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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What Do Sub-Saharan Africa and South Central Los Angeles Have in Common?

Malnutrition, apparently.

This past weekend, Dr. Cyril O. Enwonwu, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, wrote in to the Baltimore Sun pointing out that in some cases overweight children also suffer from malnutrition.

This excerpt draws a comparison between two 14-year-old boys, one suffering from malnutrition in Nigeria, the other suffering from the malnutrition in Baltimore:

Today, global health research tells us that malnutrition is as much about what we eat as what we do not; it is either a lack of adequate food or an overabundance of nutritionally bankrupt foods.

Take a 14-year-old African-American boy living in Baltimore. Like many Americans, he eats too much junk food, while watching hours of television or playing video games.

He knows he is obese. What he doesn't know is that his body is starving for omega–3 fatty acids and other essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals required for good development and health.

Now take a 14-year-old boy from Nigeria. He has poor, uneducated parents and has to share a small bowl of rice and legumes with his three siblings every day. He walks several miles to school daily, often in intense heat. He is emaciated and frequently endures pangs of hunger. For Nigerian children like this, malnutrition usually starts before they are born due to poor prenatal care.

They are an ocean apart, yet both boys suffer from malnutrition, ranging from undernutrition with resulting short stature and below normal weight for the Nigerian to overconsumption of high-fat foods with little or no exercise leading to obesity for the American.

Clearly, the overall quality of life for a low income American is much much higher than that of an impoverished Nigerian. If I had to choose between being an obese boy in Baltimore and a starving boy in Nigeria, I would pick a life in "Charm City" in a minute. This is in no way meant to compare the two situations overall.

What I am glad that Dr. Enwonwu pointed out is simply that the face of malnutrition is not necessarily that of an African child with a distended belly. Malnutrition is also the much too chubby kid in the housing projects of an American city. Malnutrition is a problem that I doubt many Americans would claim; it falls into the "that doesn't happen in my country" category.

Unfortunately, malnutrition does happen here, in one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations in the world. I guess our food system is indeed that broken. I am embarrassed.


  1. Have you read Pollan's "In Defense Of Food" yet? This idea of calorie availability not being an adequate measure of malnutrition is a main concept in the book. Historically speaking it was a prime criteria for malutrition. The way our food system has developed in the past century, calories are no longer a problem. It's proper balance of otehr components within that caloric input that is askew, and results in malnourished obese kids. It's a highly interesting read, and well cited.

  2. I am almost done with In Defense of Food. Agreed, great read.

    I am also really excited to see Food, Inc. Have you seen it yet?