About this Blog

Welcome! Thanks for checking out On Food Stamps.

I created this blog in 2009 when I began working at the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. My work at this organization opened my eyes to food justice issues in America, and I had a strong desire to better understand the difficulties many people face when trying to access healthy food on a limited budget. So, I embarked on my own Food Stamp Challenge, living on $31/week as a vegan. I used this blog to chronicle my experience.

While my Food Stamp Challenge project has come to an end, you can see what I learned from it by reading the Greatest Hits posts linked to the right side of the page. Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.

Stay Hungry,


Sunday, May 10, 2009


Welcome! Thanks for checking out On Food Stamps.

Entries on this Blog record the experience of living on a restricted food budget while maintaining a diet that consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other nutritious, sustainable food.

The goal of On Food Stamps is to conduct useful research about eating well within a very restricted budget.

Why are you doing this? And, Why should I read this blog?

I don't know how to fix the food problem in America, but I know that most low and middle-income people in this country don't seem to have access to food that is healthy for them and healthy for the environment. I don't know what to do about the fact that most of our food is unfit to eat, but I know I am mad about it, and that this is where I am going to start.

I am doing this because I am not okay with the fact that poverty and obesity are so reliably linked.

I am doing this because I am not okay with the fact that people living in poor urban neighborhods can't find a decent grocery store near their homes.

I doing this because I am not okay with the fact that most of what I see people around me eating is not actually food.

I am doing this because I am not okay with the fact that while we think pesticides may give us cancer, most people in our country cannot afford pesticide-free food.

I am doing this because I am not okay with the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death in America.

I am doing this because I need to eat better food, but I can't afford to shop at Whole Foods, and probably not even Trader Joe's.

I am doing this because someone needs to draw more attention to the fact that the lack of access to quality food in this country is becoming a MAJOR public health crisis.

I am doing this because I hope that it will bring us even a little bit closer to finding a way for everyone, regardless of income, to get healthy. Now.

I have been doing a lot of research. I have been inspired by many other Bloggers, authors, and activists. This experiment is not a totally new one. People have done similar experiments before. Just type "Food Stamp Challenge" into a Google search, and you'll see plenty of other examples.

These other food challenges show that eating well for anything in the ballpark of $30/week is certainly very difficult. Experiencing just how difficult it is to achieve a healthy diet on the cheap for oneself is valuable.

But, combing this personal experience with research is even more valuable.

That is what I hope to do with this blog.

This Blog is about resources and barriers in the quest for a healthy but affordable diet.

By reading this Blog and increasing your awareness of the issues it tackles, OR by living on a small food budget yourself and seeking out cheap, healthy options, you can help others in your community in a major way.

Join me in conducting this valuable research by following my Blog, passing it on to friend, or by trying this experiment out yourself. Record your experience so that others can benefit from your findings.

I think we can shake things up for the better... but, I need your help!

How do I participate?

The easiest way to participate is to just read this Blog. Not everyone is up for severely limiting their food budget. Simply reading and commenting on my posts, talking to people about this issue, or passing the link to this blog on is really helpful. I need the support of everyone around me and a big part of this is just awareness! You can help by tweeting, posting, passing on this Blog.

If you want to go the extra mile and try your own On Food Stamps experiment, read on:

Start by setting your guidelines.

1. How much will you spend per week?

Food budget restrictions are based on typical benefits received by individuals receiving aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – commonly referred to as the Food Stamp Program).

Do some research into the average and/or maximum SNAP benefits and individual can receive in your state or urban area. For example, in Los Angeles, an individual can receive up to $176/month or $44/week according to the LA Department of Public Social Services website.

The national average for Food Stamp Benefits is $21/week, but you may choose to go a bit higher. Remember, many people supplement their Food Stamp Benefits with a little extra cash.
The exact weekly amount is up to you, but I ask that you do not exceed $45/week.

2. Where will you shop?

In order for this to be useful for low-income individuals, you must shop in stores that low income individuals actually have access to.
You must only shop at places that accept Food Stamps (EBT/SNAP Benefits). Don’t forget to check if your local farmers market accepts SNAP benefits, many of them do! Keep a record of which places do and do not accept SNAP Benefits.

Feel free to explore different options, but I encourage you to stick to a certain area within your city. I recommend choosing a low-income neighborhood near where you live or work and using a map to mark which stores are where. Remember to think about how hard various shopping centers are to get to for someone who has no car and must rely on public transportation.

