Food Stamp Challenge: Week 2

This week was disheartening at best. It makes me shake my head with sorrow at our broken food system and the challenges that face poor, underprivileged and impoverished families. They are fighting an uphill battle – and few are on their side despite the lip service paid by government officials and corporate spokespersons.

And, now at week 2, I’m left with startling but sturdy conclusion that some of you may call premature: No, it’s not possible to eat optimally on a food stamp budget. I know that this is not what you expected me to write, nor what you wanted to hear. Don’t get me wrong: we’ve managed a far cry better than even the Standard American Diet, and I still maintain that it is possible to eat healthfully on a food stamp budget, but this better than solution of dodging pesticides, settling for “natural” meats and relying on vegetables purchased on sales and special that rot in a few days is not optimal. It seems that better than is simply not good enough.

Let’s Talk Quality

This week our cart, like last week, was full of fruits and vegetables: tomatoes, salad greens, bananas, oranges, garnet yams, acorn squash and even two pineapples bought dirt cheap on sale. Healthy, right? Wholesome, right?

Week 2: $55.44
1 lb Pink Beans: $1.19
1 lb Split Peas: $1.29
½â€gallon Whole Milk (Sale): $1.79
1 lb Butter (Sale_: $1.99
1 Frying Chicken: $4.77
2 lbs Laura’s Lean Beef (Sale): $9.98
4.5 lbs Bananas (Sale): $2.12
3.45 lbs Oranges (Sale): $3.45
2.65 lb Cabbage: $1.83
4.5 lbs Tomatoes (Sale): $3.57
1 Acorn Squash (Sale): $2.17
1 Spaghetti Squash (Sale): $2.07
2 Yams (Sale): $2.80
1 lb Raisins (Sale): $1.50
1 lb Organic Salad Mix (Sale): $4.99
2 Pineapples (Sale): $5.98
1 Jar Natural Peanut Butter: $2.10
Rolled Oats: $1.85

Yeah, those tomatoes I picked up at $0.79 / lb sure were bright red, but they sure weren’t ripened by the sun or grown in nutrient-dense soil. Lacking those two factors, they will similarly lack the micronutrients and antioxidants found in heirloom varietals allowed to ripen the way nature intended – that is under the sun’s warm rays. While the oranges were on sale for $1 / lb, the flavor is acrid and half-rotten. And that cheap 10 lb bag of potatoes I purchased last week with the intention of feeding my family all month long? Many of them are rotten and those that aren’t are rock hard. Do you know how long it takes for a potato to rot? A lot longer than a week – or it should.

If poorer nutrient profiles by comparison to farm fresh produce isn’t enough to concern you, consider the chemical load that these fruits and vegetables carry. Purchasing completely organic fruits and vegetables isn’t possible for many people – at least at the chain grocery stores in my area. First, the variety of organic produce is limited and, secondly, the cost of purchasing organic produce exclusively would be cost prohibitive for anyone struggling on a budget of $227 per month. Never mind that even if you are fortunate enough to purchase exclusively organic produce at the grocery store, much of that produce is still grown with fertilizers and pesticides, albeit organic inputs, and without care to holistic management.

Synthetic field inputs are a serious issue, and when you eat conventionally grown fruits and vegetables your body absorbs and must filter out any residual chemicals. Your body requires nutrients to make that happen, and fruits and vegetables start losing nutrients from the moment they’re picked. In the end, were operating at a loss when eating produce from our grocery store shelves as opposed to fresh picked produce at the farmers market or, better yet, from our own gardens.

Perhaps the worst of all, high quality animal foods are near impossible to find on grocery store shelves. Grass-fed beef? Not a chance. Ask for pasture-fed poultry, and they’ll laugh you out of the store.

Sure, there’s “better than” options like Laura’s Lean Beef which is, at the very least, antibiotic- and hormone-free. And there’s Organic chicken, which is extraordinarily expensive by comparison to the regular fryers and broilers. Most stores, fortunately, carry Kerrygold butter which is sourced from cows fed on grass thus conveying the nutritional benefits of retinol, beta carotene and CLA but it is expensive. Kerrygold butter runs $9.98 / lb at my store compared to $1.99 / lb for regular butter.

The resulting problem is one of balance and one of risk. Since all of these chickens, cows and even fish are fed largely on corn and soy, as opposed to their natural diet, the composition of their fat is disrupted resulting in a very high ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids. And that’s bad news for the health of consumers choosing these foods either from necessity or preference. Moreover, since these animals are fed an unhealthy diet, they’re more apt to become ill – putting consumers at risk for salmonella and e-coli infection.

It’s depressing. And I haven’t even touched on the challenges of grains and legumes found on grocery store shelves.

Sure, organic vegetables are better than conventional vegetables and conventional vegetables are better than none at all. Anitbiotic- and hormone-free meats are better than conventional meats, and some meat is better than none at all (though I can hear the vegans moaning about that one). But a food system that relies on “better than” choices is not good enough.

