Skippy Peanut Butter Tin Can

America’s Harvest Box of Processed Food

It’s hard to know what to think about this week’s proposal for sweeping changes in SNAP from the White House. Once known as food stamps, SNAP is the cornerstone program for fighting food insecurity. Under this proposal, a Harvest Box of processed food would replace half of the food that SNAP recipients can presently choose for themselves.

Like the Blue Apron Program?

Injecting a bit of sly humor into a dry budget briefing, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney described the proposal thusly:

I don’t want to steal somebody’s copyright, but it will be a Blue Apron type program where you actually receive the food instead of receive the cash.

Two little problems popped up quickly. First, his Blue Apron knock-off is nothing like Blue Apron. With Blue Apron, people choose between appealing menus. With the Harvest Box, people would get USDA surplus items. Participants get no choices, no matter whether they can eat those items or not. In Blue Apron, the food is fresh and healthful. In the Harvest Box, it’s preserved and packaged – shelf stable. It’s not even the right stuff for a complete meal.

No fresh fruits or vegetables. It sounds like a sad harvest.

The second problem is that just about nobody outside the White House will touch this proposal. The most sympathetic response came from Republicans committee chairs responsible for these programs, Senator Pat Roberts and Representative Michael Conway. They dismissed the proposal in a joint statement, saying simply, “We are committed to maintaining a strong safety net.”

Democratic Representative Jim McGovern called it a cruel joke. The business sector attacked it as a bureaucratic nightmare. Other observers called it a humiliation ritual. The Onion was quick with a sharp parody: to replace SNAP, people would receive a reusable harvest bag to use for foraging in alleys, dumpsters, or nearby woods.

A Joke or Just Trolling?

Maybe this really is just a weird kind of bad humor. By the end of the week, the White House let it slip that the Harvest Box was just an exercise in trolling the opposition. It wasn’t intended to become policy. It was just a way to put on a show for the base – and send a message. The administration intends to cut billions from the SNAP program.

That could be costly in the long run. Obesity has a tight, but complex relationship with food security. Make more people worry about getting enough to eat and the result could easily be more obesity and costly bad health. Both Republicans and Democrats support SNAP. So let’s just hope that all this hubbub amounts to nothing more than a bad joke.

Click here, here, here, and here for more on this odd proposal.

Skippy Peanut Butter Tin Can, ca. 1930, photograph © Roadsidepictures / flickr

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February 17, 2018

4 Responses to “America’s Harvest Box of Processed Food”

  1. February 17, 2018 at 7:03 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    I may be overly cynical (having lived inside the Beltway for way more than half of my life), but I suspect a bit of “method in madness” in stretching the envelope of viable policies by ranging to the extreme. One person’s trolling is another person’s tactic to shift the debate to more “favorable” territory.

    This is not an original thought with me (can’t remember how many times have read others make it), but the Harvest Box certainly has that feel.

    Maybe Jonathan Swift is busy working in OMB crafting such nuggets? A modest proposal, indeed!


    • February 17, 2018 at 7:13 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Joe! I suspect you’re right.

  2. February 17, 2018 at 8:28 am, Mariah Riess said:

    Perhaps the political will to set a serious set of restrictions on foods, NOT included in the SNAP program, not for purchase with food stamps, would be a step in the right direction.
    In addition, a concerted, limited “one liner” program included in all materials coming from Washington, might be a step in beginning to shape all in the healthier direction.
    “Eat just one” “More is better” Regarding veg and fruit, for instance.
    Political Will…..

  3. February 17, 2018 at 12:12 pm, Kezza said:

    “Both Republicans and Democrats support SNAP.” The ADA was bipartisan, but look what is happening with that (HR 620)-look what is happening to us with disabilities. And don’t even get me started about the intersection of disability and social programs such as SNAP. We’re in for a long, difficult fight on so many fronts….trying to remind D.C. that there are humans affected by their Asinine proposals.