WIC, Food Stamps, and Veganism

Today on Megan McArdle’s column for the Atlantic Monthly, she posted about the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, and that it blatantly supports the dairy industry. True, sort of. Last year, it was announced that WIC would be undergoing reform. It will (this fall, allegedly) be providing whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as soy beverages and tofu. So while it stinks for now that vegans can’t get soy milk and such, that should be changing in the coming months (check with your state’s WIC program for details).

Erik Markus of Vegan.com picked up the post, but attributed it to the Food Stamp Program. I feel the need to post this because I’d absolutely hate to see a vegan in need of food stamps google “vegan food stamps” and find a major blog saying that they can’t be used to purchase vegan foods. That is incorrect. Food stamps can be used to purchase any food in the grocery stores, except hot or “to-go” foods. They also can’t be used to purchase pet food or toilet paper, or other non-food products. You can purchase anything else, vegan or not, from fillet mignon to tofu to Doritos to an apple with food stamps (and I use that terminology because the program is technically still called “food stamps,” although the actual paper stamps from days of yore have been replaced with an EFT card).

So why is there also the WIC program, you might ask? WIC is meant to provide foods that will optimize the development of infants and young children. Young children (under age 2) actually need a fair amount of fat in their diets. It seems counter-intuitive with the rising rates of obesity in America, but it’s true. No, they don’t need to be eating junk food, but they do need some fat for adequate development of their nervous systems. I think it’s reasonable to say that at the time that WIC was developed, that was really the only thought that was put into choosing “nutritious” foods. At any rate, not everyone who qualifies for WIC also qualifies for food stamps, and these days food stamps don’t go all that far, so the additional foods that WIC provides can be vital. I know that frequently when people see a post about food stamps or other social service programs, they often become defensive and talk about the lady in front of them in line who paid for her groceries with food stamps and then jumped in her Escalade or what have you, but that’s really unfair. I’ve been working in social service programs for the better part of the last 13 years. Just because you see someone with a sign of wealth (fancy car, credit card) doesn’t mean that they have money to spare. You don’t know that the car belongs to that person. They might be borrowing it from the neighbor. Unfortunately today many people have no other choice but to use credit cards (gold or not) to pay for the balance of their groceries. I’ve seen over the years people who didn’t get to eat when their food stamps ran out. People who have to “shop” at the food pantry when it gets to be the end of the month. This really happens, and I’ve seen it. Really.

Now that I’ve rambled on, jut a reminder: food stamps can ABSOLUTELY be used to purchase vegan foods.

EDIT: The post on Vegan.com has been corrected. I’m glad to see that!

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10 Responses to WIC, Food Stamps, and Veganism

  1. Erin says:

    Hey – I know this link is very old but WIC does a very poor job of supporting vegan mothers and babies. You need a prescription from a doctor to get coupons for tofu and soymilk – otherwise it's just cheese and whole milk. AND all the cereal at our WIC center contains the vitamin D3. Definitely NOT VEGAN. I've lost two months of benefits trying to get my Dr. to sign a note that has NOTHING to do with my CHOICE to not eat meat and dairy. It isn't a medical decision, it's a personal and ethical decision, yet WIC has taken it out of my hands completely.

  2. Jodie says:

    I just want to remind that this post states that you can buy whatever food you want with food stamps, not WIC. What is provided by WIC varies from state to state, so what is provided )or not) in Erin's state may not be the same in the state of whomever is reading. Please check with your state's WIC department in order to find out what is provided by your state.

    As for food on WIC not being a medical decision, WIC is in part a medical program. They're not signing that you have a medical limitation, they're signing that the food that is your choice is medically adequate to qualify for the WIC program. Your choice isn't medical, but WIC's support is.

  3. Lynn says:

    When I had my daughter and needed to get WIC support, during the process the worker not only discouraged a vegan diet but said it bordered on child abuse. While I tried to decline vouchers for items I wouldn’t use (why give to me when others would use it) I was informed that I had to take it because it’s a all or nothing program. So off I went with all the vouchers but I never used them. It felt like such a waste of resources.

  4. jodie says:

    That’s unfortunate. The workers are not qualified to make medical decisions about the adequacy of food and have no business making comments like that. I would have immediately sought out their supervisor and gotten a medical professional involved if need be.

  5. Sal says:

    The wic program is a joke. I was told the exact same thing as Lynn. They force you to try to use the stamps you Aren’t going to use and tell you that your life voice is wrong. I’m vegetarian and the lady told me to just try to eat meat for a change for my baby now that I’m pregnant. This lifestyle isn’t much of a choice for me, I grew up vegetarian, both my parents eat this way and raised me this way. Meat literally makes me I’ll, my system just doesn’t digest it well. My doctor even wrote me a note and they said they couldn’t accept it. WIC is a program that supports medically spud decisions?? Um I think not. I’m walking proof of that. My doctor just shook his head and said that’s such a shame that there are programs like this out there meant to help the community and instead intentionally do the opposite. My baby is perfectly healthy no thanks to wic. If I hadn’t tried applying for food stamps, I wouldn’t starved all 9 months.

  6. Erinni says:

    I live in California and had no problem getting my WIC vouchers changed for being vegan. Nobody even questioned it (and I do not live in a particularly veg friendly area btw). The vouchers do go towards eggs unfortunately, but I just give them to an omni who would otherwise purchase them. While I wish they weren’t on there at all, I am appreciative of the other options that are veg.

    For each month, I am given 4 vouchers.
    Voucher #1:
    $10 fruits and vegetables combo of fresh, dried fruits, frozen and canned. Participant may pay amount over $10

    Voucher #2:
    6 quarts or 3 half gallons soy milk
    1 dozen eggs
    2 (14 – 16oz) tofu
    1 (16 oz) dry beans, peas, or lentils or 1 (16-18oz peanut butter)

    Voucher #3:
    6 quarts or 3 half gallons soy milk
    2 (14 – 16oz) tofu
    1 (16 oz) dry beans, peas, or lentils
    36 oz breakfast cereal

    Voucher #4:
    6 quarts or 3 half gallons soy milk
    1 (16 oz) Whole Grains
    2 (64 oz) bottled juice or 2 (16 oz) concentrate juice or 3 (11.5 or 12 oz) concentrate juice

    • jodie says:

      Thanks for the input! I’d love to know more from people in other states how WIC ends up working out.

      • Vegmom says:

        I am also a vegan with WIC and get similar checks. I refuse to buy the eggs and support the factory farms to give someone else extra eggs. That is exactly what the USDA wants you to do. I get 35 quarts of soy milk a month and $16 fruits and vegetables. See the imbalance? I talked to someone at the AZ WIC office and they said I need to contact the national office. That the most recent change was the first in 30 years. The WIC program needs an overhaul bigtime and us parents need to band together to get something done not only with WIC but with our schools as well. My kids aren’t school-age yet, but you can bet when they go my voice WILL be heard! 😀

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