White potatoes finally legal for WIC purchase

In the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion, more familiar to most as the Broadway play and Hollywood movie “My Fair Lady,” the protagonist, Henry Higgins takes in an underclass Cockney girl and attempts to change her into a proper British lady. The CRomnibus bill provided interesting insight into how government entitlement programs attempt to play the role of Henry Higgins. They are less concerned with providing support the poor, working and otherwise, than in controlling the lives of the recipients and striving to make them better people. Often with tragic results.

For the first time, low-income women would be able to pay for white potatoes with government-subsidized vouchers issued by the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, known as WIC.

The potato provision is part of a massive spending bill Congress is considering before the end of the year.

White potatoes have been excluded from WIC since fruits and vegetables were first allowed under the program in 2009. It’s not that white potatoes themselves aren’t nutritious, but they’re often used to make french fries, which are usually fried or baked in unhealthy fats and oils.

The Institute of Medicine had recommended that they be excluded, saying WIC recipients already eat enough white potatoes.

This kind of regulation of a food program is offensive to liberty and stupid at the same time. It is offensive to liberty because it says that poor people are stupid and unable to make food choices for themselves. In this case, a healthy food is prohibited because of what the stupid freakin poor might do with it. Never mind that the same woman using WIC is probably using SNAP and can buy both white potatoes and lard to fry them in. This is the same type of mentality that decided it was great social policy to provide public housing for a poor unmarried mother but to make the same housing off limits to a poor family. Programs like WIC and SNAP exist to provide nutrition to the poor not to change their lives.

Also this kind of regulation is simply stupid. (We’ll leave aside the obvious issue of how silly it is that the US Congress has to get involved in this kind of an issue.)  When one takes a look a the foods eligible under WIC (full disclosure here, the first solid food I and my brother had was mashed potatoes with gravy, foods that cannot be purchased under WIC and, so far as I can tell, we didn’t suffer physically) one sees that despite the patina of science given it by the Institute of Medicine it is an exercise in picking winners and losers in agriculture and food processing.

  • You can buy canned fish under WIC. You can’t buy canned meat, like corned beef. You can’t buy fresh fish or fresh meat.
  • You can buy canned beans. You can’t buy canned green peas.
  • You can buy plain yogurt. You can’t buy yogurt with anything added to it.
  • You can buy several types of cheese. You can’t buy feta cheese.
  • Want a high sugar breakfast cereal? Knock yourself out. Want a fruit drink? No can do.

And, of course, white potatoes in all their permutations are banned.

Of course, these regulations add costs to food stores in labeling. They are a bonanza for the food labeling industry. And they are a way for lobbyists for various agricultural enterprises to strike a blow at their rivals. And the regulations are a way for pathetic Henry Higgins wannabes to try and impose their wisdom and wishes on people who are poor and therefor have to listen to them.

WIC supporters say Congress shouldn’t meddle in the program, which has always been based on the institute’s recommendations and isn’t supposed to be political.

“This opens the door for other corporate interests to press their priorities over the integrity of the food packages,” said Douglas Greenaway of the National WIC Association.

Never mind if the food is eaten or thrown away (see Michelle Obama’s ravaging of the school lunch program as Exhibit A) the important thing is that the poor make a righteous choice.