That’s why, over the next few weeks of the challenge, I’m not going to focus on bang-for-your-buck gimmicks and low-cost shopping. Sure, I’ll still post grocery lists and meal plans for download because there’s a real need for those too, but, instead, my focus will center upon the factors contributing to the dismal food situation for poor and underprivileged families.

In the end, real health comes from real food and real food comes from sustainable farmers’ fields not from the grocery store shelves.

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What people are saying

  1. Dawn @ Small Footprint Family says

    Unfortunately, food stamps, TANF support, WIC, etc. have never been properly calculated for the real cost of living; they are bare subsistence assistance. Thanks for doing this and being honest about this experiment. I hope you will send this information to someone who might make a difference for poor people.

  2. Andrew says

    At my Whole Foods they just lowered the price of Kerry Gold Butter to 5.50 a pound (well, 2.67 for eight ounces). I’ve been stocking up. Over at my PCC, the largest co-op in nation, it costs 5 bucks for the eight ounce. Ouch!

  3. says

    I vote for you already. And, I am just working out my budget for the week looking over your stuff b/c I was going to take running with tweezers $30 a week challenge. I have been desperately sad all day about how little is available to the poor. I work with many students who are given free meals throguh the school system and their food is ridiculously unnutritious. It is really criminal.

  4. says

    I understand your frustration (I really do, as a new whole foodie). Let me just preface with that.

    Many food stamp recipients are buying crap food, and by that I mean- kraft mac, generic potato chips, frozen pre-made chicken nuggets. While I also understand it IS impossible to buy an organic diet on a FS budget, it is by no means impossible to purchase a semi-whole foods diet. Let me elaborate.

    1 gal of antibiotic & hormone free milk is frequently on sale here for $2.49 a gallon. It is better than no milk at all & is better than cows pumped with rBGH.

    A bag of dried beans is nothing but dried beans & a healthier option than canned with not only citric acid from GM corn and other ingredients, but you also forgo the BPA in the can. Another benefit? 4 cans worth of beans in that bag are the same price if not less than the single can of beans.

    An “all-natural” chicken, also free of antibiotics & steroids is another more healthful option than frozen chicken nuggets which includes not only those extra bad-for-you ingredients, but also contains dyes, colours & other unnatural preservatives.

    Many juices are a great alternative to sodas & if you really crave soda, you can definitely use fruit juice in the freezer (concentrate form) to flavour plain seltzer water.

    I am a former FS recipient. I am blessed to not have to rely on the gov for my food these days, but I know first hand what you can get on a FS budget. It doesn’t necessarily include soda pop & chips. While my options above are not what you’re accustomed to, nor are they ideal (in a perfect world), they are much better than what many people (not just FS recipients) load into their carts :(

  5. says

    PS- I am all for the fight to get GMO’s and other crap out of our stores. I’m all for bringing back the original farmers & I’m all for writing companies & voting with my wallet. PLEASE don’t think I’m not. I just wanted to offer an alternate view, based on my own experiences. Bless you for trying! Don’t give up hope. Keep fighting the good fight! I’m on your side!

  6. says

    I agree with Michaela. While you may have had to lower your expectations to fit within the budget, what Michaela listed would be a drastic improvement for MOST people. You are right though, sadly the grocery store on a limited budget is not an optimal diet. But it can be much healthier than what most are buying.

    Yesterday I stopped in my local store for a few things. Again I did a quick comparison of my groceries and the people ahead of me (discreetly of course!). I put up – a 10 lb bag of potatoes, 5 lb bag mixed dried beans, organic cauliflower, a bottle of pure maple syrup (my priciest purchase at 9.98 – but just not willing to buy the HFC crap and my baby wanted pancakes), paper baking cups, flaxseed meal, small bags of brown rice, garbanzo beans and lentils, 3 heads of garlic, organic celery, 3 lb bag of brown onions and bakery sourdough bread (the best choice for store bought bread with a surprisingly short ingredient list) – all this for 36.86.

    The people ahead of me? The had several different kinds of 6 pack sodas, some frozen meals and some other packaged stuff. So while my groceries may not be the best I could get, they are the best I could do at that store. The problem is most people will not chose the best they can get – for lots of different reasons. It’s a tough tough deal out there.

  7. says

    kerry gold is also 2.69 per 8oz here at Trader Joes.

    This challenge sounds really hard. I know you have calculated the amount as based on the average a family recieves, yet I will say, just this week a woman was telling me that she receives 200$ a month for herself in FS. She lives with family and chooses to only work during the winter. 200$ per month for a single person seems pretty good, especially compared to what you are trying to live on. Yikes!

