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No-food-stamps-for-soda policy would only widen the social gap

October 7, 2010 |  9:58 am

When I was growing up, a visit to the home of an uncle and his wife was eagerly anticipated because they kept bottles of cola in their refrigerator. With six little mouths to feed, my parents thought they couldn't afford that luxury (though they did buy themselves cigarettes).

Now the mayor of New York wants to institutionalize the soda gap by prohibiting his city's 1.7 million food stamp recipients from using the stamps to buy soda or other sugared drinks. It's another offensive in the war on obesity.

"At the least," wrote New York City's and New York state's health commissioners, a no-food-stamps-for-soda policy "would ensure that food stamps wouldn't subsidize, in the name of nutrition, a product that causes obesity and a lifetime of health problems." The two New Yorks are asking the U.S. Agriculture Department to authorize a pilot project in New York City to prevent recipients from enjoying the pause that refreshes on the taxpayer's dime (or dollar).

Put aside the fact that, in moderation, the consumption of soft drinks doesn't lead to obesity. Forget (though I haven't)  an unintended consequence of the larger anti-obesity crusade, the demonization of fat people and fat kids in particular. The policy being pushed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg creates a cola class system, in which the well-off are free to buy a popular food product and the poor have to forgo it.

The two-tier approach doesn't bother me when welfare recipients are prevented from using government largess to gamble or go on cruises. But denying a kid the occasional coke because his parents are poor is patronizing and mean-spirited.

-- Michael McGough

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