NYC Bans Food Gifts to Shelters to Prevent Fat Homeless

New York City has begun turning away food donations, claiming that, since its can't assess the nutritional content of donated food, shelters should not be using it to feed the homeless, but an anti-obesity advocate suggests a simple modification
March 21, 2012 - PRLog -- New York City, as part of its new effort to insure that only nutritional foods are served in its shelters, has begun turning away food donations from restaurants, grocery stores and other sources, claiming that, since its can't assess the nutritional content of donated food, shelters should not be feeding the food to the homeless.  But, says the law professor who helped start the modern anti-obesity movement by triggering fat law suits - ten of which have already been successful - there is a better way to achieve the worthy objectives without turning away all food donations.

At one time, many shelters and charities were reluctant to accept donated food (except in cans and/or unopened) because they had no way of determining if it had become infested by insects, allowed to spoil, or was otherwise not healthful.  But lots of food which would otherwise go to waste - because it is stale, past the posted sale date, etc.- can still provide sustenance for the poor.

Thus, over time, many shelters and other charities learned that by dealing with reputable restaurants, stores, and other suppliers which could assure them that the food was still wholesome, the huge advantage of having lotsof  additional nutritious food outweighed the small risk that it might no longer be nutritious.

Homeless shelters which no longer want to serve as facilitators for obesity among the poor could adopt a similar policy here by working with potential donors to see that food to be contributed met the city's nutritional requirements, said public interest law professor John Banzhaf.  At some stores and restaurants - especially so-called health food stores and healthy-eating restaurants - virtually all of their foods for donation  may already be low enough in fat, calories, and salt to meet the city's nutritional guidelines.

In other cases, shelters might agree to accept as donations all fresh fruits and vegetables, but ask that the french fries and high-fat ice cream by disposed of in another fashion.  This should allow most of the potentially donated food to be accepted, without serving food items which are not healthy for adults.  Special exceptions might also be made for treats for children in the shelters.

Obesity is America's second major and most costly source of unnecessary health care costs after smoking, and a large part of that huge financial burden is borne by those of normal weight in the form of higher taxes and inflated health insurance premiums.  In the case of the homeless, a far higher percentage of their health care costs will be shouldered directly or indirectly by the public because they largely lack private health insurance.  Moreover, the rate of obesity among the poor is also much higher, and they lack access to pills, clinics, gyms, counseling, and other techniques which might help people keep their weight down.

Thus, argues Banzhaf, New York City does have a strong interest in refraining from providing the homeless with foods which aren't healthy for them, just as it might logically refrain from providing them with cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, etc.

To paraphrase the slogan often attributed to Marie Antoinette, "Let them not eat cake, but rather gifts of fruits and vegetables," suggests Prof. Banzhaf.

Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW, Suite S402
Washington, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418!/profbanzhaf

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John F. Banzhaf III is a Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University Law School [] where he is best known for his work regarding smoking, obesity, discrimination, food and auto safety, political corruption, etc.
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