  8. says

    Jenny,
    I know that this challenge has been hard for you but from my point of view it has been terrific. Your choices from the past two weeks have been very educational. I especially like your addition of the salmon and the mussels last week. Those are things I hadn’t given much thought too. And I have one acorn squash given to us from garden surplus that I now plan to turn into custard. I look forward to seeing how your month finishes up.

  9. Susan R says

    I love what you’re doing! I hope to learn from your juggling for the best nutrition. My husband and I, although not on food stamps, live on a very limited income, and I tend to spend way too much on groceries, or nothing at all (so not too much to eat at times). You are helping me to find the gray areas. And in defense of those whose shopping carts tell a sad SAD story…my 18 y.o. g/daughter just moved in with us, and she knows nothing about food prep or nutrition. She was raised with packaged food and a microwave, so her shopping cart would also be appalling. (I found it very sad she didn’t know how to reheat leftovers w/o a microwave…or scramble an egg!)

  10. Jen says

    I’m so sorry to hear this Jenny! I agree it’s true though. When we switched to traditional foods and prep, I was shocked at the price tag. We made the transition slowly! However, it’s worth it to us, and we can thankfully afford it by cutting expenses in other areas. It’s simply our highest priority, which isn’t true for a lot of people. I sometimes spend what you’re trying to do for the month in one week, when I make bulk purchases… for a family of 3 (not every week!). I do have a freezer stocked with clean meat, and a pantry filled with organic beans and baking products, coconut oil, etc.

    I agree with Michaela… you’re still doing a great thing! While there are no optimal choices on grocery shelves, there are definitely better choices than most people make. I am absolutely appalled when I am at a grocery store, and observe other carts. I’m sad when I talk to my sister, or sister in law, and they tell me what they “cook” and feed their children. Most people simply don’t know any better, or are resistant to change even when they do. Education is key! You’re helping in that area. Keep it up! I hope next week is better.

  11. says

    Dear Jenny,

    You are an amazing person! I am new to your blog and new to providing my family with whole local foods, and not just Morningstar vegetarian sausage patties for breakfast! :) You have truly inspired me in a way no diet has. Thanks for all your hard work and reflection. I look forward to learning all that I can from the Nourished Kitchen.

    I am not on food stamps, but your grocery lists and menus have really helped me visualize how to plan for the week. If you haven’t in the past (I still have a lot to look through on your blog) I would love to see how you normally menu plan for the week–your optimal healthly eating plan–and how much that would cost and how you do it.

    Thanks!

  12. says

    I get what you’re saying — but, I’m with a number of others here who think this project is fantastic (and eye-opening). What it really illustrates, for me, is the fact that we have a ways to go when it comes to perspectives on eating. When we set the bar as low as we do (forcing people to “settle” for less-than-optimal products), it makes a statement about how we feel, as a culture/nation/community about healthful eating. When healthful food is all-but-inaccessible for most, it makes a statement about our values.

    Just goes to show how much culture change is involved in real change when it comes to food. Frustrating? Yes. But, you’re also illuminating the baby steps that people need to make to “get there”. And that’s part of what’s great about this project… it’s a journey, not a destination.

  13. says

    This is fascinating. How do we hire you to redesign the system?!

    When we first had a baby and were saving for a house I was on state health insurance and they offered me WIC. I tried it because 1)I thought it would temporarily help us save more money and move out of our parents house and 2)I was very curious how this worked and wanted to take a peak.

    I’m not sure how food stamps work but WIC was very challenging to make work for us at all. We found that we were severely limited in quality b/c there was no choice what you could buy. You had to choose the cheapest of the food options and unfortunately the cheapest was usually the food with corn syrup or additives added. The exception was tunafish, carrots and dried beans. I had such a hard time buying the poorest quality of milk and eggs when I knew how much ore nutrition my baby and I would get with something more quality.

    It was very frustrating and I stopped after a month because I didn’t want to use something I wasn’t even appreciating or using.

  14. HFE says

    How frustrating! I think even writing about it is a great thing. If everyone on assistance were eating or trying to eat as you and Micaela describe, it would be a vast improvement. And if such a movement were to occur, it wouldn’t be long before folks were demanding even better–more organics, non-industrial animal products, etc. And grocery stores would need to comply.

    I’ve noticed that in our conventional stores, the organic veggie section is dismal–they take way to long to change out the older produce, so it always looks ugly and fruit-fly ridden compared to the pretty stacks of fruits and veggies around them. Our local grocery store does carry some “alternative” brands, such as Bob’s Red Mill and a very few Organic Valley products (individually packaged low fat products, of course). I wonder if you, and I, ask for the brands we would prefer, if they would stock them. Some grocery stores will do this. Though I admit, I rarely shop at my neighborhood store now that I’ve been budgeting and weekly planning, unless it’s something incidental or for household use.

    Of course if folks don’t know they should be eating better, they won’t fight for a fair share. Education is the key to making an effective change. And never mind that there are things out there like soda with vitamins, if you stand back a little, we are moving ever so slowly in the right direction.

