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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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, November 30, 2009

"Ok, America. That will be 1 Large Diabetes Epidemic. And your total is..."

While we were all chowing down on mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie this weekend, the University of Chicago released a new study about the rise of Diabetes in America. Get a load of this:

2009 - 23.7 Million people in America have Diabetes 2034- 44.1 Million people in America are projected to have Diabetes
according to this study.
It is no surprise that with the prediction that the number of cases of Diabetes will nearly double, comes the prediction that spending on Diabetes care will also increase. The study estimates that by 2034, spending on Diabetes care will TRIPLE to about $336 Billion.


Meanwhile, the United States Senate returns from their Thanksgiving recess to debate the greatly anticipated Health Care Bill. Of course, the financial aspects of the bill are of great concern to all parties - how much will it cost in the short term? How much will it save us down the road? Can we afford to wait any longer?

Well, I sure hope those Senators caught CNN's story about this University of Chicago study. Here is a great quote. Really, my favorite:

"It is estimated that if we could control diabetes we could save $217 Million dollars PER YEAR in health care costs."

And here is another one.

"What do we have to do to slow this increase in Diabetes cost and prevalence?" the News Anchor asks the reporter.

The reporter replies, "You know, there is nothing mysterious here. We're talking diet and exercise."

Now, I have proudly watched my mom get her pre-Diabetes condition turned around with some healthy diet and lifestyle changes in the last year. It wasn't easy, but she's doing it, so I know that it is possible! [Click here to read a previous post in which my mom wrote in about this experience.]

The big thing here is that if we are really going to ask people to do their part to help save our health care system (not to mention our economy and our planet) by changing their habits to avoid diabetes, we need to make it a bit easier on them.

  • Money: Good healthy food needs to be affordable. Maybe we could shift some of the federal subsidies from corn and soy and big farm production to make fresh local produce more affordable for a change?
  • Knowledge: People need to learn about health, food and cooking from informed and objective sources, not food advertisements. Maybe we could education people about nutrition in school so that they can make empowered decisions at the grocery store or (better yet) Farmers' Market?
  • Support: Healthy habits and life style changes must be rewarded and supported in our communities and our work places. What if you got an extra 15 minutes for your lunch break if you used that time to take a brisk walk outside? What if you saved money on your health care co-pays if you lost weight or got control of your Diabetes?
Who else has an idea for my list? What would make it easier for you or people you know to eat better and get healthier? I'd love to hear it!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

NYTimes: Food Stamp Use Soars

Big article in today's New York Times:

Food Stamp Use Soars, and Stigma Fades

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

A GROWING NEED FOR A PROGRAM ONCE SCORNED Greg Dawson and his wife, Sheila, of Martinsville, Ohio, help feed their family of seven with a $300 monthly food stamp benefit. Center and right, the food pantry in Lebanon, Ohio, where residents can also enroll in what is formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Eggplant Experiment

Japanese eggplant is very cheap at the Asian Grocery Mart and also at the Farmers' Markets in my neighborhood, and I recently came up with an interesting recipe to share.

One thing about living alone and having a looser food budget (around $50/week now, including a cheap meal out!) now is that I am much more willing to really experiment with food. I am coming up with crazy combinations like this one:

Balsamic and Curry Eggplant

(Seriously. Just hear me out.)

Wash your Japanese eggplant and cut it into large chunks.

In a bowl combine several teaspoons of olive oil, several teaspoons of balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon of curry powder and mix well.

Toss the eggplant in the above mixture until it is all covered.

Put eggplant in a pan to roast, but before you put it in the oven drizzle honey over it.

Pop it in the oven at about 425 degrees for 30-45 minutes.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Fighting Hunger in LA

This is me at my day job...

If the video doesn't work well for you within my blog, view it directly by clicking here.

It was great to work with Shawn on this video. He does fantastic renegade philanthropy all over the world, and he recently landed in LA. Check out more of Shawn's adventures on his YouTube Channel.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Break Through with Beets

Today, I went to the Hollywood Farmers' Market to get my week's groceries, and I had an incredible impromptu cooking lesson from a man selling beets.

