WASHINGTON, April 24, 2013 – Leading chefs joined local food advocates to demonstrate support for federal programs that incentivize the use of food stamps at farmers’ markets on Tuesday, calling them a wise use of taxpayer dollars.
“This is about a better America,” noted José Andrés, the chef/owner of ThinkFoodGroup (TFG), regarding proposed legislation to increase nutrition incentives. The group seeks $20 million over 5 years – matched 50 percent by local community funds – to incentivize the purchase of foods directly from farmers markets. Both the Senate and House versions of the farm bill are expected to include the language, but SNAP funding has been under attack by several conservative members of Congress who want to reduce waste, fraud and abuse in federal spending on a program that now serves over 47 million people.
“Every dollar the federal government spends should be spent in the most efficient way possible,” Andrés added. “This is a way to help farmers grow more, for people to eat more nutritious food and drive down the obesity trend,” he added. TFG operates three Washington, DC’s restaurants (Jaleo, Zaytinya, and Oyamel) as well as others dining establishments around the country.
The star-studded panel, organized during Wholesome Wave’s 4th annual convening, included Tom Colicchio, Top Chef lead judge and producer of a new hunger documentary, “A Place at the Table,” along with Will Allen, CEO and founder of Growing Power, a Milwaukee-based non-profit dedicated to urban agriculture.
“In this country, we are conditioned to thinking about Third World Hunger, but it’s all around us. One in six Americans are struggling every day, to put food on the table, including 17 million children, Calicchio noted.
“These are your neighbors, these are the kids in your kid’s classes at school,” Calicchio emphasized. “When kids show up to school and they are hungry they can’t learn.”Colicchio told reporters that creating incentives for healthy Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eating is an especially smart use of governmental funds because the program pays dividends in terms of health care, too. “Obesity-related healthcare costs cost the country $190 billion a year,” he said, and asked those assembled to imagine the costs if everyone could afford to make healthy choices at the supermarket or farmers’ market.
Lauren Shweder Biel, Executive Direct of DC Greens, said the need for federal assistance is especially critical in the District of Columbia, where 23 percent of the population receives SNAP benefits.
“One in 8 people say they can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables, yet we have obesity rates well above national average,” she said. At the same time, there are 40 farmers’ markets in the district with almost 200 farmers participating.
Biel said that last year more than 3,000 federal benefit recipients went to those markets spending over $120,000.
“Why? Because we are offering nutritional incentives…They have incredible and documented impacts on health and they are a direct support on the local farm economy and local job market.”
Wholesome Wave seeks to “expand the customer base for small and midsize farms by incentivizing vulnerable families living in urban and rural communities to use federal nutrition benefits to buy healthy, fresh, locally-grown food…at nearby framers markets and other farm-to-retail businesses,” according to a recent report.
The group’s Double Value Coupon Program (DVCP), which services 114,000 customers across the U.S. annually, matches 50% of the SNAP spending in participating markets, which allows beneficiaries to purchase more fruits and vegetables. According to their data, 90% of DVCP customers reported that they were consuming more fruits and vegetables after participation on the program. More than 3,200 farmers experienced increased sales between 2009 and 2012 due to DVCP.
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