According to a USDA representative, the Harvest Box proposal was directly modeled after the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), a program for economically challenged seniors in which states order boxed foods from a preset list, and develop their own delivery and distribution networks.
But modeling a new program after an existing one only makes sense if the original program works well, and as The Washington Post recently noted, the CSFP is fraught with flaws.
Let’s start with the infrastructure issues. In most states, these senior-assistance boxes are packed by volunteers and nonprofits that are subcontracted by the state, and then seniors are tasked with picking up their boxes from a central location.
Yes, let’s work to take cost out of SNAP; let’s reduce waste and improve nutrition. But please, please, let’s use logic, real data and good reason to come up with real solutions that don’t involve the word “box.” Our industry, our communities — and most importantly — the people we serve are all depending on us.
Now let’s assume that the proposed SNAP Harvest Box is managed in much the same way. So, keeping in mind that we’re talking about serving tens of millions of people as opposed a few hundred thousand served by CSPF, are we going to rely on volunteers and nonprofits to pack the Harvest Boxes, too?
Then there’s the food itself. CSFP, like the Harvest Box proposal, provides seniors with minimal or no choice in the foods they receive, and that becomes an even more glaring problem when you consider cultural and dietary restrictions. In a box meant for seniors, the USDA doesn’t currently supply dairy substitutes, gluten-free grains, or low-sugar juices for diabetics.
Harmful, Not Helpful
Which brings us back to food choice versus food curation. One of the objectives for the Harvest Box seems to be a desire to shift poor families from poor choices to healthier ones. Frankly, most Americans could use this sort of assistance; it isn’t just poor families that are facing the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other calorie-related health problems that plague our nation.
But assembling and shipping food is about the worst way to address the problem of nutrition. The items that store and ship the best are often sodium-heavy, chemical-laden and highly processed — in short, the kinds of foods designed for shelf-stability rather than nutritional value. And that’s then assuming that the families would even want to eat them.
So, will the Harvest Box increase efficiencies and lower costs in SNAP? I contend that it won’t. And more than that, it has the potential to hurt the very people who most need our help.
Want one more reason it won’t work? Let’s stop and think for a moment about the economic impact of cutting grocers out the equation. IGA alone stands to lose up to $2.7 billion of our $8 billion in U.S. sales, which would mean the closing of hundreds of stores. Shutting down what is often a primary source of employment in rural towns across America is clearly not the way to get people off SNAP.