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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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, June 25, 2009

Depression Era Moms: Green Before Green Was Cool

The last page of Whole Life Times most recent issue has a great article in which a woman talks about growing up with a mother who lived in very environmentally sustainable lifestyle “not out of any kind of ‘green’ philosophy or liberal political identity, but because that was the way she lived in the world.”

Back in the day, sustainable living was part of an overall culture of frugality, of a Great Depression inspired desire to reduce waste and eek the most out of every product we every bought. While its great that Green has become both a chic identity label and a household term, I am sometimes concerned that our efforts are misdirected.

Have you ever felt that the whole Green Living and Sustainable Food thing has just provided people with more products to consume? Sometimes I feel that way when I walk into yet another chain store selling its brand of reusable bags to “reduce plastic bag use.” Ok, but how many of those damn reusable bags are we producing? And, how many of those do we all have in our trunk already each time we buy a new one?

Sometimes the whole thing doesn’t seem genuine. I’m glad that Save-a-Lot sells reusable bags now, but it would be a lot better if I was at a Farmers’ Market instead of the Save-a-Lot check out line. The author of this article seems to agree with me. She says that her mom would have been “appalled by the consumerist explosion of the environmentalist movement” that has led people to buy things like cool little racks to dry out zip lock bags after washing them.

The mom in this article tended a compost pile and cultivated the majority of the family’s fresh produce in the back yard. When harvest was high, she was in the kitchen drying fruit and stewing tomatoes, storing produce for the winter months. Instead of liquid hand soap, she conserved the family’s bar soap slivers and tied them into the foot of an old pair of pantyhose. She encouraged her kids to bring home glass bottles and tin cans they found on the road to return them for a deposit. My favorite line in the article is when the daughter writes “It wasn’t until I went to college that I realized that other people threw away Ziploc bags after just one use.”

For her, reuse was about frugality and eliminating waste as a basic value. NPR has reported a little bit about this fact that not too long ago, frugality was virtuous. I will be honest. I am 23, and I was not told that frugality (in the way I eat, spend money, or consume any type of food or product) was a virtue when I was growing up. Frugality was not part of the Messaging Points from my parent’s generation, it seems. I grew up in a house where we bought so much food that produce routinely rotted on the shelves before anyone got around to eating it.

Today is my last day in New York before I go back to my hometown. As I continue to get closer to my home and my parent's fridge, I am thinking about how it differs from mine back in LA. There is no wasted food in my apartment, no rotting produce on my fridge shelf. Maybe it is left over from the Vegan /$35 challenge, but I think it’s the fact that thanks to the Recession I have a lot of values in common with Depression Era moms all of a sudden. Since I knew I was leaving for New York, I didn't go food shopping last weekend. Instead, I stretched last week’s food through Tuesday night of this week, and for those extra two days this week I ate brown rice and frozen peas for 4 of 6 meals. (That's all I had left.) Maybe the Recession is going to help us get a little more conscious of how we buy and consume food. That would be a silver lining, no?


  1. Beautiful, Julie. Why don't we have more compost heaps and less cute little racks to dry plastic bags? Is it possible to have a Capitalist culture that doesn't push consumption as far as it can??

  2. Heh, have you seen all the cute bins you can buy for composting? They start at around $150. because I'm in the city, I'm not legally allowed to compost. But I figure that my pile is the back is no worse than some of the piles of trash the city leaves around and I keep in tended and checked for rats all the time.
    Mind you, I have three hunter cats who wouldn't let a rat twitch in my backyard.

  3. Mike - I don't know. I actually recently had this conversation with Matt Prewitt and we discussed weather or not capitalism with a conscience can occur. Longer discussion than I can have in the comments section but its on my mind too.

    5dollars - how is YOUR project going? I need to catch up on your blog as well. I can't believe you found composting bins for $150. I also am having trouble composting in my apartment. I have to battle a constant threat of roaches all the time, and I am just so afraid that if I start a bin they will be all over my kitchen in no time. I wish my landlord would let me start one in the backyard...

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