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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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


Friday, May 29, 2009

Dieting Sucks

Please. Check this out.

On my way home from the gym I drive down 2nd St/Glendale Blvd. in downtown LA. I pass billboards along the way, and I have noticed a billboard war going on. The billboards pictured below are right next to each other, and it really speaks to where America might be at as far as healthy eating goes. They both have very different messages about what the solution might be to a passerby's weight or health problems.


(roughly translated to: Our community. Our rules.
Rule #3: We raise our voice for a healthy change)

Going down Glendale towards home I pass one Campeones de Cambio billboard, then the BAND billboard, then another from Campeones de Cambio. I am glad that Campeones have the last word on this one.

I had to post these billboards because they really tie into some of the psychological issues surrounding food culture that I have been discussing. In a previous post I called for some sort of PSA campaign that might work towards establishing a culture where we supported and encouraged each other's healthy behaviors instead of enabling each other to make bad food choices day in and day out. Seems like Campeones de Cambio is already on it, and I am loving their outreach. At least they are getting the message out there, and hopefully their billboards will start some discussion in the kitchens and dining rooms of LA residents.

The problem is, you can never make anyone do something they do not want to do. And, it is true. Everyone knows it. Dieting sucks. America has blissfully consumed everything in excess for at least the last decade, food included, and paring down our consumption (thanks, Recession) hasn't been easy on anyone.

Billboards that strive to empower and educate people about eating more fruits and vegetables are a great step, but I think the "Dieting Sucks" billboard likely speaks more to where our collective head is at. The tones of the billboards are really intriguing. I can almost see the conversation between the protagonist of each Ad: the woman from the Campeones billboard says "Eat your vegetables. Really, its not so bad. If you try them, I'm sure you'll like them, and you honestly need to get healthier soon or you are going to get sick. Its time to start working on a healthier lifestyle." And then the BAND guy looks at her, looks at the loaded hot dog or cupcake or whatever that thing is in front of him, and just stuffs his face. Through a mouthful of food he says, "Forget it. That's too hard, too foreign for me, too much of a pain. I'm not dieting. Dieting sucks."

And this really brings me to one of my major realizations thus far. Eating as a vegan on $35, even $31 per week is possible. I can probably even get a high percentage of local and pesticide free food for that price. (As you will see, I am going to aim for that this coming week, since I have neglected to prioritize organic/local eating thus far.)
Yes, it can be done. I'm doing it.

But lets be honest, it is a hell of a lot of work.

I barely see my friends, I haven't found time to call my parents on the east coast in what seems like weeks, and I really don't do anything but go to work, cook, shop for food, and blog. I'm finding it quite difficult to have the time and energy to make these healthy but cheap meals happen for myself, and I don't have a second job or 3 kids that need love and attention.

The only thing that keeps me going is that I am supremely committed to this goal. I have made a promise to myself that I am going to do this $35/week thing in a healthy way, and I am not quitting. But, fuck. Its not fun. Its hard. It sucks. So, unless you prioritize your health above everything else in your life - social time, sleep, television, relaxation, relationships with family or friends, money - and put all of that stuff on hold like I've been doing this month, you might be temped to call up that BAND guy and see what he has to offer in terms of a quick fix.

One final point: I have a lot of advantages which are making it possible for me to even prioritize my health above all else this month in the first place. For example:
  • I have a car.
  • I don't know many people in LA, so I don't have a lot of family or social commitments.
  • I know that my life will go back to normal in 1 month, that this is a temporary and finite experience. That knowledge makes it easier for me to exert extra effort since it will only be for a little while.
  • I have cooking skills and some decent kitchen tools to work with.
  • I didn't have to teach myself anything new about nutrition, I am eating in a way that is already familiar to me, albeit a bit stricter than my normal diet.
  • I am young, single, and unattached.
  • I have no dependents at all - not even a pet fish.
I wouldn't for a second say that what I've learned is it is possible to eat in a very healthy way for $31 per week, you just have to try, to want it enough. That would be totally naive. For many low-income Americans, exerting the sort of effort that this budget and diet combination requires is simply not possible. At all.


  1. Very well said...now, what is the solution?

  2. "I'm finding it quite difficult to have the time and energy to make these healthy but cheap meals happen for myself"

    I have a friend who refers to what she calls the "service triangle" - of the three items (fast, cheap, good) you can get two out of three, but never all three simultaneously. Usually there's a balance of compromise on all three. It's astounding to me how often this applies.

  3. Stacy - I love that service triangle comment. I think you are totally right. This applies to many things beyond food as well. The Washington Post article I liked recently illustrates how closely tied fast and cheap are and how this impact the lives of low income Americans on a daily basis.