“The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides Federal grants to States for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.” -USDA
A few years ago I remember WIC being in the news a lot. The government was going to shut down for some reason or another and that included WIC checks not being issued. Many of the talking heads went on verbal rampages about the welfare state. Those of us using WIC checks were not exempt from the rhetoric.
My first experience with WIC was after my first was born. While we were still in the hospital, the nurse came in with a pile of paperwork and told me I needed to fill them all out. One of them was the initial paperwork and information for WIC. For whatever reason I told her no thank you, we were fine.
We probably could’ve used the extra milk and bread but I didn’t really care for this nurse all that much and I was trying to make a point. People assume all types of things when you have a baby at 20.
It was six years later that I had my first WIC appointment. This time as a foster mom. We get a small stipend for the kids but not much. It kinda pays for diapers and maybe the chance to eat out a little more often. But it for sure doesn’t cover formula or gas or general child raising expenses. All kids on Medicaid automatically get WIC and our resource worker recommended we make the call. So I called and got an appointment and off we went to get some checks for formula and baby food.
I have to be honest, I hate the whole process.
I’ve finally figured out that if I go to a male cashier they are significantly kinder. Even better if they are young and male. On occasion I find a woman, one who is usually also on WIC, that gives a little knowing nod. People at the store consistently huff and puff at me. They’ll stare at my other purchases. On all sorts of high horses of condemnation and judgement. Once I went to the Starbucks right after using my WIC checks and you would’ve thought I was the devil in human form.
Here’s the thing though, whatever you may think about people that are on WIC, WIC food just kinda sucks.
We can only buy the specific brand listed on our checks. We can’t buy organic baby food or bread or rice. Formula drops off after their first birthday and in comes whole milk, grains and beans, peanut butter, eggs, apple juice and no sugar added cereal. Once they turn two, we are only allowed low fat dairy products in addition to all the grains in their various forms.
We get $8 a month for fruits and vegetables.
That’s the equivalent of two potatoes, two apples, a head of romaine and five bananas.
For the MONTH.
Anyone with any concept of modern nutrition knows this is totally backwards. I can buy sugar laden peanut butter but I can’t buy honey nut cheerios. I can feed my 23 month old three gallons of whole milk one month but once they turn 24 months, low fat all around.
Even though our doctor recommended no juice at all, I get 128 ounces of apple juice a month for each kid, from the government.
When I asked about it, they said, “We know, we can’t do anything about it. Just don’t buy it when you go”
“Mom, is this the government milk again?”
I was going to promise you that no one was getting fat on WIC checks but that would be a lie. It’s hard to feel full on $8 of vegetables a month. It’s hard to thrive on $8 of vegetables a month. It’s impossible to think straight when you eat quesadillas and black beans for lunch. Every. Single. Day.
We are in a rare category of people that utilizes WIC but doesn’t totally rely on them for our nutrition. We don’t think twice about buying the high quality meat and produce and fancy shmancy coffee.
But here’s the thing, most people that use WIC aren’t in that boat. They get $8 a month for fruits and vegetables and that’s ALL. There is no extra money for organic baby spinach. There is no extra money for wild caught salmon or uncured nitrate free bacon or raw almonds.
Joe asked me to write this post a few weeks ago. He was hoping I wouldn’t leave any stone unturned. That I would rant and rave about how ridiculous this whole thing is. How much time and energy and effort I put into just getting the checks, let alone using them, and how no one actually likes to eat any of it. He was hoping I would say something along the lines of “the government is slowly killing our kids with crap.”
And he’s right. They kinda are. But sitting here and writing all of those things isn’t really going to make much of a difference in a lobby driven system. It’s not going to help the working parents utilizing this resource (and that’s what it is if we’re honest with ourselves). They don’t have the time or energy to complain or make a fuss.
What’s going to help, and what I want you to take from this, is twofold.
First, we need to find ways to increase the fresh produce that our kids are getting on a regular basis. This includes things like WIC checks. We need $8 a week, minimum, for these kids. What they get now is unacceptable. This may be the only chance they have to eat quality fresh ingredients. We need to have an abundant harvest of things that go bad.
I’m always amazed at the looks our girls give us when we put out a salad or a plate of berries. Like, where in the world did we get it? I’m not sure what they’ll think when our garden starts growing or when we finally get to go to the farm this summer. I have a feeling it’ll be like the first time they went to the zoo or saw the mountains out their window. Up close. The real ones. The big ones.
Second, we need to stop with the judging. With the looks and the online backstabbing and the criticism and the- I deserve all of this because I work for it- mentality that is the white American upper middle class. We need to not be afraid to tell people that we utilize WIC. We need to be able to go to the store and not worry that the middle class man behind us in line is going to roll his eyes.
We can do better.
We have to do better.
Do you live in the US? Here is the contact for WIC: http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/wic-contacts. Let them know what you think.