  15. lynn byrd says

    Jenny, keep your chin up! This is a very tough challenge, and you’re in the trenches. If I’m not mistaken, your goal is to prove that it IS possible to eat more healthfully on a food stamp budget. You aren’t out to prove that it’s impossible to eat like a renegade; stay on task!

    Remember this: most people, regardless of income level, have no idea how to cook. Nor do they have good sharp knives and proper pots and pans. The poorest among us, at times, simply want someone to “hold the baby” while they run outside and smoke a cigarette. And that’s what we do. They don’t want a sermon about food.

    And this: if you really want to see healthy budget cooking in action, hook up with some of the Ethnic families in your area. Sure, their ingredients aren’t always local and organic either…but their food dollar can be stretched like spandex!

    One last thing: consider using the food you are growing in this challenge. One of the biggest ways we can help bring change is to show people how to grow and use their own food, even if it’s only one tomato plant in a coffee can.

    OK, mamacita…you are brilliant; I love your gutsy determination. You will get past the weight of this challenge and shine with it, of that I’m sure.

  16. says

    Well you got my vote Jenny! :)

    I agree with a lot of these comments. I appreciate your honesty and this has been a real education.

    I wholeheartedly agree that people can make better choices than what many do, even on a limited budget. So that clearly means that awareness is lacking, either that or people just really don’t care. I am not sure yet.

  17. Kelly says

    It seems obvious that this researcher, in giving up and changing her direction, now knows what the country’s millions of poor have been trying to tell the rest for so long … food stamps cannot buy healthy food … what they can do however … is buy foods for empty bellies – regardless of what the label says, and that, sadly, is the bottom line.

    If you don’t believe me, then take your research to the next level – spend one month with a family on food stamps (not one week – one month). Be there from day 1 to day 30. Honestly carry this task out, and then come back and blog.

  18. autumn says

    Hi,
    I’m new to your site and loving it. I wanted to say that for our family of seven we receive $569 a month in food stamps. It is difficult to feed a larger family whole foods but I’m trying. Again the main problem is that many places that sell the whole foods or local foods don’t take the food stamp card…that hurts those of us who are trying to eat healthy. I’m a breast cancer survivor and my children are ages 1-11 and we want to eat whole foods but it takes time and money!!

    This is a great challenge though for people who think we just eat junk…many who receive food stamps do but not all of us!! I know I could cut out meat but my husband will not go for that!!! I just make things stretch as far as possible.

  19. Alicia says

    I think this experiment highlights the elitist attitude prevalent in many TF eaters, thinkers, and bloggers. Making a sweeping generalization here – most people who rely on Food Assistance do not have the easy internet access you and I do. They might have heard organic is better for you, CLO is a great supplement, and whole grains are wonderful. Those of us who have unlimited internet access will learn that we have options better and more sustainable than organic (that happen to be harder to find and pricier). We learn than regular CLO isn’t good enough, we ought to shell out $50 for the “really good” stuff. We need expensive fancy gadgets to grind our grains and purify our water.

    Yes, the system is woefully broken. But to simply give up in the middle of the experiment is bad technique. Can you have the best diet on such a limited budget? No, but you can make it better. Imagine what would happen to the whole food revolution if even 20% of the participants on Food Assistance changed their eating and shopping habits to reflect a more organic and sustainable choice.

    If someone has eaten $0.99 eggs and switches to $4 organic, I am pretty sure they will notice a difference in taste, and while it won’t be outwardly noticeable, they will experience a greater nutritional benefit, and be shuttling their vote – I mean dollars – toward more sustainable agriculture.

    Small steps.

    Is it the best? No, but it would represent the best informed choice that family could make. And that’s infinitely better.

  20. Jenny says

    Kelly -

    Thanks for your comment.  To clarify, I am NOT a researcher.  I am a mother, a wife, a sustainable foods advocate and a blogger.  Read more about me here.

    Moreover, food stamps can and do buy healthy foods as evidenced by the grocery lists, meal plans and recipes available for download during the last two weeks and which will be made available for download each Monday for the rest of the month.  The problem is not truly one of affordability (though I’m not saying finances has nothing to do with it), but one of education and accessibility.  Is conventional produce and meat optimal? Certainly not, but it does fill bellies affordably and healthfully and that is the bottom line.

    Take care -

    Jenny

  21. Jenny says

    Alicia -

    Thank you for your comment. 

    I want to clarify something, though: I am most certainly NOT giving up. Despite my real, clear and palpable frustration with the lack of availability of wholesome foods at EBT-accepting grocery stores, I’ve no intention of dropping the baton midway through the relay.  It’s a challenge, afterall.  And I never wrote, let alone imagined, that it would be easy. I’ll continue cooking, shopping and limiting my purchases to the $104 or so I’ve left for this month’s budget as well as blogging about the experience, but the focus will not be on how to shop manager’s specials or sales.

