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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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,


Thursday, May 21, 2009

It's Complicated...

I found a really great study today titled "Barriers to a Healthy Lifestyle: From Individuals to Public Policy - An Ecological Perspective" by Nurgul Fitzgerald and Kim Spaccarotella. It is not too long (8 pages), and I think its worth reading.

The study really highlights what I have been finding over the last two weeks. Mainly, that access to healthy food is more complicated than just money. It is also wrapped up social environments, cultural norms, and time constraints. The article reviews barriers to a healthy lifestyle by placing them into several categories, which I thought made a lot of sense. It looks like this:

1. Intrapersonal Barriers (within control of the individual)
  • taste preferences
  • lack of nutritional knowledge or skills
  • inadequate cooking skills (particularly problematic for vegetable consumption)
Luckily, this hasn't been a major barrier for me. I have had to be very open to cooking in new ways, however, and I realize that not everyone is in the mood to get that creative in the kitchen. I've come up with some weird combinations, such as mint and curry, out of necessity.

2. Interpersonal Barriers (involve social relationships surrounding the individual)

  • associations with fast food and pleasure/socializing
  • anticipation of negative reactions from peers about eating healthy, overall lack of social support
  • socioeconomic factors - noted that availability of healthier food options at home and having family meals are related to eating healthful diets, but that these things were less likely in households where both parents worked long hours (possibly at two jobs)
  • time poverty - lack of time necessary to produce quality meals
  • television viewing or computer use - This part was very interesting. Besides the obvious consequences of this sedentary activity, the study noted that more "screen time" was also associated with children's requests for advertised foods, which we all know tend to be highly processed products (not even going to call that stuff food, in the spirit of Michael Pollan). Interesting, no?
I really saw the social pressure element of this barrier category in my grilled cheese downfall.

3. Community/Institution Barriers (relates to neighborhoods, work sites, schools)
  • limited availability of healthy food options and high concentrations of fast food restaurants (food deserts)
  • limited access to private transportation
  • lack of safe recreational space for physical activities and sports
I am interested in this category in particular as schools across the country are challenged with the task of providing healthier food in cafeterias and vending machines. I linked an article earlier noting that LAUSD was just busted for violating junk food bans. This article suggests that cost is often a major issue in the quest to improve food quality in public schools.

4. Macro/Policy Barriers (the impact of state, local, federal policies on healthy lifestyles)
  • federal food programs such as SNAP/food stamps or WIC can help, but they have a host of access barriers of their own (more to come on that later)
  • cyclical eating patterns where individuals overeat upon receipt of benefits, do not eat enough at all once benefits dry up, and then overeat again the next time they are available
  • higher cost of healthful foods
  • cultural norms such as overly large portion sizes
  • advertisement trends in the food industry
I found myself experiencing these cyclical eating patterns this week. Right after that massive weekend grocery run, I felt like I had a ton of food. Since most of it was produce, I also felt that I had to eat it quickly. While I likely won't run out this week, I did find myself eating too much too fast in the beginning of the week and eating in a much more controlled manner as the food dwindled. My eating pattern is certainly influenced by the fact that I know I must ration what I have and strictly control my portions. I can see where this might lead to an unhealthy pre-occupation or even obsession with food.

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