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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Racing the Clock

I went back to my new favorite grocery store today - the sweet spot between a farmers market and a discount store. I still had some food left at home, but it was really just potatoes and tofu, so I needed to round it out with a few more items. I went into good old A Grocery Warehouse and bought :
  • 4 vine tomatoes: 1.29 lb at $0.69/lb = $0.89
  • Green onion (scallion) = $0.25
  • 2 bananas: 0.73lb at $0.49/lb = $0.36
  • 3 large heads of broccoli: 1.82 lb at $0.79/lb = $1.44
  • A large bunch of fresh spinach = $0.69
  • One big bag of key limes = 1.5 lb at $0.59/lb = $0.89
  • 2 yellow bell peppers in the $0.99 box = $0.99
Total at A Grocery Warehouse: $4.62
Remaining $: $14.49 - $4.62 = $9.87

Let me just say, I have PLENTY of food to last me through this weekend. I am really not worried about having enough food at all any more. Farmer's markets, neighborhood ethnic grocers, and even discount chain grocery stores really do have low enough prices to make $35, even $31 (gotta get used to that now), stretch for a whole week.

What I am worried about is the time.

Let me be honest with you - this experiment is completely, 100% consuming my life. It is really difficult to find time even to Blog or remember to take pictures with all of the cooking, prepping, and shopping I have to do. Apparently, I am not alone. A study by Adam Drewnowski and Petra Eichelsdoerfer from the University of Washington Center for Public Health suggests that "time poverty" and economic poverty are very related. Drewnowski and Eichelsdoerfer note that it may often be impossible for individuals to prepare low-cost nutritious meals AND hold down full time jobs. I am certainly finding it to be a challenge.

Here is what today looked like, for example:

Got out of work at 5pm.
I went to work out at the gym. The gym I go to is incredibly conveniently located right between work and home , so I don't even have to take out any time for commuting.
I left the gym around 7:30.
By the time I got through A Grocery Warehouse, drove home, found a damn parking spot, got everything in the door, and took my shoes off to start cooking it was 8:45. Mind you there wasn't any line at A and the store is again, perfectly located on my route home.
At this point I am absolutely starving.
I just worked out for 2 1/2 hours and haven't eaten since lunch.
Again, I am caught flat footed without any food ready to go in a moment of starvation. You may remember in one of my first posts that I talked about the perils of letting yourself get very hungry when there is nothing quick to grab. It was very unpleasant. There was plenty of food in my house, but none of it was ready to eat, all of it was raw.
I was actually light headed from hunger.
Since I couldn't wait to eat what I was going to cook in bulk, I had to make a separate quick dinner. That took about 1/2 an hour. My only option was another avocado and apple quesadilla, so I made that. It was quite tasty, but not really what I wanted to eat. That is my third burrito/quesadilla concoction in 3 days, and I would have really preferred something else. Sadly, I had to eat immediately. There goes another 1/2 hour.
It was then 9:15.
Time to start cooking for the rest of the week.
I am very tired because I have gotten very little sleep for the last two nights. While I am cooking, I feel like I am racing the clock to make sure I finish in time to get a decent night's sleep tonight. I really just want to relax, write, go to bed. But if I do that, I will have no food tomorrow.
So, I set to work.
I cut the tofu, dice the scallions, roughly chop the broccoli.
I set to work squeezing the key limes. I have to tell you, I bought those key limes because they were $0.10 cheaper than normal limes. I am actually really happy with how their flavors worked out in the dishes I cooked tonight (recipes to come), but they were a real bitch to squeeze. Not worth the savings. These are key limes:
As you can see, they are quite tiny. It took me forever to squeeze them, and then forever to clean up all the rinds and seeds:

I got tons of seeds into the food, but I was feeling pressed for time so I kind of got sloppy and didn't care. We'll see if I mind tomorrow when I am eating broccoli with key lime seeds.
Now it is 10:30.
I am trying to compose a good post, and I really just want 8 hours sleep for ONE night this week. Is that so much to ask?
Apparently, if you are trying to live on $35/week it is.

I have two options: either suck it up and spend the time preparing and cooking the food, or have nothing to eat tomorrow.

Now, imagine if tonight I'd said "Fuck it. I'm not cooking tonight. I've been cooking all week, going non-stop all day, and I am tired. Fuck it."

That would have been really great. I'd have gotten to relax. Maybe watch a movie, unwind a bit for two measly hours (remember, I got home at 8:45 and want to get 8 hours sleep), maybe call a friend...

When I got to work tomorrow- where I am paid hourly and must clock in/out for my 30 minute lunch break- I would have nothing to eat at noon. I would still only have $35 to spend for the entire week. That wouldn't change. I would also only have 30 minutes to get to a place that sells food, buy the food, eat the food, and get back to work in time to clock back in.

Where do you think I would go?

I'm putting my money (even if isn't much) on a place with a drive-thru and a dollar menu. How about you?


  1. I feel that way a lot about cooking and ingredients and I am not restrained by an imaginary or real budget. Do I make lunch and breakfast for tomorrow or try to make it out of work in the 28 minutes I have or not eat until after work or...

    Sometime when you don't have the constraints of this challenge may I suggest investing in a lime (or lemon) squeezer. They are painted the color of the fruit and have a cup with holes and when half the fruit is place in it turns it inside out and squeezes it. I first saw them when I lived in Costa Rica and we drank limeade at every meal but they are pretty easy to find at kitchen shops and online. Work great for key limes -- get the juice out quickly and keeps the seeds in.

  2. Jasmine- I really like your idea about the lime/lemon squeezer. I have found that cooking with natural, fresh squeezed fruit juice is really great, and its unfortuante that getting the juice out takes so much time. The juice adds fantastic flavor to tap water or any dish I am cooking, and is not loaded down with added sugar or preservatives. It would be so much better, for example, if I pre-squeezed a bunch of juice and had it on hand all week. Good idea.

  3. May I suggest a crockpot to save time? You can even turn it on before you leave for work and when you get home - your food is ready! It's only $16 at Target. Now go buy it!