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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cabbage and the WIC Cookbook

Remember that cabbage I bought at the Hollywood Farmers' Market two weeks ago?

Well, I hadn't cooked it yet frankly because I just didn't know what to do with cabbage. I have worked with it in a few dishes in the past, but I have never really found a great go-to cabbage recipe, I just haven't had any desire to tackle learning to cook a new vegetable. Cabbage isn't something I typically buy either. Its not a very exciting vegetable and has a reputation, like brussel sprouts, for not being very tasty. But, it is incredibly cheap and goes a long way, so I'd bought it because it was one of the few things in my price range at the Hollywood market two weekend ago. Since then I'd cooking and eaten every single piece of produce in my fridge and never touched the head of cabbage. Today out of bare necessity I broke down and decided to cook the damn thing.

I pulled out a few of my vegetarian/vegan cookbooks, and I also consulted the WIC program cookbook, which I picked up early last month at the South Central Farmers' Market. This cookbook wasn't totally new to me, I'd leafed through it before, but I hadn't realized quite how fantastic it was until today.

What is WIC? The website describes the program well: WIC provides Federal grants to States for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk. Just think Women, Infants, and Children. The name makes sense.

If you drive through a low income neighborhood you will likely see markets, mini-marts, and stores with signs saying that they accept WIC. In a lot of cities there are also special WIC stores that pop up; there are several near where I live. WIC is different than food stamps because it is more specific about which foods you can buy with your benefits. If you go to a grocery store that accepts WIC benefits, you will probably see certain items marked with the WIC logo to show shoppers that these items are WIC approved. This page give more information about which foods are WIC eligible.

As you can imagine, going into a store where only some of the items are "allowed" can be difficult and frustrating. I bet it isn't particularly fun to take your small children to a grocery store where they will see tons of snacks and foods they want, and stick to only a few specific WIC approved items every time. It makes sense that WIC-only stores spring up in low-income neighborhoods. I bet these stores make shopping with WIC benefits much easier.

The WIC program in LA is currently engaging in a lot of outreach to get mothers to use their benefits to purchase more fruits and vegetables. Like food stamps, WIC benefits are accepted at Farmers' Markets around the city, and when I went to the South Central market WIC was running a nutrition class and handing out information. The Healthy Harvest cookbook was one thing they were really trying to get out there.

The cookbook's sub heading is "Recipes and Tips for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables". In the box at the bottom of the cover this text appears:
South Los Angeles Health Projects
WIC Program

We care about you and your family!

Inside the cookbook there are different types of fruits and vegetables. It starts with apples and goes all the way to winter squash. Each vegetable or fruit gets one page. At the top there are three sections - one on how to select the particular produce item, one on how to store it, and one on use in general.

The Cabbage listing looked like this:
Select: Firm heavy heads that are free of yellowing leaves, bruises, splits or spots
Store: Cabbage in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks (Phew. Two weeks. I just made it!)
Use: Rinse well and remove damaged and wilted leaves. Slice thin and team to use with sauces, or cut in larger chunks and steam to eat with vinegar, or butter and salt.
Then down below there were two very simple, easy to follow recipes.

I was really impressed with this resource. It not only makes produce accessible by staring with the basics of how to choose good produce and store it so it stays fresh, it also provides realistic and quick recipes that wouldn't require a ton of cooking know how.

As this week progresses I am going to try recipes from the WIC cookbook. I'll let you know how they go.

Tonight I settled on a cabbage recipe from another cookbook. I essentially simmered the cabbage in canned diced tomatoes with onions, garlic, salt and pepper. I had a lot of basil left over so I threw that in too. In the spirit of wasting nothing, I diluted some of the tomato sauce that the cabbage was cooking it in and used it to cook my rice. This way I conserved some of the nutrients from the cooking cabbage and tomatoes and wound up with more flavorful brown rice.

The dish I came up with was really great, and I think it is safe to say that I won't avoid the cabbage for so long next time around. Still, I really do want to express how long I put off cooking this vegetable simply because I didn't know how. If you are not used to cooking vegetables in general, I can imagine integrating more produce into your diet would seem like a real pain. Lack of knowledge about how to cook and eat produce is a major barrier, and I am glad this WIC cookbook is out there.


  1. You might take a look at some POlish recipe books as well. Kapusta is a cabbage dish but it's one of those things, like spaghetti sauce, that everyone's grandmother makes a different way.

    I cook cabbage with tomatoes and onions and add just a splash of vinegar to make it a bit sour.

    You can also do another modified eastern european dish with cabbage and onions cooked in broth (I'm not strict vegetarian so I use chicken) and put over egg noodles.

  2. 5dollarsaday - I'm glad you commented as it led me to your blog. Our projects are very similar, and I look forward to reading more about your experience on $5/day.

    I'm going to try the vinegar with the cabbage next time, too. Sounds like I should look to Eastern European cook books for cabbage recipes.

  3. Cabbage is a staple in my diet, thinly sliced and sauteed in a tsp of oil, at the end I toss in a few sliced tomatoes or a couple of spoons of salsa. Mix it up and cook for however long you prefer (shorter for crispy, longer for a little mushier).

    Simple and chock full of vitamin C.

    A good way to make it a quick fix on weeknights is to pre - slice it when you have the time to prep, divide it into portions and store in the fridge. That way you can just "grab and fry" in under 10 minutes.

  4. Cabbage is very good for health. It is rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals. It has many health benefits like, it helps to glow skin, accelerate bowel movements, prevent constipation, detoxifies the body. The water obtained from boiling cabbage can be used to rinse the face after washing.

  5. Julie--It was so wonderful to meet you last night! I am very inspired by your blog and have just spent way too much time reading it while I should have been working this afternoon! But--remind me to give you the recipe for curried cabbage & peas from "Vegetarian Epicure part 2" It is super-excellent!

  6. Julie --thought I'd add a side note. I'm working on a project in the midwest for low income families and cooking skills. If you haven't tried it...for a sweet vs. savory cabbage...there's is nothing like German cabbage and apples. My 6 member family likes the ratio of 1/2 head of cabbage to 2 med-lg hard apples. Throw a tbsp. of olive oil in the pan and quick fry the apples until they get a nice crispy brown- flip - and add the cabbage and another tbsp of olive oil or butter. Salt and pepper if desired. This is a great meal stretcher and tastes great with vegetarian and/or meat selections as well, for those traditional Germans; bratwurst/sausage, loose hamburger,or pork chops.

  7. Thaw one frozen uncooked bread loaf all day allowing to rise, cut into quarters, brown one half pound of ground beef, add and soften one onion and one third medium head of cabbage, roll out quarters of bread, fill with burger cabbage onion mix, roll up and bake at 350 until golden.