A new study, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and executed by the nonprofit research group Institute of Medicine, attempts to answer one very specific question: Should women enrolled in WIC—the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children—be able to spend their vouchers on potatoes?
Whether or not pregnant women should be allowed to buy potatoes using WIC vouchers has been a political controversy for several years. WIC is a program intended to help poor pregnant and postpartum women supplement their diets with exceptionally nutritious foods. (WIC also provides vouchers for baby food and formula.) In 2006, the IOM decided that potatoes aren’t healthful enough to be considered a crucial food for pregnant and postpartum women, a decision that lobbyists for the potato industry immediately began trying to undo. Now comes this new study, reversing the IOM’s earlier conclusion and recommending that potatoes be included in the list of WIC foods. Whether or not WIC eventually adds potatoes to the list, the hoopla over one starch sheds light on the bureaucratic nightmare that is America’s social support system.