Bans of all sorts have been in the news this week. The use of SNAP benefits (also known informally as food stamps) is banned in restaurants in most states, but fast food lobbyists are fighting to change that. Meanwhile, in California a ban on the sale and import of shark fins was passed on Tuesday, and restaurants prepare for the ban on foie gras to go into effect in less than a year.

  • Restaurants and SNAP benefits
    As the number of people participating in USDA’s Supplemental Nutriotion Assistance Program grows, restaurants are eager to get in on the action. From 2005 to 2010, government funds allocated for SNAP have increased nearly threefold. Currently, SNAP benefits cannot be spent on prepared foods in restaurants in most states, although many establishments such as gas stations and pharmacies have been approved to receive food stamps for the first time in history. Louisville, KY-based Yum! Brands — which owns Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut among other chains — is lobbying to get fast food restaurants added to the approved list, which has many health advocates concerned. Kelly Brownell, director of Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, told reporters, “It’s preposterous that a company like Yum! Brands would even be considered for inclusion in a program meant for supplemental nutrition.” Yum! Brands argues that elderly and disabled people have trouble preparing meals and thus cannot eat easily using SNAP benefits. Already, SNAP benefits are accepted in some fast food chains in Arizona, California, Florida and Michigan. Fast food companies are expected to lobby aggressively to expand this list, to the dismay of health advocates.
  • The Foie Gras Ban
    The 2004 law that banned foie gras in California is now going into effect after an 8-year delay, during which chefs searched for a sustainable alternative to fatten duck’s livers without force feeding them. If no alternative is found by the fast-approaching date of July 2012, California will become the first state to ban foie gras. Animal rights activists say the force feeding is inhumane, but many chefs argue that it is not very different from other meat harvesting methods and that it mimics the ducks’ wild behavior, where they gorge themselves before migrating. Furthermore, they accuse vegetarians of unfairly trying to impose their way of eating on everyone in California. Laurent Quenieux, a chef at Starry Kitchen in Los Angeles, told Bloomberg, “When the ban comes in, we’re going to serve it every day. They can send me the foie gras police.”
  • The Shark Fin Ban
    While California was in the banning mood they decided to get rid of shark fins as well, and received much more praise than criticism. The legislation, which was passed on Tuesday, bans the trade, sale and possession of shark fins. Those currently in possession of shark fins have until June 2013 to get rid of them. Opponents of the ban argued that it was discriminatory against Asians who enjoy shark fin soup as a delicacy, but legislators weren’t convinced. California, which has two of the largest Asian food markets in the country (where a bowl of shark fin soup can cost up to $100), would be the fourth state to ban the import and sale of shark fins. The legislation, which passed with 25 votes to 9 and is supported by the Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Association, is unlikely to be overturned despite some grumbles from fans of the soup.