I walked up to his stand to buy some beets, planning to roast them as usual.

I noticed that he had samples. "So, are these roasted?" I asked. "No," he answered, "raw."

Hm. I popped one in my mouth.


He'd used a traditional combination from Mexican cuisine in a way I have never encountered before: lime juice, salt and paprika on thinly sliced BEETS. On mango, ok, I might expect this combo. It is very common in the fruit stands all over Los Angeles. But, BEETS? Unexpected and incredibly delicious.

I ran home and made my own version of this Mexican Beet Salad just a few hours ago.

Here are the directions:
  • Wash beets thoroughly
  • Peel off the skin
  • Slice them as thinly as possible
  • Squeeze lime juice all over them, making sure to toss them in the juice so that they are fully covered in citrus-y goodness. For 3 beets I used 3 limes, but number of limes will vary depending on how juicy your limes are.
  • Sprinkle paprika and salt to taste
  • Party in your mouth!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Email from London

When I was in college I lived in a house with 12 people and 1 working kitchen. We organized a fantastic partner co-op meal system. Each person had a partner for cooking and a partner for dishes. Each partner set had one night to cook for twelve, one night to wash dishes for twelve, and every other night to come home to a warm meal and a table full of friends. It was really a great system. Since each partner pair only had to cook once per week, they inevitably got really into the whole thing and put a good deal of effort into the evening meal.

My partner for Fall semester was my good friend Dave. Dave just moved to London after spending a year in San Francisco, and last night he sent me the following email "P.S.":

Hey - I totally forgot one of the other things I was contacting you about. I am trying to eat healthier and thought you would be a good person to ask for some input. I am having a hard time cooking for myself every night when I get home from work and a long commute - whenever I am tired/lazy I tend to resort to not as good food. Started making a fair amount of salads etc, but was wondering if you had any staple foods, meals etc that you like/resort to. I don't plan to go completely vegetarian but I don't think that should matter. I have been to a couple farmer's markets, but I can tell you it's definitely not California anymore so your local produce knowledge might not be too applicable. Anyway, any input that you might have would be greatly appreciated. Talk to you soon. Hope you are doing well.

Wow, Dave, you asked the right person.

I too am struggling with the balance of money, time and health. When I was doing the On Food Stamps challenges I felt like every waking minute was devoted to cooking or getting food. I had no time for socializing, exercising or painting/crafting. Now that things have calmed down a bit, I have found some really great foods that make it possible for me to eat well on a budget without spending all of my time cooking.

Here are a few suggestions:


Lentils are my best friend. I buy a week's worth of lentils for less than $2 and have found a million ways to cook them. Lentils work well with any of the following:
  • curry or other traditional Indian spices
  • coconut milk
  • lemon, lime or any other flavorful citrus juice
  • diced tomatoes in a can
I try to eat my lentils over fresh greens or with a vegetable rather than rice all the time.

2. DEPENDS HOW YOU CUT IT...Cut down on prep time by watching how you cut your food.

Working veggies like zucchini, eggplant or squash into the meal can be a real time drain if you try to chop the veggies into small pieces. Tonight I experimented with cutting large chunks of zucchini instead of small circles and it worked out great. By minimizing prep time you can create meals much faster.

Cutting pieces as you see above required only 2 cuts per zucchini rather than the 15-20 cuts required to cut the zucchini into even little circles. Major time saver!


Stove top cooking tends to require a lot of stirring and prep work. Baking or roasting dishes in the oven can be a lot easier. In most cases you can pop something in the oven and do other things while your meal cooks. And by the way, I am using the term "oven" loosely. If you don't have a working oven don't worry, I don't either! I have a great little toaster oven that I use for all of my baking and roasting. Since I am cooking for one person these days, the smaller oven really makes sense. I got the little toaster oven pictured below for free at a tag sale, and it has really been an awesome addition to my kitchen.

