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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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, July 13, 2009

Money Talks

BIG and exciting news.

Many of you may have read a post I wrote in early June for the website change.org. In this post I explored why so few SNAP/Food Stamp recipients redeem their benefits at Farmers' Markets in their neighborhoods, despite the fact that many local governments have gone to great lengths to make sure the markets accept them.

While the benefits of shopping at Farmers' Markets are many, they are often not enough to outweigh issues relating inconvenience and unfamiliarity, which drive low-budget shoppers away. Many of the benefits, such as supporting local farmers, protecting the environment and avoiding pesticides are just not as valuable or important to people who are wondering where their next meal will come from and are living in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence. My own experience living on a tight food budget proved to me that there would have to be some major incentives to make Farmers' Market shopping more attractive to America's urban poor.

Enter the Wholesome Wave Foundation.

Did someone say major incentives?

Well, how about DOUBLING the value of SNAP/Food Stamp benefits when they are redeemed for Farmers' Market produce? I know it would get me to go to a Farmers' Market. That is for sure.

Through various funding sources, the Wholesome Wave Foundation has been able to offer SNAP/Food Stamp recipients this incredible deal. When the money available for food is doubled, waking up early on a Saturday to hit the Farmers Market is suddenly worth it.

What I really love about this program is the fact that it speaks to what really motivates people: MONEY. Education about nutrition and the impact that individual shopping choices have on the environment and small farmers is all well and good. It might persuade people to alter their behavior. But, the truth is that financial incentives will always be much stronger than the slow patient persuasion of education and outreach. The Double Value Coupon Program provides a no-nonsense incentive that is hard to ignore. It is rare to see a social program cut to the chase so well. It seems very raw, and I really like that.

I have no doubt that this program will motivate many more people to shop at Farmers Markets. I hope that a few months of doubled benefits will be enough to get people hooked on Farmers Market shopping so that they return even without the powerful financial incentive. People get into routines in life, and food shopping is no exception. The misconceptions and worries that often prevent people from changing their patterns can be cleared up by introducing new ways of doing things, but you have to make it worth it for individuals to part with their comfortable routine. No one really likes venturing into the unknown all that much at first. It is scary. It is risky. It is, well, unknown. So, doubling people's money if they're willing to try something new is really a great idea.

At first I had trouble going to Farmers' Markets because of the limited hours and extra effort it required. I recently pledged to work a bit harder to prioritize local and organic buying, and I have thus wound up at the Echo Park Farmers' Market the last two Fridays in a row. Even without a doubled dollar, I am falling in love with going to the Market. Sure, it is annoying that I have to worry about parking meters and can only shop during a three hour window. But, I am starting to get to know the farmers and the produce quality is incredible. I find that I am starting to get hooked. I am forming a good habit. All I needed was a kick in the pants to get myself there.

I can't help but imagine what would happen this type of thing happened all across our food system. What if a salad was cheaper than a fast-food burger? What if the price of local, in season produce plummeted while the price of Oreos and Wheat Thins stayed the same? What if we did't have to try quite so hard to eat healthfully and sustainably? It just reminds me how truly messed up it is that calorie dense, nutrient poor, highly processed foods are so cheap and convenient in America. The food industry has made it so incredibly easy to fail at keeping yourself healthy, especially if you don't have much time or money to spend on quality food. While I am excited that this type of incentive is being offered, I also can't help but be a bit sad that it is necessary to incentivize healthy food habits so heavily.


  1. Or, we could get rid of the subsidies for wheat, corn, and soy and allow the unhealthy foods compete fairly with fruits and vegetables. I am not sure that farmers' markets are overpriced, I believe in a living wage for farmers but our priorities are skewed and we spend money on the wrong sort of things. As a nation, our idea of wants V needs is insane. I teach students who are on free and reduced lunch (likely food stamps as well) and yet they all have game boys, play stations and the like. All of the family members have mobile phones and they have cable or dish service. The kids think I am insane for not having a television.

  2. I agree with Jasmine that removing subsidies would be key to getting people to see what their food choices are really costing them. Until then, Wholesome Wave's Double Value program sounds like an awesome way to support people in low income situations making helathy food choices.

    We're never going to make the populace share our priorities - if they'd rather be hungry in order to own a PS2, they will. But I wish our system didn't make it so hard for people to ferret out what the consequences of their choices are.

  3. Stacy and Jasmine - Great points about leveling hte playing field for foods in the marketplace. It is impossible for people to connect their food choices with the costs they incur within the current system of big farm subsidies. Local zucchini is never going to beat out the big corn farm, the way we have it set up right now.

    Also, the question of priorities is an interesting one. Several recent things I have read recently (including In Defense of Food) have reminded me that part of the problem is that Americans are not willig to spend money or time on food. We seem to want to "have our cake and eat it to" so to speak. We want cheap cheap food that we don't have to spend any time preparing or eating for that matter. But, we don't want that food to make us obese or give us any sort of health problem. It seems that we might need to shift our cultural priorities a bit and look at investing time and money in slightly higher quality food as an important measure to improve our health and overall quality of life.