When The Miami Herald asked a White House spokeswoman how first lady Michelle Obama, the administration’s leader in combating obesity, stood on the issue, the official response came quickly: “No comment.”
To at least some food stamp recipients, however, it makes sense to prohibit junk foods. “I can agree with that,” says Gertrude Sturrup, 36, a North Miami-Dade mother of four. “Better to spend the money on fruits and vegetables.”
One major problem: Coming up with a definition of junk food. Should it be done by a calorie measure? A sweetness measure? Sen. Storms’ proposal would have banned “foods containing trans fats; sweetened beverages, including sodas; sweets, such as Jell-O, candy, ice cream, pudding, popsicles, muffins, sweet rolls, cakes, cupcakes, pies, cobblers, pastries, and doughnuts; and salty snack foods, such as corn-based salty snacks, pretzels, party mix, popcorn, and potato chips.”
But nutritionists consider popcorn (varieties not laden with butter and salt) a healthy whole grain that’s high in fiber and low in calories, and some frozen pops are made with artificial sweeteners and are low-calorie.
John Diaz, who owns the Diaz Supermarket in Opa-locka, where 30 percent of his gross receipts come from food stamps, says a junk food prohibition makes sense to taxpayers, but he wonders how he would enforce it. A cashier would need to memorize huge numbers of items that would have to be rejected for food stamp payments.
Tony Jorges, a district manager for Winn-Dixie, says that for a large supermarket chain it would be easy to program the cashiers’ scanners to recognize what qualified for food stamps and what didn’t, but he could imagine outbursts from customers when they learned that they would have to pay out-of-pocket for many items. Such a situation could be a “nightmare,” Jorges says.
Just as adamant is Ronnie Othman, who runs Monar Market, a convenience store in Liberty City, where most of his clientele opt for the foods that Storms wants to prohibit. “They want to shut us down,” Othman says of Storms and her supporters.
Storms points out that the present food stamp act already prohibits a long list of items, including alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, pet foods, soaps, vitamins and cosmetics. She doesn’t see why it would be so hard to add some junk foods to that list.
“I just think it’s an irresponsible use of taxpayers’ money,” she says.