Ed Schultz blasted Republicans on the June 15 edition of his eponymous Ed Show program for “sticking it” to “American families who desperately need” the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps. In an interview with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) later in the program, Schultz griped that there’s “no fat in food stamps, as I see it.”
Well, apparently good ol’ Ed can’t stay on message for more than one week, as the bombastic MSNBC host berated Republicans again for cuts to SNAP on Saturday – but this time because dining with food you can buy from SNAP assistance contains “everything that makes America fat.” Schultz’s tirade, which I debunk later, came in response to a Republican congressional staffer’s success with the SNAP Challenge, a movement by the Food and Research Action Center that challenges Americans to live on a $4.50 per day food budget for one week.
Donny Ferguson, communications director for Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), took the SNAP Challenge in response to around 30 House Democrats who have taken the challenge to protest proposed cuts to the food stamp program. Stockman’s office said that Ferguson was able to “buy enough food to eat well for a week on just $27.58, almost four dollars less than the $31.50 “SNAP Challenge” figure.”
Schultz didn’t like that one bit. The host had Ferguson’s list of groceries placed on his desk, displaying what he called a diet of “very little protein, fatty foods, processed foods, subsidized foods, preservatives” and “corn syrup.” He claimed the diet was “double the daily calorie intake for an adult, more than double the amount of sodium intake,” and claimed the diet was 3,500 calories daily.
Unfortunately for Schultz, most of his figures are off. By my calculation, Ferguson’s daily diet was roughly 2,100 calories and around 49 grams of protein – the daily USDA-recommended intake for a man his age is around 2,400 calories and 56 grams of protein (my methodology is described in detail below). If Ferguson had spent his extra few dollars on meat, or had replaced his purchase of popsicles or cookies with some form of protein, he would have likely pushed his diet to the healthy amount of calories and protein.
Now, Schultz did get one figure right – the 3,194 milligrams of sodium in Ferguson’s diet was more than twice the USDA-recommended intake of 1,500 milligrams of sodium. But the overarching point is that an individual could, with careful planning, maintain a healthy diet on the SNAP Challenge, with groceries bought on food stamps alone.
At any rate, as any reporter worth his salt knows, food stamps are a “supplemental” income for grocery spending, not meant to be the total budget a recipient has for grocery shopping.
Democrats in Congress have been touting their individual SNAP Challenges for the last several weeks, as the farm bill was debated. No less a liberal outlet as the Washington Post recently debunked the prevailing theory behind the SNAP Challenge, correctly asserting that “about 75 percent of SNAP participants use their own money, in addition to SNAP benefits, to buy food.” The representatives’s insistence on living on only $4.50 a day ignores the fact that SNAP – even in name – was intended to be a supplemental program for needy families.
Schultz later hyped the “principled vote” against the farm bill by Democrats, calling their opposition “historic.” Funny how the Host Who Cried Obstructionism, at least when Republicans are involved, completely changes his tone when it was Democrats who ultimately obstructed the bill.
Now, Schultz’s misreporting doesn’t have anything to do with the actual cuts proposed to the program – different lawmakers have different opinions of the proposed cuts to SNAP in both the Senate and House versions of the farm bill. But when the MSNBC host tries to claim that Ferguson’s SNAP diet – which included peanut butter and jelly, rice, beans, and spaghetti – is “everything that makes Americans fat”? That’s just incorrect.
Methodology: I accessed Donny Ferguson’s SNAP Challenge diet through a press release from Rep. Stockman’s office. As often as possible, I turned to the official websites of the various products (e.g. Quaker for oatmeal) for nutritional facts. When the official product purchased wasn’t available, I turned to reputable outside sources, including Wegman’s grocery stores and the USDA.
I obtained the calorie, fat, sodium, sugar and protein facts for each product, with the exception of Wyler’s drink mix, which did not list the sugar content. I took Ferguson’s Monday diet and added together the nutritional facts, listed below:
Monday Total: 2,099 calories, 19.77 grams of fat, 3,194 mg sodium, 168.06 g sugar, 48.91 g protein
I compared these figures to the USDA-recommended intake, with the exception of fat (which was not determined) and sugar (daily recommended intake via the American Heart Association). These are the figures I obtained:
USDA recommended for 31-50 year old male: 2200-2400 calories, fat not determined, 1500 mg sodium, 36 g sugar, 56 g protein
I also found nutritional facts for Ferguson’s alternate lunch and dinner, a bowl of refried beans and a bowl of rice and pinto beans, respectively. The rice and pinto beans dinner adds to the daily intake of sodium, but otherwise, these alternates do not significantly affect Monday’s total intake.
See the relevant transcripts below:
The Ed Show
5:10 p.m. Eastern
ED SCHULTZ: For more on this, let's turn to independent senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. Senator, great to have you with us tonight. I appreciate it. This is a parallel to what we're seeing in tax policy, I believe Senator. That we are favoring the wealthy again and sticking it to the little guy and hurting American families who desperately need that cheap food policy. Senator, put it together for us. Where can we correct this? Your thoughts.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well Ed, I appreciate very much that you are focusing on something that we don't talk enough about, and that is today poverty in America is at almost a 50-year high. We have 46 million people living in poverty. We have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. We have millions of seniors today who are wondering how they're going to be eating tomorrow, and they suffer illness as a result. So when you have a declining middle class, and people fall into poverty. When you have real wages going down for millions of Americans, what you end up with is a real need for food on behalf of millions and millions of children and seniors. Let's be clear. Most of the families that receive food stamps have kids. Many of them are working families, and many others are senior citizens. Those are the people who get food stamps. And we have got to decide in this country, at a time when we're seeing outrageous wealth and income inequality – richest people doing phenomenally well, middle class disappearing, poverty terribly high. Are we going to make certain that nobody in this great country goes hungry – or are we going to do as the Republicans want, make massive cuts in food stamp programs, nutrition programs for seniors, and other programs? And I think the answer is pretty obvious. The American people understand that in this great country, people should not go hungry.
