A case can also be made that current SNAP funding levels enable recipients to buy a select number of healthy, pricier foods like fresh vegetables, as
long as they balance those "luxury" purchases with more cost-efficient processed items like boxed macaroni and cheese. But if SNAP households' benefits
are cut, even by a few dollars a week, their food choices may be driven even more by cost and palatability at the expense of nutrition.
This phenomenon was illustrated in 2007, when New York City councilman Eric Gioia attempted to live on a SNAP budget for a week. According to the New York Daily News, Gioia's $28 worth of grocery purchases for that week included a combination of reasonably healthy fare like canned tuna
and a "handful" of vegetables, along with inexpensive carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, and ramen noodles -- items that were filling but not
Gioia repeated his week-long SNAP experiment a year later, when food prices had risen about 25 percent and he had effectively six fewer dollars in
purchasing power. In order to stretch his food budget this time, Gioia had to eliminate a number of provisions that were within his budget in 2007, but
not in 2008. These included "four bananas, three ears of corn, two cucumbers and two packets of pasta." If a highly educated and nutrition-conscious
Gioia had to jettison the healthier items from his grocery cart when faced with a shrunken food budget, it is not difficult to imagine that SNAP
recipients would have to do the same if Congress approves the House Agriculture Committee's cuts to the program.
Reductions to SNAP may also promote obesity in other ways. Paradoxically, by causing food insecurity (a term used to describe limited or uncertain
access to food) reducing SNAP benefits may actually trigger food behaviors associated with obesity, such as binge eating and hoarding. Most SNAP
households are unable to stretch their benefits through the month as it is, let alone if their assistance is cut. Feeding America reports that 90
percent of current monthly SNAP benefits are redeemed by the third week. (Gioia's 2007 seven-day food stamp experiment yielded him 5 days' worth of
food in 2007 and only 3 days in 2008.)
None of this would not surprise William S. Simon, the chief executive of Walmart's U.S. operations. In a 2010 Goldman Sachs conference, Simon described
how SNAP recipients stormed Walmart stores all across the country to load their grocery carts immediately before midnight at the first of every month.
Eager to refill their empty cupboards and refrigerators, these midnight shoppers were too hungry to wait until the following day to buy
Such patterns of food insecurity can lead to lifelong habits of overeating and hoarding. Cornell University nutrition researchers Christine M. Olson,
Caron F. Bove, and Emily O. Miller have shown that when food does become available in food-insecure households - such as at the first of every month
when SNAP benefits are redeemed - individuals may go on eating binges, overcompensating for the hunger they experienced during periods of privation.
The children who grow up in these homes may become obsessed with ensuring that they have enough to eat, and derive emotional comfort from consuming
unlimited quantities of food and maintaining fully stocked kitchens. It is no wonder then, that researchers Drewnowski and Specter have also found that
women living in food-insecure households are more likely to be overweight than those for which access to foods has never been an issue.