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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Time, Time, Time


This month I discovered that time is a huge issue in the quest to access healthy, sustainable, and affordable food. The most challenging part of the last month was not being able to stretch my $31/week to buy enough food to avoid hunger. Rather, the hardest part was planning out each meal and finding the time to cook everything from scratch. Prepared foods were usually out of my price range. I could afford plenty of raw ingredients to feed myself, but it was incredibly time consuming to cook them up into wholesome meals all week long.

During my final week this month I began keeping track of just how long it took me to cook and clean up every day. Breakfast was always a drag because oatmeal took me a few minutes to cook, and I always had to wash the pot after I was done. Lunch isn't even counted in this total because every day I was just reheating left overs from dinners cooked the night before. I had big cooking days on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday where I put in anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 1/2 hours depending on the dish. Monday was a light day, but still required some work. On the other days I was able to relax a bit more and eat left overs from the big cooking days.

While having a few big cooking days allowed me some free time on the "off" days, it also meant I was eating the same dish for about 3 days straight. For example, on Sunday I cooked a huge quantity of beans and rice. I ate some variation of that rice and bean dish for Sunday dinner, Monday lunch and dinner, Tuesday lunch and dinner, and Wednesday lunch. Sure, I rotated in things like raw carrots, an orange, some almonds, maybe an additional steamed vegetable like broccoli at dinner, but it was very very repetitive.

During that week I spent a total of 8 hours and 50 minutes cooking and cleaning up. On three days of my week the entire time between work and bed was consumed by cooking and cleaning up afterwards. That is really a good chunk of time. It left me very little time to do errands or laundry, visit with friends or relax, and I am only working a 40 hour work week.

This week has been a dream in comparison. The other night I went out for dinner and ordered a modest dish - a quesadilla. Because I have become much better at eating smaller portions, I was able to conserve half of my dinner to take home with me. I ate the other half of my quesadilla for breakfast this morning.

Right now I am about to go out for dinner again, this time to Little Ethiopia with a friend. Entrees at our favorite restaurant are no more than $10, and I am sure I will be able to make two meals out of what I order tonight. While driving home from work an hour ago I had a moment of panic left over from last month. (Yes, I am still having weird day-dream nightmares about last month's challenge. What does that tell you about the level of anxiety it created for me around food?) I realized I was about to go out to meet someone for the rest of the night, and that I hadn't cooked any food for tomorrow's lunch. I wasn't going to have time! I was going to have to stay up late and loose sleep for cooking again! When I remembered a second later that I was going out to dinner and that I could save half my dinner for lunch tomorrow, I was tremendously relieved. The same goes for the day earlier this week when I was able to order a small package of take-out rice to balance out my skimpy lunch. I hadn't had time to make rice the night before, and it was a real blessing to be able to buy a bit of extra food to save myself time.

By the end of the week I will have gone out to two meals where the entrees cost an average of $10 - by no means extravagant by most American standards. I will have only spent 3 hours cooking and cleaning as of tomorrow night - I estimate the week's total will only be 4.5 hours at most. It has been a much more relaxing week for me thanks to this extra time. The additional time has also allowed me to be more productive; because I do not have to devote so much of my time to cooking and worrying about my food I have been able to accomplish things that I have been wanting to do for a month like visit more with my family (over the phone, unfortunately), read and exercise more. I could also have been learning English, taking a class, or taking better care of my child if I had one. The the extra $15-20 I have to work with this week are making a huge difference in my productivity and overall well being.

1 comment:

  1. Freezer, frezer, freezer. It saves me a ton of money and time.
    Cook and freeze.
    Cook rice, divide into portions, freeze.
    Cook the basic sauce, divide into portions, freeze. Steam vegetables to nearly done, freeze, then add at will.
    I cook up a large batch of hamburgerpatties that I make from scratch, then freeze them and pick out one at a time as needed.
    Any fresh spices can be frozen then added to food.
    I slice and freeze all fresh breads and only take out what I need at a time.

    Oatmeal: if you cook it in the microwave oven, it cooks way faster and there is no pot to wash.
    1 part oatmeal vs. 2 parts liquid. usually takes about 3 minutes. Place in a LARGE bowl and keep an eye on it as it will splatter.

    Hope this helps.