Earlier this year, when the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (known as WIC) expanded the types of healthy foods allowed for purchase through the program, white potatoes were left out. WIC shoppers were already buy plenty of potatoes, according to the Institute of Medicine, and so the starchy vegetable didn’t need to be included.

That didn’t sit well with the National Potato Council. It lobbied Congress to have spuds included in WIC, and it looks as if the potato lobbyists have won. Included in the $1 trillion spending deal that Congress is working on is a reversal on the ban on potatoes, according to USA Today.

What I found most interesting about the USA Today piece is the claim that the National Potato Council doesn’t care about the money potato farmers will bring in with the WIC dollars. John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of the National Potato Council, says the group hasn’t even done the math when it comes to how much money the potato industry will get when the 8.7 million people participating in WIC add potatoes to their grocery baskets. What's really at issue is the damage being done to the image of white potatoes.

"It wasn't really about the money," he said. "It was about the message it sent to these consumers."

This sounds disingenuous to me, but maybe that’s just my cynicism coming out. If we take the National Potato Council at its word, and it’s all about a food’s reputation, are there other foods excluded from WIC whose images are being tarnished?

Let’s take a look at some other foods that could possibly get a bad reputation when people find out that a nutrition-based program ignores them. According to the current Regulatory Requirements for WIC-Eligible Foods on the USDA’s website, the following seemingly healthy foods are also ineligible.

  • Fresh herbs and spices
  • Peanuts or other nuts
  • White breads
  • White pastas
  • Nut butters, other than peanut butter
Also, although organic foods are not mentioned in the regulatory requirements, states are permitted to disallow organic foods from WIC. According to the Organic Consumers Association, 31 states do not allow any organic foods to be bought with WIC money, and an additional 13 forbid certain organic foods from being purchased.

I don’t believe the exclusion of these foods from WIC sends a bad message to consumers. The foods in WIC are specifically chosen to help women, infants and children get the right nutrients they need. WIC’s purpose is to benefit a specific set of people who are especially at risk of malnutrition, not to benefit the industries that produce the food.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Congress saves the potato's reputation
The National Potato Council lobbied Congress to include potatoes in the WIC nutritional program, claiming its exclusion sent the wrong message to consumers.