    Indeed, everyone who’s been to a grocery store probably knows that you purchase many things on sale and special to reduce your cost.  It’s not revolutionary or even helpful to write: And this week I examined my sales flyer and circled good deals.  Instead, the focus will illustrate how our food system needs to change and how we shouldn’t settle for the suboptimal either for ourselves or for our nation – the obstacles we face as a nation dependent on a broken food system and how we can come together to overcome them.

    As I wrote, and repeated multiple times in this week’s post: my grocery lists, meal plans and low-cost recipes are healthy and filling and strikingly improved over the Standard American Diet which is rife with rancid fats, refined sugars, refined grains but low in fruits, vegetables and other unrefined foods.  That doesn’t mean they’re optimal. I set out to illustrate how you can eat healthfully on a food stamp budget, and I am succeeding in that goal.  Healthful isn’t necessarily optimal – and there’s shades of grey in everything.

    It’s easy to label the traditional foods movement, its foundations and bloggers like myself as “elitist” when we outline the very real reasons that grassfed beef is better than CAFO beef or that pastured eggs are more nutrient-dense than eggs from battery cage hens or that freshly milled grains are better for you than irradiated flour that has sat in packing houses for months before reaching the shelves of your local Kroger.  But it doesn’t change the fact that these real, traditional foods are, indeed, healthier and more nutrient-dense than conventional alternatives from industrial agriculture.  These foods need to be made available to everyone.

    - Jenny

     

  22. kjsmama says

    Interesting, but I don’t know if I can agree with the conclusion.
    I think it depends partly on where you shop. My DH’s aunt and uncle own a greenhouse and gardens in a poor/rural area, they and many other direct grower/sellers will take food stamps. In more urban areas of MN food stamps can be used at co-ops and natural food stores.
    Food stamps are also based partly on income and assets.
    In MN, a family of 5 with no income or assets can get $900 a month in food stamps (I had a friend in that situation this past year and that is what she got). I could eat really well on that budget, its a lot more than my current one.
    In the twin cities many (not all) coops have at times purposefully marketed themselves to those with lower incomes, locating themselves on bus lines, in or near less prosperous areas, adding products so they can accept WIC, conducting classes on eating well on a small budget etc., and many low income people do take advantage of these places in their midst.

    I think the conclusion should not be that you can’t eat well on a food stamp budget, but rather that you can’t eat optimally shopping only at a conventional grocery store, really no matter what your budget is. The key to eating well on a lower budget is to not try to do it in conventional stores. buying clubs, sourcing food from growers, growing some of your own, cooking from scratch rather than buying processed foods, these are key strategies to eating well on a low budget. Also, something worth knowing is that food stamps can be used to buy seeds and although it might take effort, it is possible to find space to grow food in most cities and definitely in most rural areas. Even a little homegrown food can improve a low budget diet.

    • Jenny says

      kjsmama –
      Thank you for your comments. I whole-heartedly agree with you that it depends upon where you shop. Even given the greatest budget, if you were to shop exclusively at regular grocery stores, your diet would still be suboptimal because optimal foods are rarely available at most chain grocers – even Whole Foods.

      But, buying clubs, local growers and co-ops do not routinely accept food stamps thus limiting the availability of wholesome foods to families reliant on supplemental nutrition assistance. Part of the solution, and what I plan to touch on in later posts, is that we need to increase the number of grocery store alternatives accepting EBT. Sure, if I were to rely on these avenues, the challenge would be a breeze but, frankly, that’s not the reality facing many folks across the nation. This isn’t an issue of affordability, it is an issue of accessibility.

      And while growing your own is a very real option for those reliant on nutritional assistance since seeds and plants can be purchased with EBT, it takes time to see those plants through planting to harvest. That is, aside from radishes which generally have a grow cycle of approximately 20 days. In the meantime, while your waiting for those foods to come to harvest, what do you feed your family? Especially in October when the snow has hit and the grown is quick to freeze?

      And to clarify: My conclusion this week was not that you can’t eat well or healthfully on a food stamp budget – indeed you canas my grocery bill and menus outline – but that you can’t eat optimally because optimal foods are simply not available – and that’s a problem.

      Take care and thanks for reading –
      Jenny

  23. says

    Hi there,
    I didn’t read all the comments, but I wanted to point out that we do follow a mostly NT way of eating, on less than what we would get for food stamps if we qualified for them. Granted, the baby is breastfed so I don’t have to buy formula with it. Hubby does construction, so we do eat quite a bit of food, though. We buy organic meat, but eat a lot of beans and broth to supplement our protein. We don’t buy organic produce most of the time, but I stay away from the ‘big 10′ that are bad, and instead we eat a lot of broccoli and bananas, which aren’t heavily sprayed but are cheap. We spend $400/month on food, I think we would get $558 if we were on FS (family of 4 in MT).

