The “junk food defense”, or “Twinkie defense”, is an actual defense used by Dan White, the California supervisor who murdered Harvey Milk. For those not familiar, White’s case stood on the fact that he’d had so much junk food in advance of the murder (which also included the killing of then-Mayor George Moscone), he was not in his right mind. And while I feel this is a stretch, I think most people are well aware of the danger that junk food poses to our health and well being. 

And yet, SNAP benefits have few restrictions as to what you can buy from a health standpoint. When I spoke to a few people about the challenge and what I would eat, many assumed that I would, in fact, be restricted to low cost but ultimately unhealthy fare. But the question remains, “Why?” Why is junk food permissible in a government funded program, the same government that is presently pushing healthful food initiatives through its First Lady? We’re seeing that junk food is a major contributing factor to America’s obesity epidemic– why should a federally funded (at least in part, it is also funded by state governments) program feed* that problem? 

*Pun not intended, but acknowledged.

I was curious too, curious enough to seek out an answer. And this is the answer that I found, courtesy of the Food and Nutrition Service section of the USDA:

The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 defines an eligible food as “any food or food product for home consumption and also includes seeds and plants which produce food for consumption by SNAP households.” Any change to this definition would require a new law.

Some of Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules”
So there it is. The definition of food that legislators are working with is broad enough to count many items our grandparents wouldn’t recognize as food, as substantive enough to nourish those of reduced means. Thus, a culture is created where it is assumed that those receiving SNAP benefits don’t have the “luxury” of following Michael Pollan’s “food rules”. But there is hope. Understanding that those of less considerable means should not be relegated to a diet and a lifestyle of a lesser quality than the rest of the country, changes are on the way:

FNS is also concerned about the health and nutrition of SNAP clients. We have several projects to encourage clients to buy more healthy foods. The Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) is one example. We are also trying to have more Farmers’ Markets accept SNAP benefits.

One test market for the Healthy Incentives program, designed to offer a discount on healthy foods purchased with SNAP benefits, is being piloted in Hampden County, Massachusetts. While I don’t know how the program is doing, I’m pleased to know that the USDA recognizes the need to make these options more affordable for a population that could easily pass over them.

For my part, I will say that I’ve made a conscious effort to make this endeavor a healthy one, in large part out of stubbornness; I was told that it couldn’t be done. That has been difficult at times, but it’s important to me- as important as it is to preserve the very integrity of this project- to do it healthfully. It is possible, but is not without challenge. I’ve often had to favor canned or frozen versions of fruits and vegetables for the sake of cost, and of course have had to rule out organics of any kind. And as you can imagine, I’ve eschewed most of the gluten-free substitutes I enjoy, instead choosing naturally gluten free alternatives such as rice. But as I move further into the challenge, I’m adjusting and learning what works best for me. After all this is done, I imagine many of those adjustments will stay with me.

The problem of good food choices, as well as so many others that I’ve tried to address over the course of this challenge, have sparked the need for a documentary in the same vein as Super Size Me or Food Inc. This March, A Place at the Table will try to shine a light on the problem of food insecurity in America, and I’m so pleased to see that.


I’m doing this in hopes to raise awareness about food instability, and money for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Should you feel compelled to give to the latter, please click the link below! I thank you, as will those who benefit from the money that you give 🙂 


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