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 Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.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

Are you drinking the pounds?

Several months ago I posted about this jarring public health ad campaign.

It shows a bottle of soda being poured into a glass. As the soda pours out it turns into human fat. The poster asks the viewer: "Are you drinking yourself fat?"

Over the holidays I was in New York and got to see the ad for myself.

What do you think of this ad?
Does it gross you out enough to put you off soda?

Late Night Text

Got the following text from my best high school friend last night:

Think im eating too much to compensate for feeling inadequate!

This text followed her update to me that a situation with a certain boy had not gone as she'd hoped. I was super impressed that she wrote that down and sent it to me. How many of us know but never admit that we're eating in direct response to our emotions?

When I think of emotional eaters I think of a girl that just got cheated on wolfing down a gallon of Ben and Jerry's while watching Bridget Jone's Diary. So, if I'm not doing that, then I'm not an emotional eater, right?

False. I have been known to eat because I'm bored, to reward myself for something (ironically, that something is sometimes exercise!), even to punish myself for something. Yes. I have certainly eaten junk to "punish" myself for eating junk in a sick guilty cycle. Its that whole "Well, I already fucked up my healthy eating streak... might as well go all the way..." mentality. All too familiar at holiday time! As if I need me to help me make it harder to get back on track after the holidays are over. Alas, sometimes I do it.

Why not just savor the treats in moderation and then stop when I've had enough instead of sliding down that icy slope? I think that in my case it is because guilt gets wrapped up in there and makes me "hate" myself a little bit for eating something I don't think I should eat. Once I get in that "self-hate" mindset, no matter how subtle it is, I am more likely to continue to bring myself down. I feel weak and powerless because I gave into the bad food once, so it is that much easier to do it again.

What would break the cycle?

Probably detaching that guilt and self judgement would help. When I write it out it seems very cruel to admonish oneself for too many Christmas cookies, no? But I know that in a subconscious way, that is my mental process.

The text conversation progressed as follows:

Me - Major step twds stopping is realizing that. I swear therapy has helped me lose weight more than exercise haha
Her - Haha i know. Cheers to drinking water when u feel u want to eat!
Me - or tea!

It is true what I said to my friend. I have been taking much better care of my emotional health in the last 6 months, and it has actually greatly improved my diet and physical health. I am a real believer in the strong bond between spiritual, emotional and physical health. Journal writing, therapy and self love really do do wonders for the body.

Now here is the thing. So far I have been talking about Christmas cookies in my parent's nice comfortable house in New England, or cupcakes at a co-workers birthday. I am talking about my emotional relationship to eating sweets, but I want to add in another element.

What if instead of Christmas cookies I was talking about fast food. And, instead of just eating it myself, I was feeding it to my children. The guilt was not only a matter of the food being tasty but fattening, it was also a matter of money and time. In addition to beating myself up for not having enough self control to resist the fatty indulgence, I might also feel guilty that I do not have the time or the money to feed my children low-calorie, nutritious foods. They rarely get enough vegetables and are both slightly pudgy from the fast food heavy diet. I would not only feel "weak" for giving in to the forbidden food and setting that example for my kids, I would also feel inadequate because I was unable to provide for my children in the way I wanted to. Talk about feeling powerless.

I know that if that were my situation, I would find it pretty hard to scrape my emotions off the linoleum kitchen floor and get myself to a Farmers' Market to buy some raw vegetables to cook, weather or not they accept my Food Stamps. Would I have the confidence to waltz into that market, pick up an unfamiliar vegetable and bring it home to cook?

Hot Pepper Vinegar

Greens are an important part of a healthy Food Stamps diet.

I love kale, and have recently been experimenting with whatever type of green (collards, mustard, turnip, or good old kale) is the cheapest.

TIP: shop for your greens 15 minutes after your Farmers' Market is scheduled to close. Most farmers will be trying to get rid of those greens fast and will be willing to give you a good deal!

This week I had collards, and found a recipe in my new cookbook - Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant. (Thank you Santa, aka, Mom.)

The recipe was very simple but it called for something I'd never encountered: Hot Pepper Vinegar.

As it turns out, Hot Pepper Vinegar is quite simple to make.