I suggest the following:
  • SQUASH: Not sure about London, but the winter months in my corner of the world mean squash and root vegetables galore. I have found that cutting a butternut or acorn squash in half, drizzling some olive oil over it, adding some cracked pepper and popping it in the toaster oven takes less than 10 minutes. I can forget about this squash for an hour, and when I return it is ready to eat. Sometimes I put it in the fridge and save it for breakfast or lunch the next day.
  • ROASTED VEGGIES: Similarly, I recommend getting comfortable with roasting vegetables. All it takes is a glass dish, and a little olive oil and basil over chopped potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, carrots and onions. Throw in some cherry tomatoes as well! I roast my veggies at around 450 degrees until they seem soft enough, usually 40 minutes or so.

This is a bummer. I love salad, but when I'm pressed for time I just can't make them, and I think that Dave is asking a lot of himself when he turns to salads for a healthy meal. Washing lettuce and chopping veggies takes a lot of time. Salads also tend to be pretty expensive to make - mixed greens are costly. I've had success lately roughly chopping veggies such as jicama, cucumber or carrots (any veggie that tastes good raw is great) and drizzling homemade dressings over them. I make dressings with oils and vinegar, soy sauce, mustard, herbs and fruit juices.These chopped raw vegetable concoctions are much like salad, but they incorporate cheaper produce and take me less time to prepare.


It is really hard to get home from work and cook every night. I have found that establishing a "cooking day" each week is key to preparing cheap and healthy meals.

Sunday is my day, and I really look forward to it. On any Sunday around 4pm you will find me wearing an apron and dancing around my kitchen to great music. Most likely there are beets or squash medleys in the oven, lentils simmering in a pot, and broccoli or zucchini steaming away in garlic and spices all at once. I usually cook enough food for at least 75% of my week's meals during my Sunday cooking session. Its almost as if I make my own "TV Dinners" in a sense.

I rely heavily on my army of Tupperware containers to carry my pre-prepared meals to work. This system works out fantastically for me because once I am cooking one dish it doesn't take too much more effort to put a pot of lentils on the stove or pop some veggies into the oven to roast at the same time. Using containers to separate the cooked food into meal size quantities also helps me control my portions. It is all about being economical with your time.

Does anyone else have any food prep time saving techniques to suggest to Dave?

"Whats in the Fridge Soup"

Special thanks to Karoline Dehnhard submitting a great recipe.

As any penny-pinching health nut would know, letting produce go bad in the fridge is no good. In fact, it is forbidden in my apartment. Karoline made an awesome soup out of what was left in her fridge. Check it out!

A note from Karoline:

To me, the point of making soup is to use up food that might otherwise go bad. My leftovers in this case are broth, pinto beans, my last broccoli stalk and some spinach. The rest of the ingredients should be available in all active kitchens as they keep well.

A note from me:

Try adding miso paste to create a flavorful broth. Or, get in the habit of saving the water you use to steam veggies for "Whats in the Fridge" soups. I know I used the last of my carrot water from last week tonight, and it made the my dinner more flavorful. Using leftover homemade veggie broth also incorporates more nutrients into your meals.

I love Karoline's use of random left overs. It is very On-Food-Stamps of her. Feel free to tell me about your creative use of left overs in the comment box.

Here is Karoline's Recipe:

What’s in the Fridge Soup with Turmeric


4 cups broth*

1 celery stalk

1 potato

1 onion

2 carrots (outer layer scraped off with knife)

1 broccoli stalk

hot peppers to taste (Karoline grew these peppers herself in a little pot over the summer.)

