When the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program was created in 1974, it was designed to battle the crisis of “underweight and malnourished kids,” says Donna Bister, Vermont’s WIC director.
But times have changed. Today, Bister notes, “That’s not the problem in this country anymore. The issues for most families — not just WIC families — are not enough fiber, too much fat, not enough fruits and vegetables.”
It was a long time coming, but last week the federal guidelines for WIC changed to address the needs of modern eaters with additional food items. For example, Vermonters will now receive whole-wheat bread from La Panciata bakery in Northfield in their home delivery boxes instead of white bread. “They changed their recipe for us,” Bister says.
People with celiac disease can opt for brown rice in place of the loaves, and lactose-intolerant participants can swap dairy products for soy milk and tofu. Women who are breastfeeding will get more food than ones who switch to formula, and babies will receive more baby food and less juice.
Another important change: Participants now receive debit cards that allow them to purchase fruits and vegetables at 81 participating grocery stores and co-ops. Good for fresh, frozen or canned produce with no additives, the cards are expected to bring $1 million into Vermont stores over the next year. On October 1 alone, when the cards first went online, participants spent $2105.97, Bister notes.
“People … have been asking for the opportunity to buy organic or local or both,” she says. “This gives them that choice.”