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I usually avoid reading Megan McArdle because, when it comes to dealing with economic realities in America, she reminds me of the apocryphal Pauline Kael quote "”How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him!”.

Witness:

Why not food stamps?

1) The poor don’t need more food. Obesity is a problem for the poor in America; except for people who are too screwed up to get food stamps (because they don’t have an address), food insufficiency is not.
2) Food stamps only imperfectly translate into increased cash income, meaning that the poor will spend . . . more money on food.
3) If the increase in food stamps takes the form of expanded eligibility, rather than larger grants, the administrative issues and public outreach will delay your stimulus until well after it is no longer needed.
4) The limits on the type of goods available to food stamp consumers, and the growing season, mean that some (it’s hard to say how much) of the food stamp spending will simply draw down perishable stocks rather than generating new economic activity. Eventually this will probably generate more economic activity, but probably well after your stimulus is needed.
5) The economy doesn’t need a food sector more distorted by daft government programs than it already is. If you want to give money to the poor, give it to them. Even if they spend it all on drugs, it will hardly be much worse than spending it all on increasing their already astronomical obesity rates.

While I appreciate Megan’s libertarian fondness for approving of recreational drug usage, I think she maybe misses the boat…okay, she walks off the dock, flounders in the water, and smacks her head against the pilings repeatedly as the tide comes in, about the difference between eating lots of food and eating food that’s bad for you. It’s not that Megan isn’t cognizant of this fact, it’s just that poor people are big fat slobby stupid people (which is why they are poor and never get invited to the Hamptons) who fry everything. No. Really:

The evidence that the poor are forced into buying potato chips rather than apples by their incomes is pretty underwhelming. As Mixner says, the food is cheaper per calorie, but that’s the point–they buy things that have a lot of calories, when there are at least equally cheap foods available per serving that have fewer calories. You may have to buy chicken wings instead of breasts, but you don’t have to bread and deep fry them.

Posted by Megan McArdle

Here, we’ll try this:

Nutrition is paramount to health and survival, yet many individuals and families struggle to maintain a healthy diet, especially those with low incomes. Nearly 12.6 million households (11%) in the United States were "food insecure" at times during 2005, meaning they were without the resources to feed themselves enough or were unable for economic reasons to purchase healthful foods, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Most, but not all, of the world’s undernourished people live outside the United States, in poor countries. According to a report by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, in 2001 to 2003, 820 million of the 854 million undernourished people worldwide were in developing countries, 25 million in the transitional countries, and 9 million in the industrialized countries (http://www.fao.org/docrep/009/a0750e/a0750e00.htm).

In the United States, food insecurity tends to be higher among households with incomes near or below the federal poverty line, households headed by single women with children, and black and Hispanic households.

[...]

Food insecurity also has been linked to overweight and obesity, particularly among women (Townsend MS et al. J Nutr. 2001;131[6]:1738-1745; Wilde PE and Peterman JN. J Nutr. 2006;136[5]:1395-1400). This apparent paradox may be explained by the fact that high-calorie, processed foods often are less expensive than fresh, perishable foods such as fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.

"One of the first food groups that’s cut out of an impoverished person’s diet is produce," explained David H. Holben, PhD, RD, of the School of Human and Consumer Sciences, at Ohio University, in Athens. "Generally speaking, they often choose high-fat, high-sugar, low-cost foods that taste good," he added. Re searchers have found that marketing can also influence consumers, who are bombarded with advertising for unhealthful food and receive inadequate nutritional information, especially in restaurants (Hayne CL et al. J Public Health Policy. 2004;25[3-4]:391-407)

[...]

Food insecurity in the United States is being addressed by a number of ongoing efforts, including federal food assistance programs such as the National School Lunch Program; the Food Stamp Program; and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. While these programs have made great strides in improving diet quality, they are not able to reach all individuals in need.

"A little over half of food-insecure households get help from at least one of those programs," said Nord. The American Dietetic Association has called for a number of interventions, including providing adequate funding for the programs and increasing their use, making nutrition education a part of the programs, and promoting and supporting the economic self-sufficiency of individuals and families in the programs (Holben DH and the American Dietetic Association. J Am Diet Assoc. 2006;106[3]:446-458).

Wilde would like to see if delivering food stamps more frequently might have an impact—for example, twice monthly instead of once monthly. "I’d also like to see the food stamp benefit targeted towards specific categories of foods, such as fruits and vegetables and whole-grain foods," he added.

This isn’t to say that poor people, or all Americans for that matter, don’t make bad food decisions; I know lots of fat rich people. But , since Megan can’t seem to wrap her head around this crazy little thing called "poor", perhaps she’d like to take the Food Stamp Challenge for a week or two.

That would be must read blogging.