The Next Front In The Food Stamp War

Food stamps are pictured. | Reuters

The document, which is essentially a precursor to a new federal rule proposal, reveals that USDA is considering such measures as disqualifying smaller grocery stores and convenience stores from accepting food stamps if they sell large quantities of alcohol and tobacco or banning them from the government program if their primary business isnt selling food. Retail fraud, or trafficking, as the USDA calls it, has remained consistently low over recent years at large supermarkets, but it is spiking in smaller stores that often dont even stock $100 worth of the kind of food fruit, vegetables, bread, meat that they need to in order to participate in SNAP. In fact, of particular concern, according to USDA officials, are stores that place the bare minimum of products sometimes as little as a single can of corn in each of the three food-type varieties that the retailers need to stock in order to qualify to accept food stamps. USDAs Food and Nutrition Service, in a statement posted with the agencys call for public input on the trafficking problem, says it is concerned that there are a large and growing number of authorized retailers that do not provide healthful food offerings to SNAP recipients and that engage in fraud. These retailers represent a management challenge for the program that must be balanced against the need to ensure effective access to healthful, nutritious food for SNAP households. Forcing convenience and small grocery stores to stock up on foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and meat, would be acceptable to most widespread convenience store chains like 7-Eleven, say lobbyists for the industry. They say the convenience store chains are willing to work with federal officials to stem food stamp fraud and arent arguing with USDAs concerns with depth of stock at retailers. However, what convenience stores could not abide by is a provision that lawmakers included in the 2012 versions of both the Senate and House versions of the farm bill that would have made stores ineligible if more than 45% of what they sold was alcohol and tobacco. It is of little concern to SNAP clients whether the customer behind them in line is purchasing a case of beer or a pack of cigarettes, the National Association of Convenience Stores says in its draft of a letter it is preparing to send to USDA, a copy of which was provided to POLITICO. Lobbying efforts escalated last year after that provision was placed in the Senate and House bills and the farm bill versions approved this year do not contain it. The current legislation dealing with food stamp reform in the House, if approved, would allow the USDA to ban some retailers based on unspecified criteria established by [the USDA] secretary as well as assign new identification numbers to retailers in order to catch fraud perpetrators. The Senate farm bill asks USDA to consider how much food a stores keeps in stock before approving it to accept food stamps. The USDA had hoped Congress would address food stamp fraud last year in a new five-year farm bill, but lawmakers failed to pass the legislation in 2012 and a sharp divide over how much to cut overall food stamp funding threatens to scuttle plans to produce a farm bill this year. Whatever USDA does, Leo Vercollone, president of Verc Enterprises – a company that operates 23 convenience stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire – said hes concerned about any potential new rules that would restrict his stores from accepting food stamps. Who wants to lose part of their customer base? Vercollone said, stressing that many of his customers shop at his stores because they are nearby, while larger supermarkets are out of reach.

Stretch your food budget

Pic/Amit Jadhav A return to roots The fun part though, is that even as the Indian palate gravitates towards uncharted flavours, there is a renewed reverence for desi veggies and ingredients, till recently considered poor cousins of their exotic Latin or European counterparts. So, be it pumpkin, pointed gourd (parwal) or bitter gourd (karela), chefs say customers do not question what an item available in the kitchen garden, is doing in an exotic dish. They trust the chef to create something tasty. At Auriga, for example, the chef has designed an all-vegetarian live bar, almost a sacrilege when it comes to South-east Asian cuisine, usually dominated by sea food and meats. The brinjal resembles the texture of a squid, and the jack fruit is like fish. Even a gourmand would not mind a Pizza with South east Asian herbs such as lemon grass and sage, says Limaye, who serves a Basil Mushroom puff stuffed with goat cheese, Asian herbs, soy and ginger. It maybe a baked American puff, but the aftertaste will give you a pure South East Asian experience, claims Limaye. His dessert menu in fact pushes home the point. The humble Samosa is transformed here into a chocolate and mint molten lava. I have taken the samosa and created my version of the gooey molten lava. The filling is soft, chocolate-minty and devoid of cake and egg, he says. Global village Indeed the mash-up trend seems to have gone viral, helped along the way by each chef or restaurateurs personal background. Chef Dharmesh Karmokar for instance, is half Gujarati, half Bengali and this influences his cooking style at Nom Nom, where he is employed.

New Age Fusion Food: The latest trend to hit Mumbai

A sure value for your euro is a department-store cafeteria. These places are designed for the shopper who has a sharp eye for a good value. At a salad bar, grab a plate and stack it like the locals do – high. Hungry sightseers also appreciate the handy, moderately priced cafeterias found in larger museums. Institution-affiliated cafes: If your wallet is as empty as your stomach, find a cheap, humble cafeteria that’s associated with (and subsidized by) an institution – such as a university, city hall, church, hospital, charity, senior center, fire station, union of gondoliers, retired fishermen’s club and so on. (These are sometimes called mensas.) Profits take a backseat to providing good food at a good price – and many of these places welcome the public to pull up a chair. Options range from a semi-swanky City Hall cafeteria in Oslo, to student canteens in university towns (such as Salzburg, Austria), to Poland’s dreary-looking but cheap “milk bars.” Bakeries and sandwich shops: Bakeries are a good place to pick up basic sandwiches, tiny pizzas, or something equally cheap and fast but with more of a regional flavor (such as savory pasties in England or a “croque-monsieur” sandwich in France). Chains that sell good, healthful sandwiches, salads and pastries are Britain’s Pret a Manger, Norway’s Deli de Luca , and Spain’s Pans & Co. Local deli-like shops are popular in many parts of Europe; try a traiteur in France or a rosticceria in Italy. The business-lunch crowd invariably knows the best place for an affordable fill-the-tank bite. McEurope: Fast-food restaurants are everywhere. Yes, the hamburgerization of the world is a shame, but face it – the busiest and biggest McDonald’s in the world are in Paris, Rome and Moscow. American fast food has gone global. You’ll find KFC and Subway in every language – it isn’t exciting (and costs more than at home), but at least you know exactly what you’re getting, and it’s fast.