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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

This is not a test

What you see above is a pile of bills and receipts, and my dinner: a bowl of green beans, oatmeal, and 2 Vegetable Thai Gyoza from Trader Joe's all steamed in miso broth.

What do these two things have in common?

They have a cause and effect relationship. This is a tough financial week for me, for real.

Rent is due, and I just got a parking ticket (I was literally 2 minutes late. I screamed really loud on the street when it happened.) and a bill from the DMV to renew my registration ($242.00). My trip home and to New York was great, but it wasn't free. Honestly, I'm fucking broke. I already had to transfer money from my savings account into my checking to cover this week's expenses, and spending money on groceries just isn't an option. I have Friday off for 4th of July, which is a good thing. But I hope to god that it doesn't mess with pay day. I hope I get my paycheck early or something. Will that happen? I doubt it. More likely I'm going to have to get through to Monday on essentially NO money.

Luckily, I am already quite skilled at eating cheap. The stakes are higher this time though, and the actual budget is about 1/3 of what I spent on my Food Stamp budget before.

In my pantry I had a reserve stash of 2 cans of soup from Trader Joe's and a bunch of quinoa I bought in bulk at $2.99/lb a week ago. There were also two jars of peanut butter. This week I'm using the Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Peanut Butter I bought at the Peanut Butter & Co. shop in New York. In my freezer I had 6 frozen vegetarian dumplings, frozen peas, frozen spinach, and 1 pack of those green beans I froze weeks ago. In the fridge I had a bag of limes and that miso paste.

I had to go shopping Monday morning before work to avoid eating out. I had no other option but to hit Save-a-Lot in Echo Park at 7:30AM. This is what I bought:
  • 1 head of broccoli at $0.99/lb = $0.44
  • 1 bag baby carrots = $0.99
  • 1 block of cheddar cheese = $1.79
  • Goya brand lentils, 1 pack = $1.19
  • 2 grapefruits at $1/2lb = $0.87
  • A loaf of whole wheat bread, the best I could find in that store = $4.29 (OUCH. I almost put it back when it rang up...)
  • 1 sweet potato at $0.79/lb =$0.40
  • another huge thing of Quick Oats = $1.89 (Fuck yea. This baby is worth at least 30 breakfasts, as I learned last time.)
Total = $11.86

That is it. I am trying to get through the entire week on what I have already and what I spent on Monday. This is not a test. This is for real this time.

Tonight I wound up eating a weird food combination, but I actually discovered that oatmeal can indeed be a savory food. I cooked the green beans, dumplings and oatmeal in miso broth and found that oatmeal for dinner is actually quite ok if not downright good.

I made a huge batch of lentils and quinoa last night and had that for lunch today and will again tomorrow and the next day. The bread will go with that awesome peanut butter for breakfast. I think I'll make it through the week alright but this is certainly an interesting twist no?

As I mentioned early in this blog, the Food Stamp challenge arose primarily from my interest in exploring issues of food access. However, it was also an important way for me to save money while trying to set up my apartment and get settled in a new city. While I will not pretend that I know what it is like to actually be on Food Stamps and try to feed a family on that money, I do know what it is like to make my food choices based on my bank account. I do it every week. And this week is especially tight. It just goes to show that if you don't have much of a financial cushion unexpected things like vehicle renewal notices or parking tickets can really put you over the edge.


  1. yeah, I feel your pain. thanks goodness for miso soup, I swear it can turn anything into a meal. Wish I could send the freebies from our meeting this morning. I know a third of it will be wasted.

    Good luck on early pay!

  2. hello, i'm really enjoying your posts! i also live in echo park...here's a short story you might be interested in regarding Save A Lot. one day shortly after they opened, i was in there talking to a friend who works there and the manager came over. we started chatting about the store and the community it served and i asked him how business was going. he told me that the customers were not used to buying most of the stuff they were selling (ie all the stuff in the inside aisles) and they were only coming in for the produce. "they'll learn" was his exact quote. i was dumbfounded that this chain store (from MI i believe) would come into a community across the country and try to dictate how people shopped. why not try to cater to what the people wanted, like good fresh fruits and vegetables, instead of forcing them to buy processed crap? unfortunately i could not tell him these things because i did not want to interfere with my friend's relationship with his boss. but i thought you might be interested as it kind of goes along with your series on low-income neighborhoods' access to supermarkets.

  3. though obviously, from your grocery list from your last trip there, you are not their usual (or ideal apparently) customer

  4. Julie,

    I have to say reading your blog is teaching me sooooo much. I'm currently working full time as a clinical trials manager in NYC but that will all end in September when I move to Boston to start graduate school full time. I'm freaking the *bleep* out. I'm going from a pretty cushy job to nothing but a work study gig until I can find a job as a barista at Starbucks or a cashier at the local co-op. I'm a vegetarian and I eat mostly an organic diet... but we know that this can be uber expensive... luckily trader joes helps the budget with some decent deals on organic fruits and veggies but I have to seriously be tight with money for a awhile. Your blog is definitely helping me to better manage my money and basically get more bang for my buck... hell you just might inspire me to start a blog about being a broke ass vegetarian student in Boston LOL. Trust me I feel your pain... and I have to dip into my savings to pay off debts before I start school... if only dollars fell from heaven *sigh*

  5. Natalie - I am really glad that this blog is turning out to give you some concrete help in terms of learning to eat cheaper without sacrificing your healthy eating habits. That makes my day.

    I hope you will consider writing in about your experience scaling back your food budget in September - I want this blog project to be collaborative! The more people who contribute information on accessing cheap, sustainable, and nutritious food the better.

    When you get to Boston, I suggest you hit farmers' markets for produce before Trader Joe's, it tends to be cheaper I have found. I know that can be tough in the New England winters, but do keep an eye out for Winter Farmers Markets. I know we had those at Brown University when I was there, and that is in Providence, RI - very close to Boston. I wouldn't be surprised if they had the same thing going on up there.

    Thanks for the comments. I am so glad you are enjoying the blog.

  6. Allison - Wow. I can't believe that the manager of Save-a-Lot said that. It is very sad to me that a food supplier would stock what is easy and probably most profitable for them - like processed foods in those "middle" aisles - instead of responding to the healthy desires of the community.

    That really illustrates how messed up our food system is. Sounds to me like that is all about profit and easy transportation of product and not at all about community or health.

    Check out my "Man in the Mirror" post from today - I'm not going to Save-a-Lot anymore! This is just one more reason why not!

    Off to the Echo Park Farmer's Market as we speak.

  7. Thanks for the advice... I've heard that Boston winters can be brutal so finding local fare may be a little more difficult. I will try my best to find... I would really like to start a blog but its all dependent on how much free time I will have. I don't want to be one of those bloggers who decides to update their site once in a blue moon. If I do this.. I want to commit to it... I promise to keep you posted :)