    I personally prefer to do a more ‘grass roots’ movement of educating those around me of how to spend wisely, regardless of their reason for not having much $ to spend on food. Just my thoughts.

  24. Jenny says

    Emily -

    2.69 per 8 oz for Kerrygold?!  That’s a great deal!  I’d love to see it that price up here.  The challenge has been hard – but more disheartening than hard, though.  It just sucks to drive or ride the bus 30 miles away to shop at a grocery store only to find my produce rotting within a few days.  It stinks – literally.  $200 for a single person is great.  I know that ostensibly, we’d receive $527 as a family of 3 which is not too far from my budget anyway, but that’s not the benefit that most households receive.

    Take Care -

    Jenny

  25. Jenny says

    Millie -

    Thank you so much for your warm encouragement.  I hope you try the acorn squash custard – if you have some roasted garlic and sage to spare it makes a tremendous addition to the custard at not too high a price. Very tasty.  I’ll also look up that kefir frozen yogurt recipe for you.  It’s yummy too!

    Take Care -

    Jenny

  26. says

    I would love to be contacted if anyone has ideas of how we can help. (I’ve got my name here linked up to my blog so you can find me.)

    When I watched “Food, Inc.” one of the most disturbing segments to me was about the low-income family… In the store, the little girl asked for pears–she looked so excited about pears!–but they had to tell her no. The pears were too expensive. They could only afford the junk foods and fast-food meals… of course, then they had to spend lots of money on diabetes medication for the dad. I literally cry every time I think about it.

    Anyway, I’m sorry for going off on a tangent there. This issue is just infuriating to me, and I feel so helpless to help those families who can’t afford nutritious food, whether from a lack of money or knowledge. It does make me feel that it’s even more important for me to buy nourishing, whole foods as much as I can, to keep the demand up at the grocery store.

    …but that feels small. What else can we do to make these foods more available??? Organize some kind of conventional produce boycott? Start an internet-based free cooking class? And advertise like crazy? Where is the bandwagon? I want to get on it!

  27. Samantha says

    Hi Jenny! I am new to your site and LOVE it. Thank you for all the wonderful info and sharing all your great ideas with us. We are so fortunate to have resources (the internet) and time to learn and read about wholesome food and how/where to get it. I would love to find a way to help others who have no idea that what they see on the tv commercials, buy at fast food places and find at the grocery store is ruining their health. Short of standing on a street corner with a box of veggies and raw milk! :) Any ideas?

  28. Samantha says

    I just read the post prior to mine! That’s exactly how I feel. The internet isn’t accessible enough and big industry has their attention . . . most people I speak to have no idea about the corn and soy industry or why grass-fed beef is the better choice. And, these are people who DO have the resources. What about those who don’t? My heart breaks for them.

  29. says

    kjsmama- i am in MN too, and concur that all the co-ops here accept food stamps,and i believe most accept WIC as well. in MN we have the nation’s biggest (as in financially) consumer-owned co-op grocer (www.Wedge.coop) and we have an extremely high number of co-ops and natural foods stores, when compared with other parts of our country. we are pretty lucky!

    i used to receive WIC in the grand old times, 6 years ago, when you could get local, organic whole milk, local organic cheese and eggs. no more are organics allowed here in MN with WIC.

    Jenny- you are awesome for voluntarily trying this “project”/wayof life for a month. You are correct in assuming the average food-stamps recipient maynot have access to,or even know about farmers markets or food coops or even whole foods, trader joes, ect. and my experience is that some “big box” grocers are better then others at having good quality produce, even if it isnt organic and local.

  30. says

    I’ve tried to read through most of the comments, and I reiterate that it is amazingly beautiful that you are willing to take this challenge. I wish I could eat in a more TF way than I am able to at this time. But, I do believe I am eating way more healthfully than the SAD – drastically more and my body has healed enough to prove that to me.

    The Food Stamp system is so skewed. It is different every time you go to apply or re certify. It is appalling to me at the waste in this area of the government because of inefficient processes and standards. The system is so flawed. Yes, it is very likely a woman alone gets $200 monthly in food stamps, but turn around and you have a family of 4 only getting $269, for reasons unexplained. The next six months they may get more or less. They’ll get a letter in the mail stating the increase or decrease with no explanation.

    As for eating more healthfully, yes I agree. I spent $145 once at the grocery and my sister spent the same. I bought as much organic and whole foods as I could, she bought pre-packaged. We got about the same amount of food. It is about choice, but…
    It is also as Jenny has stated about education and availability. For example, in our area, a woman cannot get rGBH free milk here with her WIC vouchers. She has to buy the tainted milk because it is the cheapest. If she is relying on the WIC to provide milk, hormone free is not available. I have to say too that most people are not educated at all when it comes to food and nutrition. They do what is easy. You have to take into consideration the circumstances of the people living with this assistance as well. Not all of them are emotionally, physically, spiritually, or financially able to spend the time in the kitchen and are buying convenience foods. When you are in hard times, it is more than just the physical ability to do something that factors in.

