Efforts to increase the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables among poor Americans, who consume far below the USDA recommended nine servings a day, will be more difficult thanks to rising costs. A just-released report on fresh fruit and vegetable consumption (posted on Food Politics) suggests that, over the past year, fruit and vegetable prices have risen while consumption of fruits and vegetables has decreased. The study, conducted by the United Fresh Research and Education Foundation, found that average produce retail prices rose 6.1% between the fourth quarter of 2008 and the fourth quarter of 2007, while total produce consumption declined 3.6% over the same period.
Congress appropriated $28 billion (3.5%) of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Of the USDA total, the Act provides $19.7 billion to increase the monthly amount of nutrition assistance to 31.8 million people through a 13.6% increase in the monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – or food stamp – benefit for recipients, amounting to roughly $80 per family per month. The additional funds under the SNAP program will not only help individuals feed their families better, but will stimulate local economies. According to the USDA, for every five dollars spent through SNAP, $9.20 of local economic activity is generated.
The increased SNAP benefit will begin to be distributed on April 1, 2009. In addition, the recovery act provides about $300 million to help states administer SNAP, with the first $145 million released this month.
In an essay in City Limits magazine, I suggest that with the right local policies that enable SNAP recipients to spend their benefits on healthy, locally produced food, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables, these stimulus food dollars can be stretched further to enhance the resilience of the city’s food system.