Today’s federal programs make you long for the Depression


Check out Daniel Bowman Simon’s fascinating piece about the history of food stamps. The original food stamp program was designed to aid farm recovery: The unemployed would receive $1.50 in stamps for each cash dollar spent, 50 cents of which were specifically designated for purchase of the country’s agricultural surplus. Simon quotes a New York Times article from Sepetember 26, 1939, that lists the available surplus for the month of October:

“The list, effective Oct. 1, includes butter, eggs, raisins, apples, pork lard, dried prunes, onions, except green onions; dry beans, fresh pears, wheat flour and whole wheat flower [sic], and corn meal. Fresh snap beans were designated as surplus for Oct. 1 through Oct. 31.

Raisins, apples, pork lard and snap beans appeared on the list for the first time. Foods which will be removed from the list on Oct 1. include cabbages, fresh peaches, fresh tomatoes, rice, and fresh green peas.”

A rotating list of seasonal farm products? This sounds a lot like a federally-run CSA. The foods that are now all-too-often the privilege of the wealthy were once the right of the poor. The United States produces a remarkable amount of food, much of which is fed to factory-farmed livestock, yet there are over 50 million people in the country who desperately lack consistent access to nutritious food. Over the past seventy years we’ve travelled really, really far in the wrong direction, in many ways creating a food system that would rather grow corn to feed cattle, hogs, and chickens, than broccoli to feed mothers, fathers, and kids. (My favorite new thought from Michael Pollan: We have rich farmers feeding lousy food to poor people and poor farmers producing great food for rich people.)

Think about it.

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress via Flickr)

Posted in Food Politics


  1. Julie Anne Rhodes said...

    Fascinating research, and definite food for thought. What can each of us start doing today to reverse the past 70 years? BTW, we will need food stamps for water soon too, if we don’t take better care of our planet. Wars will be fought over water, instead of oil.

  2. indoorcamping said...

    Now we have agribusiness processing raw materials into food-like products for maximum ROI. Thank you unregulated capitalism.

  3. Anandi Premlall said...

    Exactly! I believe that food stamps should be used to support local & organic farmers as it would be an obvious win-win situation for the families on government aid who need food (NOT JUNK!!) supplement­s and producers. Why include soda & other HFCs items when water would help tremendously in the obesity crisis?

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