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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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


Monday, June 1, 2009

Oh my god. I forgot my lunch.

Well, I knew it would happen eventually I guess.

I got out of the car this morning, grabbed my purse, grabbed for my lunch and oh... shit... no lunch. I had totally left my apartment without it this morning. For no reason. I wasn't even in a rush. Maybe because it was Monday?

Either way, I was stranded at work with no lunch. One co-worker offered me this frozen Indian dinner she had in the fridge. It sounded great but it wasn't vegan. Another co-worker had some great black cherries that she kindly shared, but it wasn't enough to make a meal. So, at 12:30 I headed out to this pretty shoddy supermarket near where I work. Luckily, I still had nearly $15 to spend this week.

On my 4 block walk to this supermarket I got 2 whistles/hisses, and one "Heyyyy baby!" screamed out a car window. I work in a pretty rough neighborhood south of downtown LA, and it is worth noting that just walking to the market confronted me with these major deterrents. If walking to the super market means getting hissed at by intimidating men, I might not want to do it all that often.

Once I got there I found there were few options for me as a vegan. The selection was small, and the produce looked quite unappetizing. Think lots of bananas so brown they were only suitable for banana bread, and nearly liquid avocados. I settled on the one item that looked ok enough - a fuji apple. Not organic. $0.79. At Trader Joe's, I can get a beautiful organic apple for $0.69. Hm.

I checked out the canned soup aisle, thinking maybe I'd just take the hit on the sodium today, but the pickings were slim. A few small cans of Campbell's Tomato Soup, many of them dented, for $0.99. I was pretty hungry and I knew that one little can of tomato soup wasn't going to fill me up, so I kept walking. After a few circles of this market I realized that walking around and around it wasn't going to improve the selection at all. I bought some JIF peanut butter ("Hello, hydrogenated oils and refined sugars.") and whole wheat bread. There were two options for whole wheat bread. I was surprised that both were vegan, and I bought the cheaper one. ("What's up high-fructose corn syrup? Haven't seen you all month.") I got all excited when I found raisins. Peanut butter and raisin sandwich were one of my favorite foods as a kid. But, when I got to the register I found that the 6 baby packs of raisins would cost me $4.50. No thanks.

I spent $4.89 on:
  • 1 loaf of highly processed whole wheat bread
  • 1 jar of JIF peanut butter, which I will never eat again after today but had to buy out of desperation
  • 1 fuji apple
Overall it was a pretty unenjoyable lunch. Once you've gotten used to natural peanut butter, JIF and the other highly processed varieties really taste horrible. I can actually detect the fake sugars, the whole thing kind of tastes like Splenda.

I found the super market in the very low income neighborhood where I work to be the worst one I have been to yet, and I promise to do more investigation of markets in this neighborhood in the future. The prices here were actually higher than the markets in Echo Park, and the selection absolutely sucked. It was sort of like a glorified convenient store with a butcher counter in the back. I don't even know if it deserves to be called a supermarket.

There was a fantastic article in the Washington Post today which touches a little bit on this type of market. In this blog, I have focused in on what it is like to try to maintain a healthy diet on a tight food budget. While I have sometimes tried to put this into the context of what life is like for a low-income person overall, that has not really been my focus. This article really speaks to all the inconveniences and daily struggles that make life for low-income much harder than most people imagine, and it reminds that my project reflects just one tiny party of the equation. Poverty in America isn't about living without luxuries, its about spending half of your life standing in line, paying steep rates for pay day advance loans, and yes, being forced to shop at sub-par supermarkets where prices are actually higher than Trader Joe's. I really recommend reading it. Click here.

While I was crunching away on my apple, I thought a lot about the fact that it wasn't organic. Apples are one of those fruits you are supposed to buy organic. My feelings on the importance of buying organic food change. On days like today, when I hear stories on the radio of farmers in third world countries switching to organic farming methods in huge numbers because they know that the pesticides they once used give them and their families cancer, I feel like it is worth the time, money and effort. (There is literally a quote in this short NPR story where the farmer says something like, "We will not grow or sell poison.")

On other days, I have to admit, the health threats of pesticides on my food seem vague and distant to me, and the price of avoiding them seems too high. When it inconvenient or really expensive to buy organic food I find myself thinking, is this really worth it? I mean sure, I have read all about the dangers of pesticides. I know that chemicals on my food will probably give me cancer. But, frankly, so will a lot of things. I almost wouldn't be surprised if 10 years from now someone discovered that wireless Internet waves have been giving me cancer all along, too. I have been eating non-organic food all of my life. My mom fed it to me, and my country's government regulated the channels that got that food from the farm, to the supermarket, and into my mom's hands. Could it have really been that bad?

I am being really honest about this. When I hear about the dangers of pesticides (like I did on NPR today), I start caring a lot about buying organic foods. When I don't hear much about those dangers and am only faced with the high cost and inconvenience of buying organic foods, I will honestly admit that I don't care as much. To me that paints a very important picture about human behavior. Even if I know that something is probably bad for me in the long run, I am going to continue to do it if making a change is inconvenient or expensive. That change just gets added to the vague list of "things I should be doing" or "will start doing someday." The more tangible and present the future consequences of my actions become, the more likely I will be to change my behavior.

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