3. What will your dietary restrictions be?

You might want to focus on any of the following things:
• Organic and/or local produce
• Mostly Raw Foods
• Vegan or Vegetarian diets

Be realistic with your own diet restrictions, but please do not subsist on rice and beans alone. Your goals are as follows:
• Incorporate a large amount of fresh fruits/vegetables into your diet (aim for ½ of the food you consume to be produce)
• Avoid white flour; eat whole grain products
• Stay away from junk food, processed food, lots of salt (watch out for canned soups, for example!) or sugar
• Get a proper balance of nutrients
• Stay away from large amounts of red meat (Don’t worry, its hard to afford it anyway)
• Consider the pros/cons of organic, local produce compared to hormone altered foods

You are also going to have to make a decision about where coffee/tea, soda, bottled water and alcohol fit into your dietary rules. Think about where these beverages fit into your life. Which do you buy every day? Which make a real impact on normal your weekly budget? I would urge you to count anything that is a routine, daily purchase (such as your morning coffee or a glass of wine with dinner every night) in your weekly budget. If the beverage accompanies a meal, it should really be counted in the week's total. That being said, this is really about researching access to food, not alcohol or coffee. Food stamp benefits cannot be used for alcohol, so it would technically be impossible for someone to take an alcoholic beverage out of their food stamp benefits. Neither would a food stamp recipient be able to afford at $12 martini. You must decide what is right for you. I, for example, am not buying bottled water, any morning coffee or tea, or any alcohol to stock my fridge or spice up my meals. I will be allowing myself to go out for the occasional cheap beer with friends, acknowledging that while this does not negate the value of my project, it is a real luxury that most food stamp recipients cannot afford.

Once you set your rules, stick to them, and get going!
Just make sure you record EVERYTHING you eat and buy. Write down:

• what works for you, and what doesn’t
• how you feel after various meals
• pros and cons of the foods you choose
• where you shop (mark it on a map!) - what are the pros and cons of each shopping site? Consider prices, value, accessibility, time spent in line...
• where you can cut corners, and where you’d rather spend a bit more
• what is hard for you to do, what is easy
• anything you learn that you feel is potentially useful

Thanks again.
Please email me at Julieeflynn@gmail.com to tell me about your experience. Or, post in the comments section of this blog!


  1. Julie:
    I work as a Registered Dietitian at MANNA. MANNA is a non-profit organization that provides meals for individuals that have life-threatening illnesses and are at nutritional risk. Unfortunately, this is only a temporary service that helps out people at their worst and it does eventually stop, leaving the clients vulnerable to future nutritional risk factors. The majority of the people we serve are on food stamps, which plays a major role in their health. It is hard to imagine how some of these clients are able to survive off of SSI and food stamps when they are dealing with life-threatening illnesses. It makes my job very hard. As a dietitian, it is my role to teach them how to eat healthy and appropriately according to their disease to keep them nutritionally sound. Most of the time I feel as though the nutrition education I provide for them is almost a waste of both of our time because I know they are not going to be able to afford the food that they need to follow their individualized diet. Your blog has shed some light on this issue for me because you are giving me a first hand look at how difficult it is and how it can be accomplished with a lot of hard work, and for this I thank you. You may not understand the extent, but you are providing wonderful resources for not only people living off of food stamps but for their health care providers as well. It is so very easy to prescribe a diet or medication and send the patient on their way, but it is not easy for the patient who then has to go home and figure out how to pay for all of this. I am going to be using you wonderful tips, suggestions, first hand experiences, and recipes in my future diet educations. Keep up the amazing work you are doing, I will be following.


    Nicole Laverty, RD, LDN

  2. What an awesome project! I live in Los Angeles, so the $44/wk was a huge relief compared to the $35 (our family of 3 easily uses $75/wk or more, plus occasional eating out). I go to church downtown in the Pico Union district where average household income is barely over $10K/yr, and went to school at USC where the local neighborhood suffered a severe lack of decent grocery stores (a high end Ralphs went in just as I was graduating, so at least the parent-supplemented students now had access to decent produce). It's amazing how hard it can be to find decent food choices in low income neighborhoods. Many of the folk in Pico Union go downtown to the wholesale produce market or Grand Central market.

    I know Community Services Unlimited delivers locally grown back yard garden veggies down in Exposition Park to locals to improve the quality of food in the neighborhood ($8/wk monthly subscription or piecemeal stand), but I don't know if their program accepts SNAP. www.csuinc.org

  3. Hey Julie Flynn,

    Great idea here. Keep it up, you're on to something girl. :)

  4. Having been on food-stamps and trying to raise a family at the same time, I think a caveat for trying this program should have included that food stamps only pay for food. No non-foods are allowed: no otc meds, no band-aids nor even a thermometer, no feminine hygiene products, soap, toiletries, light bulbs, no laundry nor dish detergent, toilet paper nor any paper products nor diapers, nor any other non-food item a supermarket carries, which yes, includes items you'd think necessary for raising a family. No pet foods either, although you could conceivably purchase food ingredients for making your own pet food, not that a typical food-stamp recipient could afford to do that.