Should the Government Pay for Us to Eat Fast Food?

food stamps to be used at pizza hutWe've all heard the alarming reports about food stamp use: It's currently at an all-time high and more than 45 MILLION Americans -- that's about 15 percent of the population, folks -- are relying on food stamps. But here's a detail you may find even more shocking about the government assistance program: Fast food chains owned by the YUM! brand are trying to get in on the action and get approved to accept food stamps. In other words, the government will be paying for low-income, hungry people to eat at Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC, and Long John Silver's.

Is it just me or does this sound like an incredibly horrific idea?


Typically, exchanging food stamps for prepared foods is not allowed; however, there is a loophole that permits states to allow restaurants to serve disabled, elderly, and homeless people (who don't have the ability or resources to prepare their own foods). And, that's where the YUM! restaurant brand sees its opening to participate. According to a spokesperson for the company, it makes perfect sense to expand the food stamp program and "enabl[e] the homeless, elderly, and disabled to purchase prepared meals with ... benefits in a restaurant environment." In a nutshell, they're arguing that it's better to eat Taco Bell than go hungry.

But here's why it's a horrible idea: As anyone who eats out a lot will tell you, prepared restaurant food costs a lot more money (and food stamps) than purchasing whole foods like beans, fruits, vegetables, and rice. Fast food isn't just expensive, it doesn't provide any nutritional value or even fill people up for that matter. Making it even easier for people -- namely, low-income people who don't typically have access to healthy foods -- to get access to fast food doesn't make financial sense. Not to mention the fact, it would be a public health disaster.

Of course, we can't dictate what people eat: Those who qualify for public assistance are no different than people who don't in that they should be allowed to make personal choices for themselves without judgement -- and that absolutely includes what they eat. We can't stop these chains from advertising their unhealthy food to low-income people; but perhaps we could focus instead on efforts that educate people about how to make the best choices when it comes to nutrition.


Image via rick/Flickr

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