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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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


Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Letter from Mom

The following is a guest post from my mother, Marianne Szeker Flynn. Mom has been kind enough to write to me a little bit about her experience with food growing up. Thanks Mom, I love you. Readers - Enjoy!


Recognize that chubby girl in the photo?

It’s me, your madre, mother.

Can you see past the size and find me in there, just waiting to walk out?

I told you I came from a family of hardworking eastern European over-eaters, happiest with other relatives cooking, baking, eating and drinking (and I don’t mean water). Farmers from both sides of the family emigrated to America in the early 1900’s with hearty appetites and unforgettable eating traditions they passed on to me.

I remember rolling out Babka dough on the kitchen, pinching sweet tufts off the sides when it was baked and then smearing butter over thick slabs we’d toast. Or, how about learning the art of making cream puffs or stuffing potato into doughy crescents and then frying them in browned butter? Or eating all the bacon so you didn’t taste the fried liver! You see, we weren’t just eating smores-food for dessert, we were eating it all day long! Big surprise, I was a chubby kid.

Tea. 1953. My first experience of drinking tea began when I was about 4 years old and my Ukrainian grandmother, who didn’t speak any English, would call my friends and I up for “tea”. We ran up Sophie’s stairs and hugged her pillowy waist through the faded apron. She had diabetes, which I didn’t know about. She showed us how tea was made. First, 3 teaspoons of sugar, then cream. Lastly, dunk soft buttered rolls into the steamy liquid and watch the yellow swirls melt into the white cream.

Lunch. 1955. My best friend, Marie lived in a multi-family house with her grandmother, who had her specialties too. I’d go to her house for lunch occasionally and we’d eat spaghetti warmed up in butter and sauce until it was sticky. Or sometimes, she’d cut pork fat into kernels. We’d pop in the salty crunchy fat into our mouths like popcorn.

Dinner. 1956. Our new home in New Jersey. In my immediate family there were 4 of us, 3 with double chins. My one brother, your uncle Peter, was a rebel and avoided meals. He didn’t have a double chin. He was thin and handsome and all the girls at our new school wanted to meet him. Of course, I was fat, tall, and permed and usually called fatso. Or, fat bathtub. Never, ever understood what that meant. Ugh.

A lot of activity in the New Jersey house centered around the kitchen. Everyone congregated there, talking while my mother cooked. Our favorite food was fried chicken, which was fantastic. To this day I have never tasted fried chicken that beat my mother’s. MMMM… Deep pots of fat with floating sizzling chicken.

It took a long time to cook and talk. Dinner was often late, and when I complained I was getting hungry my mother would suggest buttering bread and putting gravy on it to hold us off. I ate buttered bread with gravy while I waited to eat the deep friend chicken. Really. That is how we ate.

SURPRISE. 2008. Mom has diabetes. At first, it scared me. I learned that I was probably eating 2-3 times more carbohydrates and fat than my body could process at one time. So, while I wasn’t overweight like my diabetic mother and grandmother had been, I looked older than I was. The extra carbs were turned to sugar which went into my bloodstream. The trouble is that oxygen is supposed to be in our bloodstream, not sugar.

Once I learned how to change my diet and got over the shock, I found that eating right really really isn’t that hard. I just took it one day at a time, and I had to re-teach myself how to eat. The food culture I grew up with certainly didn’t hold the answers. My new eating style felt like a game of choices. I can still have a lot of great foods, just not all of them in large quantities all of the time. I have to choose.

Hey, it gives me something frivolous and colorful to think about…counting strawberries, splitting my bananas in half so has not to overwhelm my body with sugar (even the natural kind!), savoring a few orange wedges. I discovered I don’t even like gravy. Give me olive oil and lemon juice. In moderation, of course.


  1. I love your life. I love your mother. I love that you created this blog.

    Thank you so much!

    Mother Connie

  2. Julie!

    I must say I love your blog and have been trying to catch up on the previous posts. This guest post from your mom was lovely. It's definitely enlightening to learn about the nutrition habits of our parents' generation and how those habits affect our own views of food.

    Keep the posts coming!

  3. I agree with Mother Connie. Plus, I am a huge advicate for everyone getting their parents to WRITE STUFF DOWN so that we have the knowledge in our families. It's so easy now. In fact. If no on has done it, someone should start a website where all members of a family answer the same set of questions about their lives so that the family has the history.

  4. Thank you for the comments everyone.

    Mother Connie - Your support really makes me smile. Can't wait to check out your blog too. It really looks great!

    5dollars and Daniela - Totally agree. It is funny, when I was little and my mom tried to tell me about who had cancer and who had a heart attack in my family I didn't want to hear it. "Who cares?" I thought.

    As I have grown up I am realizing how important it is for us to talk to our family about health. It isn't always easy, but it is something we really need to do. Writing it down - even better.

    I know in my case I am really happy to know that on my mom's side, THREE generations of women have wound up with Diabetes. I am starting early eating right, hoping to reverse that trend. If I hadn't known at this young age, I might not have cared so much about what I eat. I think the knowledge about my family's health history might really help me avoid disease in this case.