    I do think that the standards of all America needs to change, but it will be a long hard road. Food needs to be brought back to the local stage. I see this as imperative for economies like the one in which I am living – Appalachia. We have a dying industry supplying most of our jobs. We have a great many people living in poverty, or if not fearful at any moment of a layoff. We rely for a large part on chain grocers for our food. Some families have small gardens, poultry, and few have livestock, but that is only for their families. There are no farmers markets of any scale anywhere nearby. There isn’t enough land for large scale farming, which is fine. That is why I advocate for people being encouraged to grow their own when the land permits, so we will soon have enough to share with others outside of our kinspeople.

    I also want to say that not all people drawing FS are people not trying to help themselves. In this country, there are states that pay school teachers only $25,000 a year. Add a jobless partner, and two or more children and they easily qualify for FS. Or two working people, depending on their occupation could easily need food assistance.

    So, yes, availability and education. Thanks so much Jenny.

  31. Marly says

    Jenny, you are awesome! And I, too, appreciate all you are doing. We need more people like you in a more visible venue to reach the public at large. I don’t know how that could be, but certainly there is a way. Someone just hasn’t thought of it yet. Let’s get our thinking hats on, people.

    As for healthy butter that doesn’t cost $9.00/#, I buy 1/2 gal of Country Classic whipping cream (cream being the only ingredient listed) that is rBST free, coming from cows that are not treated with growth harmones at Costco. I then whip it into butter with my mixer, but could just as well shake it in a container. This gives me about 2# (I haven’t weighed it, but it’s a lot) This butter is fantastic and the flavor is the best. The cream only costs $4.00/half-gallon, making the butter about $2.00/pound.

    Don’t get discouraged with this important work you are doing. The future will be changed for good by people with a dream like you. We all need you. Good luck, God bless.

    Marly

  32. Pippi says

    I’m finding this challenge really interesting, too, and really appreciate your doing it. A few years ago I was unemployed waiting for immigration paperwork to go through while my husband was in grad school. We had very little money and I really learned to stretch what we had. We certainly didn’t eat optimally, but we ate very healthy — in fact it was probably the healthiest I had ever eaten at that point in my life because I was just starting to research nutrition and cooking. I figured since I couldn’t even look for a job I might as well learn something useful — cooking.

    I kept cooking once I was working again, but with more money I found the hardest part was TIME. I think that when we talk about poverty and nutrition we often leave this element out of the equation. Yes, dried beans are cheap and you can make smart choices about produce and cuts of meat, but if you’re a single mom working 2 jobs and taking care of the kids with little support, preparing dried beans might be too much. Making nutritious food available to everyone isn’t just about access and cost, it’s also about time.

    Sorry, I’ve gone on a bit of a tangent. Keep up the great work! I’ll be following along!

  33. Marilyn Gratias says

    In no way do I want to sound arrogant, but sometimes we can be such “frustrated perfectionists” and so stop short of “doing what we can with what we’ve got” (and thus feeling a measure of gratitude and contentment). The majority of the populations on our planet has no concept of “ideal”. Being able to “choose” what to eat is a priviledge limited to relatively wealthy societies. Just looking at countries where famine is the norm will give us perspective on just how good we have it. They are living in conditions so far removed from “ideal” that they wouldn’t even consider trying to decide if a food was OPTIMALLY nutritious or not ~ just food would be nice, thank you! It’s also very difficult to be truly innovative (making something out of nothing) unless you are truly in need.
    I prefer organic, grass-fed, and definitely non GMO, but I have to let go of some of the ideals at times because of a limited budget (I’m just grateful that at this point in my life I’m able to choose and vary which ones!) I also have celiac disease, so I have the added challenge of cooking everything from scratch (a good thing, actually) and extending that limited budget to include gluten-free flours, etc., which are spendy. I do applaud anyone lobbying for change in our overly-industrialized form of agriculture, but at the same time I believe we should feel the very real blessing of having food at all.
    BTW, we can always find a DIFFERENT way of using thing, i.e., less than tasty eggs can be camoflauged with spices, put into potato cakes, quiches, stratas and numerous casseroles.
    I’m still an admiring fan, Jenny. Just giving a balancing view-point. Love to all ~ there are so many nutritional challenges!
    Marilyn

  34. The Runaway Lawyer says

    Jenny,

    I agree wholeheartedly that it is primarily a matter of education as well as accessibility. Processed junk is cheap, convenient, and tasty, unfortunately, and it’s a crime that it is allowed to be billed as healthful in many cases.

    As you know, I don’t eat a “traditional food” diet, but I do strive for a healthful balance of fresh foods and a minimal amount of additives and chemicals, which has proven to be considerably more expensive than your average American diet and probably out of reach for many, especially those who do not qualify for food assistance, but are nonetheless struggling to pay their bills.

