On Monday, the Trump administration proposed billions of dollars in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Program, known colloquially as food stamps, as part of its fiscal year 2019 budget proposal. In the proposal, SNAP recipients would get half of their benefits delivered in the form of a box of nonperishable goods called “America’s Harvest Box.” That’s a big change from the current guidelines in which recipients can access all of their benefits through an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card that acts as cash at a grocery store (there are already some restrictions on what SNAP recipients can buy).
Office of Management and budget director Mick Mulvaney said on Monday that the box was similar to a “Blue Apron-type program,” a reference to the popular meal kit services that deliver uncooked components of a meal to subscribers.
The US government needs to get Blue Apron’s name out of its mouth and call America’s Harvest Box what it is: a way to chip away at the dignity of people who need help.
Here’s how real meal kits work: You pay a fee (usually around $10 a serving) to have a company deliver meals to your home at the frequency of your choosing. The parts of the meal are uncooked and preportioned. All you have to do is follow the included recipe instructions. Meal kits aren’t designed to supply you with all your meals. Rather, the service provides an opportunity for you to make a homemade meal without the hassle of grocery shopping a couple of times a week.
Meal kits like Blue Apron also provide an element of fun and excitement for eager cooks. You get the opportunity to try your hand at new dishes like Korean chicken tacos or fettuccine and roasted fennel. You learn new cooking techniques that you can apply to your own meals.
Blue Apron and other meal kit delivery services provide something that this Harvest Box doesn’t seem to offer: choice. I can choose if I want a company to send me meals. I can choose what kind of food I want to eat, be it gluten-free or vegetarian or paleo. I can choose how often I want this food. And if I don’t feel like dealing with meal delivery, I can choose to cancel the service.
The reality of the Harvest Box is dystopian delivery compared to a meal kit, which has become a marker of middle-class luxury. With the proposed Harvest Box, SNAP recipients lose their right to choose. Instead, they would receive foods like “shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables,” the Washington Post reported. No fresh produce. No fresh protein. No choices. Instead, the Harvest Box dictates what a SNAP recipient will eat with no regard to personal preferences or dietary needs, which poor people have every right to have.
The Harvest Box, at least in its initial proposal, lacks the aspects of a meal kit that make them desirable. There are no instructions on what to do with your shelf-stable milk and peanut butter. Families will be on their own to figure out how to make their canned goods work alongside the little bit of food they can choose to buy with their reduced monthly disbursement.
One of the joys of having a meal kit is the convenience of food delivered right to your door that gives you an opportunity to broaden your tastes and have fun in the kitchen. The Harvest Box would only deliver restrictions and disappointment by removing one of the things that makes food so enjoyable — the ability to choose what you want to eat.