SCHULTZ: No question about it, no doubt about it. But what we are seeing here is distorted priorities. The Tea Party, all of a sudden, they’re silent. They have no problem with these billions of dollars going to big agribusiness and all of the wealth going to the wealthiest farmers – who are out there while the little guy gets kicked to the side of the road, along with the recipients of food stamps. There is no fat in food stamps, as I see it. There is no fat in school nutritional programs, which is needed by, of course, the portion of the population that you’re talking about. So how do we fix this? What would be the correct move?
The Ed Show
5:22 p.m. Eastern
ED SCHULTZ: Well, quite an interesting week in Washington when it comes to food. One Republican fighting to cut food stamps is Texas Congressman Steve Stockman. Remember the name? Oh yeah! Good buddy of Ted Nugent. He’s the guy that got Nugent in the State of the Union. Alright, Stockman’s communication director, Donny Ferguson, he took the SNAP Challenge in response to 26 Democrats spending a week living on the SNAP budget. Ferguson says he spent less than the allotted money, and claims he even gained weight from the food.
Well, guess what? We have exactly here on the Ed set what this guy bought. Oh, it's just great food, isn’t it? This is how you live on food stamps. Let’s see here. He got cookies, sugary cereal, no value whatsoever when it comes to nutrition. You’ve got rice and beans. You’ve got peanut butter and jelly. Sounds good, but – almost double the daily calorie intake for an adult, more than double the amount of sodium intake. May I point out on this desk – no fresh vegetables, no chicken, no meat, very little protein, fatty foods, processed foods, subsidized foods, preservatives, corn syrup and everything that makes America fat.
Here's your farm bill, folks. Right here. Here's the food stamp program. Now, some of the congressional members are complaining that there might be some king crab legs that might make it through the checker’s aisle at the grocery store. I wish that was the case. What we need to do is increase the food stamp program so they don't end up with stuff like this that makes Americans fat. Why don't they have a kind of a program that pushes forward for fresh vegetables? Pushes forward for poultry and meat and real protein that helps kids get nourished. That's where we need to be focusing.
But, you see, big conglomerates have taken care of that through their lobbyists to make sure that they get subsidized to do this kind of stuff. Thirty-five hundred calories? No. That's not where America wants to go. Joining me tonight is Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Congressman Ellison is one of the Democrats taking part in the SNAP Challenge. Keith, good to have you with us tonight. Congressman, how’s it going for you on this? Is it a feasible diet, in any stretch of the imagination, for Americans?
REP. ELLISON: Look, you can take the SNAP diet, and you can eat enough food to make your belly feel like you've had a meal. But you can't eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet that is going to enhance health and help you get stronger and better. And it’s particularly bad for a child. I mean, the truth is, is that this SNAP diet is not really a sustainable diet for anyone. And, so, for folks who want to cut SNAP even more – you know, in my opinion, this is just not acceptable.
SCHULTZ: Now, there are some things that he bought and this is whole wheat bread and milk. But the majority of it makes America fat. The majority of it is subsidized.
ELLISON: Empty calories.
SCHULTZ: And it's the priority of it all is not good. Would you agree?
ELLISON: Absolutely agree. It's what you call empty calories. It’s calories, but there's not much nutrition contained in those calories. And, so, you end up being not very healthy if you stay on that diet. That's why cutting food stamps is something we couldn't stand for, not in the nation that is the richest nation in the world and makes enough food for people to eat in a nutritious, well-balanced, healthy way.
SCHULTZ: So this is a principled vote on the farm bill by the Democrats. This to me is historic. The farm bill has always been hotly negotiated, but it’s never been a problem getting passed. Everybody knows that, you know, you know, urban legislators are going to come along with rural senators and see how important it is to keep producers on the land and to keep a food supply in America. It's – but for us not to be able to get a farm bill, I think, speaks volumes about how broken Washington is. What's going to happen now – and a principled vote by the part of the Democrats to stand your ground on making sure food stamps don't get cut. Where do we go from here?
ELLISON: Well, we’re going to go back to the drawing board. We’re going to come up with a sensible alternative. The fact is, if they hadn't had these draconian cuts, we may have been able to get closer to what makes some sense. But they did have them. And they insisted upon them. And the Heritage Institute actually was whipping against it, as well. So, they lost about 60 Republicans on the bill. But, you know, they really lost the bulk of the Dems.
I think they have got to come more our way, if they want to get a farm bill. And we do need a farm bill. I come from an ag[riculture] state. Minnesota’s an agricultural state, and I would like to see a farm bill. But I'm not going to tolerate a bill with these draconian SNAP cuts, together with nothing really on renewable energy. And, so, the bill really was not adequate. Oh, but we kept the big subsidies for big ag[riculture].
SCHULTZ: Exactly. So what we're seeing, even in the farm bill, is that the Republicans are protecting the wealthiest, protecting the conglomerates, protecting the corporations and going after the poor.
ELLISON [laughing]: Exactly.
SCHULTZ: That's what they're doing. They're going after the poor. Oh my God, it’s the food stamps, that's why we're having such a financial issue in this country. Congressman, great to have you with us. Appreciate your time. Keith Ellison from Minnesota.
ELLISON: You bet.