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Should We Expand WIC-Approved Foods?

March 3, 2010

Change.org is a website that enables individuals to “start a movement” and create a petition to get issues heard. On the front page, in relation to their section on poverty in America, a UC Berkeley student wrote, Why Can’t Poor Moms Eat Ethically in Oregon? Citing confusion of WIC-approved foods in Oregon as the problem, Hill encourages us to push for an expansion of those foods so mothers can make ethical purchasing decision, buying organic, hormone-free and cruelty-free items.

The list is a confusing hodge-podge of arbitrary rules: mothers in the program can buy organic fruits and vegetables but not organic milk, grains, legumes, eggs, cheese, peanut butter, or infant foods and cereals. They can buy soy milk but not rice milk or raw milk, white eggs but not cage-free or those with higher Omega-3 or Vitamin E. Cheese options are slim — only six varieties are permitted. Moms can’t even purchase low-fat peanut butter for their families. Not all of these rules appear to be based on concerns about nutrition or high prices.

At first blush, this argument is simple. Of course we should allow low-income mothers to purchase healthier foods for their family; what a logical and important step in fighting this obesity epidemic. But there is another side to the equation. There are many who feel that by restricting healthier foods to WIC participants, they will be encouraged to continue seeking to move out of the system. According to this stream, why should they be able to buy such luxuries on the government’s credit card? My putting restrictions, they understand that their situation is meant to be temporary and but a stepping stone to a lifestyle in which they can be confident in their ability to self-sustain.

This leads me to ask, is one group more socially conscious than the other? Is one more sensitive to low-income needs and more focused on the individual at hand? I’d argue that both the expansion and restriction groups have a good heart, but it does appear to be a question of equal rights and freedom of choice. Are we allowed the freedom to make purchase based on our own volition when the money is coming from the government? If not, will we come to a time in which they monitor all funding, on both a macro and micro level. And what does this look like? First, organically certified soy milk. Next, educational program provided by federal funding?

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