You could make it just by looking at the picture. In case you want the proportions, here is Moosewood's recipe:

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp - 1 tblsp (depending on your spicy tolerance) hot sauce
You can also mix in some cayenne to taste

In a cruet or glass jar, combine the vinegar and hot pepper sauce and cayenne to taste. Shake it up! Hot Pepper Vinegar keeps indefinitely, refrigerated or not.

I'm putting mine in the fridge just in case. Makes for some easy, flavorful greens and I want it to stick around for awhile.

To make my greens:

Saute 1 onion or shallot in a little bit of olive oil in a big pot.
Add some garlic.
Put in your well washed greens, roughly chopped. (You should soak greens first to remove any dirt or grit, then rinse them off in a strainer before chopping.)
Pour a bit of water and some hot pepper vinegar over the greens and cover to let them steam. The amount of liquid you add depends on the quantity of greens you are cooking.

I sprinkled some rubbed sage on my greens at the end.
Optional, but tasty.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Can Food Companies Self-Regulate?

Apparently not, according to this article in yesterday's LA Times:

Companies fall short in advertising healthy foods to children

More than a dozen major companies pledged to push healthier foods two years ago, but study found ads for sugary cereals, fast food and sweet snacks made up more than 70% of the total.

This articles tells us that despite agreements several years ago, 70% of the advertisements targeting children during the period studied are for fast food or sugary snacks.

Ok. So, kids are getting an overload of information persuading them to eat these unhealthy foods.

What about the information about health, nutrition, and sustainable lifestyle choices?

Are there commercials persuading them to eat whole greens and plenty of vegetables?

How about extensive programs in their schools educating them about the basics of eating well, and cooking vegetables?

Not last time I checked.

What continues to concern me, is how much of what most Americans know about nutrition comes from advertisements. Nutrition and health education in American public schools are not arming people with the knowledge they need to make good decisions about what they put into their bodies. And, given the findings of this study that is really cause for concern.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cooking with Coolio

I just bought this book.

Can't wait to get it!

5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price? By Coolio? I'm SOLD!

Will report back with a book review...

New York Times Readers Debate about the Economics of Eating Well

From the New York Times Room for Debate:

December 7, 2009, 7:37 pm

Food Stamps: The Economics of Eating Well

food stampsAndrew Henderson/The New York Times Using a food stamp card in Brooklyn.

A recent article in The Times by Jason DeParle and Robert Gebeloff detailed the effects of the soaring dependence on government food stamps in the United States. The social stigma of using them has faded, the Times writers found, yet judgments are still made.

If people buy fresh vegetables or other relatively expensive though nutritious foods, they are considered to be living high on the hog at the taxpayers’ expense. But if they buy cheap foods like hot dogs they are criticized for poor health habits.

Despite these common complaints, does the system work? Are the current rules fair in regulating what people can buy and not buy? Or should the requirements be changed? Should un-nutritious products like soda be banned? Is there a better way to distribute free food and promote nutrition in this country?

Click on the title to go to the original page and see what other food policy experts and Bloggers have to say.

What I am really excited about is the heated comments section that follows this piece. What a great discussion it generated!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Just how bad is the obesity problem?

I have drawn the comparison between smoking and unhealthy eating before in this blog and I found an interesting new study that compares the two in this week's Los Angeles Times.

I am always thinking about what we can learn from the problem of Smoking in America. At one point, smoking was the biggest public health concern in our country. Just like we see with the food industry today, tons of large and powerful tobacco corporations had a lot at stake. There were major profits involved, but alarming numbers of people were dying.

This week, I found an article in the Los Angeles Times that really startled me.

In her article, Rising Obesity Rates Imperil Health Gains,
  • We've put out massive anti-smoking PSA advertisement campaigns.
  • We've flooded our schools with education programs to prevent our children from starting this deadly habit early.
  • We've banned these hazardous substances from school grounds, from restaurants, and many public spaces.
  • We've taxed the hell out of them to discourage people from buying them.
  • We've sued the corporations that push these substances in billion dollar class action lawsuits to get a little payback for the costly harm their product has produced for our society and to our health care system.
  • We've created aids from gum and patches to step by step programs and support groups to help people break their addiction and get their health back on track.
Given the fact that the obesity is taking such a major toll on the American life expectancy, might we start doing some of those things to help ourselves kick the "bad food" habit?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Food Waste While 49 Million Go Hungry

Check out this little piece about hunger and food waste in America.