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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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


Sunday, June 7, 2009

First Meal Out

At around 2pm on Sunday I met a friend for some food to officially end the first phase of this blog: the 1 month, $35/week Vegan scenario. We met at Masa in Echo Park.

It felt incredibly luxurious just to sit outside and be waited on. Ordering whatever I wanted was almost overwhelming. I settled on 1 fried egg ($1.50), 1 huge Cuban Roll ($2 - Masa is famous for these and they are truly fantastic) and a Cafe Latte ($2.75). I almost ordered a coffee, but then I realized I could have milk, so I decided to really go crazy.

It was almost embarrassing how excited I got when the food arrived. I didn't think it'd be that big of a deal to me but it really was. I think the fact that the month of extreme dietary restrictions and social isolation was finally over just put me over the top. The arrival of the food was symbolic. My excitement really illustrates how difficult this month has been for me at times. While I found that eating for $31/week as a Vegan was totally do-able, it is a massive relief not to have to eat in such a restrictive way or work so hard to do it. The fact that I felt I had reached a finish line when the food arrived, that I do not have to continue to eat like this every day for the rest of my life, certainly shows the limits of my kick-off experiment. The things I discovered are valuable, but in the end they were discovered with the knowledge that in 3o days or less I would be sitting at Masa drinking a Latte and feeling like I had my life back.

Because frankly, that is what living as a vegan for very very cheap was for me - it became my life. It was all consuming. It forced me to alter everything about my daily routine. It took hours of my time each day. It affected my relationships. It left me feeling lonely and isolated after several weeks. I did it, but it was incredibly draining. Granted, I chose a somewhat extreme dietary restriction (Veganism) that is likely not common among low-income Americans. The point was that it was a change in diet for me, and that it was challenging. Just as eating less meat and more vegetables would seem extreme, foreign, and challenging to someone who has never done that before, so was Veganism a bit extreme for me.

Overhauling what I eat for $31/week gave me a new understanding of just what exactly makes it so hard for low-income individuals to access nutritious and sustainable food. I started out thinking that the main barrier would be money; that I would simply not be able to afford the healthy foods I wanted to buy. I found, rather, that time, social pressure, will power, frustration and emotional associations with food also create barriers.

Still, there are some things I have left untouched.

Through this entire month I used my car to get groceries. What if I didn't have a car ?

I also chose a diet that while extreme, was in some ways familiar to me. I am already a vegetarian normally. I have been a vegan before for short periods of time. I know how to cook vegan/vegetarian food, and I have developed a love for vegetables. What if I choose something more foreign to me?

I touched a little bit on how illness might play into accessing sustainable, healthful, and affordable food, but did no examine it to any great length. I want to look into that further.

While I am going to return to my normal diet and budget for a little while now, I will run similar scenarios in the coming months to explore some of the other barriers I have mentioned above. This blog is by no means over. In fact, I actually think this coming week is going to be one of the most telling of the Vegan scenario. Now I can return to normal - so what changes? Normal for me is a pretty strict $50/week food budget (not too hard if I don't eat out more than once or twice a week), and a vegetarian diet. One of the first things I want to compare is how much time I gain back now that I can spend $50/week instead of $30. How much convenience does that extra $20 buy? How much healthier does it allow me to be? (Will I, for example, be able to afford more Organic produce?) I hope you will stay tuned as this project develops. If you have a scenario you want to explore or think I should try out, suggest it in the comments section.


  1. Hi Julie,
    I appreciate this series you've done because it addresses an issue that I hear about more and more often on my website. One recent letter asked how two people could eat a healthy vegan diet on just under $300 a month. Another writer said she wanted to eat healthy but couldn't afford it, and wondered why all the healthy food was so expensive.

    When you're poor, it does seem like you spend every waking moment thinking about and taking care of feeding yourself and your kids - or you just give up. An extra $20 a week makes an enormous difference!

    There have been times when I didn't have a car, but I've always had access to cars or public transportation. I've always had access to good food, and a fridge and stove, pots & pans & dishes. I've always been able to get enough to eat. I'm a decent cook, and know about nutrition.

    I'm troubled that there are so many people in this land of plenty who don't have those advantages yet have to feed themselves on food stamps or a similar situation.

    We need a huge transformation in our society, for everyone to be able to eat well no matter what their income or circumstance! Thanks for doing your bit.