On Monday, Trump administration Budget Director Mick Mulvaney pitched a major revamping of the nation’s food stamp program he called “Blue Apron-type program” food stamp recipients, SNAP recipients, a characterization obediently repeated in headlines run by more than half a dozen news outlets.
Here’s the thing: The only thing that makes the plan like Blue Apron is that the food comes in a box.
Instead of receiving a card with their full benefits, households that take part in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as food stamps) would be entered into the new “America’s Harvest Box” program, which would provide them with a box of food. Inside the Harvest Box, according to CNN, is “items such as shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, canned meat, poultry or fish, and canned fruits and vegetables.” By contrast, a Blue Apron user might order spicy chicken and stir fried vegetables, which comes delivered with scallions, ginger, sesame oil, and jasmine rice. (Blue Apron recommends a citrus-y Riesling to pair with the chicken.)
And that’s just for one meal. Stunningly, the box is valued at half of their monthly benefit, so this minor grab bag represents half of all the food of an entire household for 30 days.
What does any of this have to do with Blue Apron? Director Mulvaney’s comments, in full:
“What we do is propose that for folks who are on food stamps, part—not all, part—of their benefits come in the actual sort of, and I don’t want to steal somebody’s copyright, but a Blue Apron-type program where you actually receive the food instead of receive the cash. It lowers the cost to us because we can buy [at wholesale prices] whereas they have to buy it at retail. It also makes sure they’re getting nutritious food. So we’re pretty excited about that.”
Equating a government-supplied box of packaged foods to Blue Apron is a flimsy and insulting metaphor—about what you’d expect from someone who called climate change research a “waste of taxpayer money.” Unsurprisingly, it’s been uncritically picked up by outlets all over the web. “Blue apron” even trended on Twitter for a few hours Tuesday afternoon.
But as Bryce Covert, a contributing writer for The Nation, noted on Twitter, the “food delivery” angle disguises the fact that with Blue Apron, you choose the food being delivered to you and have all the ingredients you need for a particularly recipe. Under the Harvest Box plan, SNAP recipients have less choice in what they eat than ever. And it’s no surprise the pitch comes alongside enormous proposed cuts to SNAP and the social safety net in general. Should we trust a savagely anti-entitlement administration to manage the dietary needs of the nations’ poor?
The reduction in choice really hurts here—imagine if you couldn’t use your oven because the gas is cut off for nonpayment. The items in the box that need cooking are useless. Pasta needs hot water to boil—another punishment if you can’t afford to keep water, heat, and electric bills paid. And it’s not clear whether people could opt out of the Harvest Box program, at all or month to month. What about misdelivered or stolen packages—should those people just go hungry?
These are all decisions being made by a fiendishly anti-poor administration that ignores that, first are foremost, the poor are individuals with different needs. Blue Apron is defined by individualized ingredient selection. That’s everything the Harvest Box program is not. This isn’t a cool new start-up, it’s a disgrace.