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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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, July 29, 2009


Ok, this is pretty frightening. The LA Times published a piece recently titled Dialysis patients at risk from 'enhanced' meats. Apparently, two doctors from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey found that poorly labeled meat products in supermarkets can contain additives which are dangerous for dialysis patients.

Now, this might seem like an overly specific gripe, but hear me out.

Imagine your kidney have failed, maybe from Diabetes actually, and you are on dialysis. Since your body can no longer regulate the compounds circulating around in your blood properly, you are very vulnerable. You must rely on a dialysis machine to remove certain substances - extra phosphorus and potassium, for example.

You are most likely going to great lengths to monitor your diet and eat in a way that will keep your fragile body in balance. And, how are you going about that? Well, you are probably shopping at your local market, eating the foods your doctor suggests, and above all reading the labels of everything you consume.

Stop there.

You are reading the labels on the foods you buy and eat to make sure you are not going to create a dangerous imbalance in your now unregulated blood stream. Ok. So, you are putting a great deal of trust in the hands of the people who produce and label the food you buy. You are trusting that somewhere along the line your government has (1) required food companies to label their products with everything that you need to know and (2) enforced the labeling requirements to insure that the food companies actually follow through and do what they are required to do.

Well, Dr. Richard A. Sherman and Dr. Ojas Mehta of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey give us reason to think otherwise. They found that 8 of 25 random samples of meat and poultry plumped up with additives to make the meat more attractive (the term used was "enhanced") were not labeled properly.

In this case the improper labeling was highlighted because it posed a specific risk to dialysis patients. Managing a body with failed kidneys is hard enough already; having to worry that foods are not properly labeled or vetted before they hit the supermarket shelves should not have to be an additional concern.

Zoom out even more. In the context of what seems to be a growing number of food scares (think spinach, tomatoes, PEANUTS) this evidence of failed regulation and labeling is disconcerting.

Supermarkets carry massive amounts of processed foods. Lots of them that we all know are highly processed contain labels. Those labels can be really hard to read and understand, but at least we are on our guard when it comes to the foods they describe. Someone who must carefully monitor their diet would hopefully be aware that processed foods should be approached with caution. But what about foods that we don't consider to be "processed"? Foods that we don't approach with our guard up like meat, or eggs, or fruits or vegetables?

What if you are trying very hard to monitor your diet because you have failed kidneys, and your doctor says that chicken is ok for you to eat, and then it turns out that the chicken you trusted all these channels and safety checkpoints to deliver to you contains harmful ingredients that aren't even on the label? Ouch.

This specific example fits into the context of a larger problem. Can we really trust the big companies and supermarkets that get the food to our neighborhood stores to have our best interest at heart? Can we really be sure that the person who runs the huge poultry company 3,000 miles away from us cares that our loved one has failed kidneys and depends on proper food labeling to stay alive? I guess we can't.

With food producers so far removed from food consumers and with so little known about the health implications of processed and "enhanced" food products in the long term, eating in America today is fraught with danger.

I am immensely frustrated that even people who are overcoming massive barriers to make a real effort to watch what they eat might still be in danger. It seems that even being conscientious about food, consulting your doctor, and reading labels is not good enough anymore.

I don't know about you, but I am sticking to the Farmers' Market where I can feel at least a bit better about the ingredients in my food, and I'm continuing to steer clear of meat. Most vegetables don't have incorrect ingredients labels, at least. And while I do not pretend that Farmers' Markets are the perfect solution to safer food (soil and growing methods are always still a concern), at least my food producer has to look me in the eye when I thank him and skip off with a bag full of his peaches.


  1. What is in our food is scary. I always think it's interesting that there are people who won't get vaccines or take any medications because they don't trust the pharmaceutical companies and yet they will go to McDonald's and eat all sorts of processed crap every day.

  2. Bless you for bringing light to this issue. I have stood on my soapbox for years, clanging the same bell until the clapper broke and still we have the same issues. Yesterday I was in the company of a diabetic woman who INSISTS that the sweetener in the yellow packets are the only way she can "stay healthy!"
    Saints, preserve us!
    We can't give up. We must keep beating our drum, no matter who is marching to what rhythm. Sigh...
    Connie Baum

  3. 5dolla holla- Great point. Its not just the food, it is the medicine too. Just goes to show how fragmented our sense of health and wellness really is. Food is separate from medicine which is separate from mental/spiritual health, which is also totally separated from exercise... really shouldn't be that way but it is in many people's minds. I'm advocating for a more holistic concept of health.

    Connie - Oh, the yellow packets. Can't tell you how many times I've had the same experience. In that type of situation I always wonder how far I should go. I never want to turn someone off by lecturing them, so I usually try to keep my point short and sweet (not Splenda sweet though...) and not make them feel that I am threatening their dignity. For example, "Hm, yea, but then if you use those artificial sweeteners you have to worry about all the chemical substances they contain. It really is tough, isn't it?" Something like that. I don't know.

    You are right though, we must keep beating the drum. Did you see my recent post about weather or not Americans are turning on Big Food like they once turned on cigarettes? Do you ever think that we'll get enough momentum to really change our nation's food culture?