcing it from the contexts that drive people to eating meat as a staple of their diets.”. He also notes that the report doesn’t mention lab-grown meat, which is progressing in its usage and which has only a fraction of the environmental impact of conventional animal agriculture.

New Diet Recommendations Put Too Much Emphasis on Individual Will

As if in response to the charge that individuals are being asked to carry the burden of the life-and planet-saving changes in diet, the Lancet followed up with a report calling for a global “framework” similar to the Word Health Organization’s on tobacco control, to restrict the food industry’s lobbying clout and assist governments in creating policies to promote healthy eating. For example, they say, “One example of such an action would be to reduce the consumption of red meat through the imposition of taxes. This would address obesity by encouraging people to eat more vegetables or pulses, help undernutrition by making more land available and would lead to a cut in greenhouse gas emissions and therefore reduce climate change.”

Progressive Business Urged to Drive Healthier Food System Changes

But so far, to what extent have governments been able to resist food industry clout in creating policies to use taxation to encourage people to consume healthier foods?

Jerry Brown, California’s most progressive governor, last summer signed a bill that prevents any local government from imposing anything like a “soda tax” through 2030. “Soda taxes” were designed as a way, with what’s actually a very small tax, to encourage people to avoid consuming so much of the sugary beverages. Brown signed the bill grudgingly passed by the legislature in response to a threat by the soda industry to put its considerable dollars behind a ballot initiative that would have prevented any California city from raising taxes unless there was a two-thirds vote. An initiative like that would easily passed as a knee-jerk reaction by voters instinctively drawn to anti-tax measures.

California Forbids Soda Taxes for 12 Years

And just the other day, a research paper revealed private emails between employees at the Coca-Cola Co. and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggesting the beverage company was in the highest levels of the people making our health recommendations, attempting to influence their statements about the role of sugar-sweetened drinks in obesity and diabetes.

Emails Suggest Coca Cola Trying to Influence CDC

But it is possible for governments to create good food policy as recent headlines show:

Kyrgyzstan Votes to Go 100% Organic in Ten Years

Bhutan on Track to go 100% Organic

Germany Tackles Unhealthy Eating

Can American leaders at city, county, state and federal levels overcome the massive influence of Big Food and create similar policies? And, since Big Food is so interested in its own profits and survival, can it at least weigh in and oppose the various assaults on the SNAP program, which provides it a $70 billion payout every year?

Reflections on the Recent (and maybe Future) Shutdown

The federal government shutdown ended after 35 days, with an agreement to re-open the government for three weeks (until February 15) and, theoretically, have negotiations in the meantime about the border wall, a concrete barrier that would cost $5 billion and would have no proven impact on ending crime, while satisfying a hardcore anti-immigrant base and people like Stephen Miller ( the unelected 33 year old who is advising the president on immigration.) It would also give Trump a chance to thump his chest and bragged that he delivered on a campaign promise.

Hunger is not a problem, in the eyes of this president. It’s a weapon that can be used to attempt to leverage things he wants. The rest of the country is horrified or disgraced by hunger: for the president, it was a clever idea. The president’s shutdown, costing 800,000 federal workers two paychecks and forcing them into food lines, while threatening the SNAP program for 42 million around the country, does not compare in scale or tragedy to the hunger being imposed on Yemen, Gaza and Venezuela by political situations like blockades, war and sanctions. In concept, it is exactly the same thing. “Give me what I want or people don’t eat&mspace;and that’s something YOU care about, not me.”

The shutdown threatened the receipt of SNAP benefits for 42 million Americans. A crisis in that regard was averted when the US Department of Agriculture posted beneficiaries’ February food benefits online in mid-January. No one is sure what will happen if there is a second shutdown (or third, or fourth etc.) . But the early placement of benefits means that people will have to wait until the “usual time” to get their March benefits. In California, that would mean as late as March 10, but in other parts of the country it could be at the end of March for many recipients:

Shutdown Leads to Gap in Food Benefits

While the president gave in on the shutdown, for the time being, in fact the stoppage gave conservatives a clue as to one of their future dreams. Under the leadership of demagogues like Grover Norquist, conservatives have long been anti-government, and looking for a way to “Starve the beast” or “shrink it so it can be drowned in a bathtub”. Anti-tax and anti-regulation conservatives were watching to see how long the country could go without federal workers, maybe so they could argue in the future for further reduction of the numbers of those workers, resulting in even weaker government oversight and fewer protections for labor, consumers and the environment while creating massive profits for corporations.

That Trump believed himself he was using hunger as a weapon against political enemies is betrayed by his statement that most federal workers are Democrats. While he said it in the context of blaming the Democrats for the shutdown, it fits a simplistic theory that if you believe in government and work for the government, you’re part of the problem (for conservatives):

Trump Says Furloughed Workers Mostly Democrats

Ironically one of the biggest government jobs programs in existence is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), created by Republican George W. Bush and currently employing 51,000 people. Many TSA agents had to line up for donated food while scrambling to pay their rents and mortgages, or foregoing necessary medical treatment, due to missing two paychecks. A hundred lined up locally at John Wayne Airport in the OC:

TSA Workers Line Up For Food Donations at Airport

Many low income families depend on tax refunds in the spring to pay major expenses or catch up on finances. The IRS has 5 million unopened pieces of mail and is probably a year behind in its workload. This might be pleasing to a group that hates the IRS, but it has the added benefit for Trump’s sadistic streak of most likely delaying tax refunds, causing more pain among the poor who rely on those tax refunds early in the year. In fact, legislation passed in 2015 by Republicans and signed by President Obama already delays applications for Earned Income Credit, even before the government shutdown. Of course, many of those who voted for Trump also rely on these tax returns and it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Tax Refunds This Year Will Be Delayed Due to Shutdown

Maybe though just living out of touch with the American public can explain why Trump and his team don’t think the shutdown was such a big deal (aside from having to pretend it wasn’t a big deal.) Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was rightly hammered for his comments that he didn’t "quite understand why" federal workers are going to food banks instead of getting loans to survive the "liquidity crisis." This generated a lot of response to the “let them eat cake” attitude expressed by not only Ross but other officials in the Trump administration.

Trump Admin on Payless Workers: Let Them Eat Cake

HALA reps appeared on KPFK’s Radio Maiz program to discuss the shutdown; it’s about 45 minutes into the program:


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