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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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 8, 2009


While I am not technically in the middle of any On-Food-Stamps scenario right now, I have been trying to eat on an extremely tight budget for the past two weeks. (See my post "This is not a test.")

I am happy to report that I have done pretty well. Two weeks ago I made it through most of the week on about $11 worth of groceries and a few items already stored up in my cupboard. This week I have spent $20 and have more than enough food left to get me through the week. Apparently my 1 month, $31/week Vegan scenario really taught me the ins and outs of budget shopping, eh?

Hunger has not been an issue at all. In fact, sometimes I have eaten too much and been overly full. What is beginning to concern me is that my diet seems very out of balance.

In order to eat cheaply and within my dietary restrictions (I am a vegetarian), I have had to stick to a few simple and cheap foods.

On Sunday night of this week, for example, I cooked a huge batch of lentils with tomatoes, onions, garlic and a touch of miso. I also prepared about 6 servings of quinoa. I am a big fan of both of these foods, and I don't really mind eating them over and over again. I accept that food boredom is just sort of part of the picture if you want to save money.

What concerns me are the potential health implications of this lack of variety.

For 4 straight days now 1 of my meals has consisted entirely of well cooked and then reheated lentils and quinoa. Tomorrow will make day 5 of this meal.

Breakfast has had a bit more variety - toast with peanut butter and oatmeal, a banana on two days, and today a fried egg over quinoa.

For three dinners straight I have eaten the same Japanese Eggplant with spinach which I sauteed in olive oil and cumin.

All of these foods are pretty healthy. However, I am getting the exact same nutrients over and over. I am not eating anything raw or uncooked. While I am not a raw food diet die hard, I do know that cooking food decreases its nutrient value and that having some raw food in my diet is very important. My grain intake consists of qunioa, for the most part, again and again.

Here is my dilemma. I do have the ingredients in my fridge and in my cupboard to have more variety each day. I could have cooked a smaller batch of qunioa and made brown rice for a few days before returning to qunioa again, for example. But, variety would really cost me time.

Cooking in bulk saves me tons of time. I have eaten 5 lunches this week off of a single 3 hour lentil and quinoa cooking session on Sunday, and that extra time is very valuable. I am discovering that variety and bulk cooking do not go together.

I am really curious about the health implications of eating the same food over and over for a week at a time or longer.

Lentils and quinoa have been major staples for me for two weeks now. The combo is cheap, filling, low-fat and good for me. I have now become very familiar with my favorite method for preparing these foods, so cooking time is shorter. Me, and my lentils and quinoa have a routine and I like that. I doubt I will switch out lentils for beans next week; experimenting with a new food would slow me down. Suddenly I really understand how easy it is to get into a deep food rut. When you find something that is cheap, satisfying, and easy for you to prepare, it is very hard to diversify.

I am not a nutritionist, so I am not sure if my concern over lack of variety in this case is valid. I wonder, at what point does eating the same foods over and over negatively impact a person's health? I suppose it depends on the balance created by those foods, but I am finding that I am eating a huge proportion of cooked vegetables and whole grains. Not too much fruit. Hardly anything raw. Should I be both worried AND bored?


  1. Oh, I have a post in draft about B12...

    I eat very little raw food because I find thet I don't do as well when I eat my food uncooked. I just don't feel right.Happily, Traditional Chinese medicine supports me in my belief that I need my food mostly cooked.

    But, as far as your nutrients go, you could try a website like Fitday.com to track your nutrients. It isn't 100% accurate and it only gives and average for the week but it will show you what you are lacking the most and least.

    I'm weird in that I could easily eat almost the same food every day and not feel deprived at all. But I make an effort to have more variety for the same reasons you are concerned about it.

    I figure that our ancestors didn't have much variety day to day but their diets changed across the seasons. Since our bodies can store some nutrients, I don't think a week or two of eating the same thing over and over is a problem.

  2. Thank you for referencing Chinese Medicine and adding that point to the discussion. My own limited reading on the topic has taught me (#1) that Chinese Medicine looks to food as a potential cause and cure of many illness and ailments and (#2) that Chinese Medicine is all about balance. Most Chinese Medicine experts, I think, would find a strict raw diet or marathon running regime for that matter to be overly extreme, out of balance, and thus harmful.

    You are also very right about diets changing with the seasons. I hadn't thought of that, but it is true that people in cold climates likely went 3-4 months without much fresh fruits or vegetables, and ate in a way that was more in sync with their local climate. Again, Chinese Medicine seems to support eating in a way that is in tune with one's environmental surroundings. You are right. I probably shouldn't stress about eating lentils again tomorrow.

  3. I'm eating lentils today in solidarity with you!

    also, I think that there is some weird conspiracy thign going on, my security word for this comment is "Cullen"- silly sparkly vampires!

  4. Two things: Would it really take any longer to prepare brown rice for a little variety? And, couldn't you add some raw fruit or veggies once in awhile? I think my concern would be a lack of protein.