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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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


  1. "Young, Broke and Fabulous. Yes"

    Please, won't you add PRACTICAL to that list?

    I'm SO glad you are blogging again. You are the refreshing breath of fresh air this culture needs, Julie!

    Mother Connie

  2. Some eating out habits that I'm in:
    My boyfriend and I almost always split meals. If we're super hungry and at a place without huge portions we order two entrees and split them both. Somehow, this erases the "clean your plate" compulsion and we have more leftovers and more interesting meals.

    It never ever occurs to me to order appetizers (except at happy hour). When I'm with friends who order them, I'm always mildly surprised.

    Happy hour rules!

    When drinking wine, always order the cheapest. I don't know enough about wine to care.

    I tend to look by prices immediately on getting a menu. Staring with the cheapest thing on the menu I eat the first one that sounds good. Good enough it good enough.

    Never ever dessert unless shared, and even that is rare.

    My boyfriend is on a medication that requires him to limit alcohol intake. He orders water when drinks are ordered and then if he feels like a drink with the meal he orders it when the food is brought out. That way he's only tempted to have one. Sometimes I do the same and don't feel deprived this way as I might trying to switch to water after one drink.

  3. Mother Connie - thank you for the incredibly warm welcome back!

    Jackie -

    It is awesome to hear that you and your boyfriend seem to have worked out the meal splitting really well.

    I also like your suggestion to start a meal out by looking at prices on the menu. That is something I find myself doing too (even if I do wind up getting a mid priced wine sometimes!) and it does really make a difference. It is almost like starting to look at a menu as a vegetarian - there are certain foods I automatically rule out, and others I start reading about immediately. Sounds like the same goes for you with money. There are certain dishes you look to right away because they are the cheapest. Probably a great way to start if you want to save $$$.

    You also make a great point about Happy Hours. There are tons of places that have deals on food or drinks on certain days of the week. Its worth a little research to seek out those discount opportunities. Might even help one explore new parts of the city!

    It is also interesting that you tend to find it natural to order only 1 drink in part because of your boyfriend's dietary restrictions. I think many of us operate like that with both food and alcohol, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. I know so many people who say that their ability to eat well or drink in moderation is undoubtedly impacted by the eating or drinking habits of their meal companions. Sounds like you guys have a good system down. Bravo. Great suggestions. Thanks.

  4. love this. splitting & apps are a good one for me.

    i also sometimes buy a full entree, ask for a box right away, and put half in the box to take home before i even start eating. that way, i'm not tempted to eat the entire order and instant lunch to bring to work the next day!