2 garlic cloves

handful of pasta (could add rice or another leftover grain)

handful fresh spinach leaves

1 cup leftover pinto beans

turmeric to taste

parmesan cheese (optional), salt and pepper if needed

Preparation time: 1 to 1 1/2 hours, Servings: 4-5


  1. Start heating your 4 cups broth (cover pot with lid)
  2. Chop 1 celery stalk, 1 potato and slice 1 onion and add to pot
  3. Chop 2 carrots and add. When broth comes to a boil, reduce to simmer and leave a little opening for the steam to escape.
  4. Chop broccoli stalk and add to pot (everything but the tough outer layer of stalk)
  5. Thinly slice hot peppers and add to pot (turn heat up if necessary to simmer)
  6. Chop garlic and add to pot along with a handful of pasta
  7. Sit down and relax for 5 minutes and then do a taste test
  8. Add handful of spinach leaves (optional: chopping might make eating easier!)
  9. Add water if needed (I added 1/2 cup)
  10. Add 1 cup leftover pinto beans
  11. Add turmeric (try 1/4 tsp at a time)

*the extra flavoring you might need will depend on what is in your broth. If you have no broth, you can use water and add flavoring as needed.

Thanks Karoline!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Split It

The waitress in me can't believe I'm writing this post, but here it is.

Now that the extreme Food Stamp Challenge days are over I am back to the normal flow of going out occasionally to eat with friends. However, my budget is still very tight, so I'm really conscious of money while eating out, even if it is at the $7.99/per entree Indian food place. (Young, Broke and Fabulous. Yes.)

At the same time I have conversed with many of my women friends about our mutual desire to eat well and keep our portions under control. What is interesting is how often "Seriously. You've got to help me stick with it this time. I really want to lose weight and eat better." leads to ordering another round of drinks and asking to see the dessert menu while everyone moans about being too full.

Why do we do this?

What is with the weird binge-guilt dynamic that so many of us engage in around the table?

I think much of this is a part of our cultural relationship to food. In Arianna Huffington's book On Becoming Fearless, she touches on this topic in a section called "Stop the War with Food". She compares her food-centered Greek upbringing, which featured lots of fresh seasonal produce, olive oil and gastronomic pleasure to our food culture in America:

"[American women] have come to view food as the enemy. We starve ourselves, deny ourselves carbohydrates, rid our systems of all fat, and then, when we feel we 'deserve' it or have earned it after weeks of denial, we turn 180 degrees and indulge in binge eating."

Add on the money component: because I need to be careful how I spend every dollar, I rarely go out to eat. When I finally allow myself a restaurant meal, it isn't pretty. Its just like Arianna describes above, but with money: I'm suggesting everyone split a spread of appetizers, ordering my own entree, drinking two glasses of the more expensive wine. Something inside of me keeps screaming "Oh come on! Its time to reward yourself - spare no expense!" (And then when the bill comes something else inside of me is screaming. Its my checkbook.)

Either way, finding a healthy and moderate way to indulge one's desire for pleasure seems like the answer to this troubling pattern so many of us know too well.

This weekend I had one such experience, and it really merits unpacking. My friend Stacey and I agreed to meet up for a hike and then some sort of meal. I really needed to save money, so I suggested we either just have coffee after the hike or split something if we did decide to eat. We agreed on that idea, so the expectations were already set before we met up. Despite the fact that we started our hike with a conversation about our efforts to be healthier, in my sweaty post-hike glory I found myself tempted to suggest we order our own Vegetarian Breakfast Burritos. But, given the fact that we'd already established we were going to split something I felt really awkward about suggesting that we each get our own, and I stuck to the deal.

I walked in to order. One Vegetarian Breakfast Burrito, cut in half, please. Total: $7.00 + tax.

Splitting the Burrito only saved me about $4, but that is an important price point in my money-conscious brain. If I'm spending less than $5 on a meal it feels fine (more like a coffee than a meal, really). It is fine, actually. Once I hand over a Hamilton I feel like I am really spending something. The decision to split the food was certainly an important one from the money standpoint. I felt free of guilt when I paid.

I will admit, my half of the Burrito looked pretty small when I brought it back to the table and sat down. In my brain I briefly wished again that I had my own food, and I think Stacey did too. Once I finished eating though, I really felt fine and satisfied after about 10 minutes. It took a few minutes once the food was gone to feel that pleasant satiation feeling, but there it was.

