If you picked up this copy of the Independent in anticipation of making one of our mouth-watering holiday recipes (see page 14), you'll notice that everyone involved paid particular attention to including as many local and organic ingredients as possible. But despite the Garden City's considerable efforts to ensure that even the less fortunate have access to such foods—like the farmers' markets accepting Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, or the PEAS Farm's donations to the Missoula Food Bank—not everyone can choose the healthiest options.
Unfortunately, this includes Montanans who rely on the federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, better known as WIC. Recent changes have made the program, administered by the state, much more prescriptive in which foods and brands mothers can and cannot buy, and those changes have forced Missoula's organic Mecca to choose between honoring its mission and serving some of the neediest members of the community.
As of November 30, after some 30 years, the Good Food Store will no longer participate in the program because of the foods it would be forced to stock, like factory-farm eggs, non-organic baby food, cheese with rBGH and peanut butter with hydrogenated oil. The only WIC-approved organic item is milk.
"They've finally been able to make it completely impossible for us to participate, and that's just too bad," says Pam Clevenger, the Good Food Store's grocery, meat and seafood manager. "It's too bad that the people who use the coupons don't have more of a choice."
State WIC director Joan Bowsher explains the decision comes down to money. "It was a budget thing," she says.
Bowsher says the new rules do include some positive developments. For instance, women now get $10 per month and each child $6 per month to spend on fresh or frozen vegetables and fresh fruits—a move that forces WIC-participating stores to stock those items. That money, the state decided, can also be spent at farmers' markets.
Still, with the other demands, the Good Food Store saw no option but to bow out.
"It took us a long time to finally come to this decision," Clevenger says. "One thing we were worried about is that people would perceive us as being elitist. And that's definitely not what this is about. What it's about is our customers trusting us to not carry products like hydrogenated oil, products that are bad for people's health."
No doubt, we all—state agencies included—have to live within our budgets. We just wish the state found a way to let mothers make a better choice when nourishing their children.