Normally I leave a meal out with a friend feeling slightly too full and guilty about the food, the money, or both. I walked away from the split Breakfast Burrito experience extremely happy and light. So here is my suggestion: SPLIT IT.

Next time you go out, see if you can agree to split the entree with a friend and order way less food than you think you need. I'd love to hear how it works out for you.

Just don't forget to leave the waitress a fat tip.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cubicle Recipe Trade

Conversations about lunch at work have started getting really important for me.

My new cubicle mate Wendy and I have established a great rapport: we're both trying to eat better, and we're both working within pretty tight food budget constraints. It helps that we are both very open to trying new foods. We're always trading recipes and bites during lunch, and I think this supportive atmosphere is really helping me stick with eating well.

This week, Wendy copied a recipe for me.

Baked veggie casserole courtesy of a magazine she picked up while waiting for the bus. I'll report back once I make it.

She also got me talking about flavoring water. Drinking water is an important part of wellness and appetite control. But, sadly, water can be boring. Wendy made me lemon water at work this week.

Other things that make water Fabulous:
  • Oranges
  • Strawberries
  • Frozen fruits (I'm a fan of black cherries)
  • Mint (cheap and GREAT!)
  • Limes
In return I shared my newest recipe creation. When I'm making up a recipe I like to draw it out on huge paper and hang it near the stove. When I'm cooking and dancing and wiping my hands on my apron in order to scrawl ingredients up on this huge paper with a sharpie, I feel fantastic. Just sayin'.

Here's a close up so you can make it yourself.

  • Slice up the carrots and boil them until they are super soft.
  • Take them out of the pot and set them aside. Save the carrot water!
  • Put a few tablespoons of oil in the pot and start sauteing the ginger. Add some onions and garlic if you like!
  • Once that gets going, I bust out the blender and potato masher.
  • Put some of the carrots in the pot with the oil and ginger and mash them up.
  • Put the rest of the carrots into the blender, adding enough of that carrot water you saved to allow the blender to work up a good orange swirl. The liquid to solid ratio is up to you.
  • I also had some left over roasted spaghetti squash on hand. I recommend adding a little bit of some thing besides carrot to your soup. Try a potato, an apple, or a roasted squash. Simply cook the extra ingredient (bake the apple!) and put it in the blender to add some variety to the carrot-y-ness.
  • Once you get enough pureed carrot (and squash, or apple, or whatever you add) from the blender, add that to the roughly mashed carrots in the pot.
  • Add the curry, basil, and coconut milk.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

I'm back

There is a new person working next to me these days. Her name is Wendy, and we share a cubicle. We both only have 30 minutes for lunch each day, so we tend to eat at our respective cubicles. (Grumble. I know. That is bad.) Since we are right next to each other we are always seeing what the other is eating.

Wendy paid me an incredible compliment recently.

She came in to work in the morning and she said, "Julie, I thought about you when I was buying groceries this weekend. I thought, 'She always eats healthy.' Look, I brought carrots today."

Wow. Now that is awesome. Looks like I did, indeed, Lead a Meal Time Revolution. Hell. Yes.

From here on out this blog is going to record my experience with the American Food Revolution and my real-time quest to eat better. (I put that whole "American Food Revolution" thing in caps in an effort to will it into existence. I'm rooting for the movement for better food to gain enough momentum that it deserves an all caps title. Looks pretty good like that, don't you think?) The posts may not be as frequent and I won't be doing extreme food challenges. But, the way I see it, I'm living my own real life food challenge every day. My budget it still tight - I cannot afford to spend much more than $50 a week on food. I am still searching for ways to get healthier and eat in a sustainable way without breaking the bank. And, I still have a lot to say about food culture in America.

What I want to focus on now is that fact that I am not alone. In my office, in my circle of friends, at my neighborhood Farmers' Market... people around me share these goals. I'll be writing about my adventures with food and my interactions with others who are on the same page, starting with me and my cubicle mate, Wendy.