    Further, as someone above pointed out, many low-income schoolchildren are subject to the (free or reduced price) offerings of their school district, which while on balance is better than the choices we saw 20 years ago, is still quite dismal and in some cases, pretty embarassing. I think we can do better.

    Thanks for tackling this subject – it makes for a very interesting read.

    ~E

  35. says

    I’m happy to see more and more farmer’s markets showing up in my area, and that the vast majority accept food stamps. There needs to be a push for that – that farmers at the farmer’s markets accept EBT cards, but along with that there needs to be education on the fact that they DO and why it’s better to buy local, fresh food!

    I love this challenge, and I’m glad to see that you’re doing it!

  36. says

    A few months ago, I had to do two months of having only a $125 budget for a whole month for a family of four when my husband got laid off. The info and results are on my forum. We did it by relying on our food storage and shopping at stores I seriously try to avoid. I am about to have to do it again thanks to my husband finally getting a job, only to have them go to on-call only after only three weeks of him working. However, this time the food storage just isn’t there as we have eaten it over the last six months.

    I also live in Appalachia, and right now I know many people who are struggling and happy to get any food at all. My husband can’t even find job listings within 100 miles of home for his white-collar profession. I’m very much in agreement with Michaela. Yes, I’m having to shop at grocery stores right now instead of local operations for the most part, but I can take a whole chicken and turn it into two meals plus stock or three meals and I’m thankful just to have meat at all at this point while we wait for our own chickens to get big enough to slaughter.

    Sometimes you hit the point that you realize that having any real choice is a privilege. We just have to do the best we can with what we have been handed, keeping praying and leave the rest in God’s hands. I can’t do any more than that.

  37. Bethany says

    After reading your post and many of the comments, I can see how much we all do really care about what we eat. But you have stated that you want to change the system, that it’s not working. Well not that that can’t be done, but instead of taking on the system, I believe we need to educate more people on what they CAN afford to do.

    You see your menu isn’t typical for most of us who really DO eat on a very limited budget. We eat pizza, tacos, chicken fingers and fries. Our kids eat mac n cheese and spaghetti O’s. We can’t afford to eat oranges and pineapples for snacks. I’ve been behind the woman at the grocery store with Coke, Kraft, Doritos, Jiff, and Trix in her cart as she hands over her EBT card. When you’re told over and over that that’s all you can do, that’s all you can afford, that’s all you get, then you believe it. There is no one out there saying different or showing how.

    Not everyone likes to cook and in this day and age we really don’t have to, we can buy it already done for us. That’s what you’re up against. The way you achieve what you’re trying to do is to limit variety. We just don’t eat a lot of different things. Our snacks are homemade crackers with carrots, raisins, cheese, or olives. Breakfast is homemade bagels with eggs, or oatmeal rasin bars. Our fruit consists mainly of apples and bananas with the occasionl splurge of frozen strawberries. I buy chicken and beef. Sometimes pork and maybe once a month (if on sale) fish. I buy only leaf lettuce. I add sunflower seeds to it and maybe some raisins or carrots, but that’s about it.

    Eighty percent of what I buy is organic. My fruit, meat, milk, and eggs I will not bend on. My wheat (natural, gmo free) I soak , so that leaves a few odds and ends that are usually 50/50 on whether or not their organic (veggies, cheese, carrots, etc…)depends on price, sale, and budget.

    I have adapted many recipes that we love to be healthier for us yet still affordable. I make our mac n cheese from scratch same with the spaghetti o’s…My kids eat lots of apples and carrots and drink a lot of raw milk…I make hamburger buns for our burgers and bake up oven fries…I fry all our fried foods in coconut oil.

    You get the picture. Anyway, I hope that maybe for all those comments I saw of people who want to help, and for you, that while you can take on the system, it’s more important to re-educate people. Empower them. This isn’t impossible. It just takes work.

    I commend you for taking on this challenge unnecessarily. It certainly won’t happen for you in a month, it’s taken me many to get our menu and budget in sync. But keep it up and I look forward to your next post!

  38. Lydia says

    Jenny this is a fascinating challenge you are doing. I very much appreciate the research and effort you are putting forth on it. I love the menu plan too!
    I happen to currently be on food stamps for my family -myself and 4 boys!! I am very grateful for them and my budget is close to $800 per month. Thankfully, I have a coop near me that is Weston Price friendly and I get raw milk, raw cheese, pastured eggs, grass fed beef, bulk grains, spices, local honey and locally grown organic produce. I am so very fortunate to have this co-op, because as you have discovered the supermarkets are a nightmare!! I also sometimes supplement at Trader Joe’s which does have some better options than the ACME might.
    Anyway, keep up the good work, I will most definitely be following you along on this journey! Peace to you!

  39. Noelle says

    This thread is so close to home for me. We have been on food stamps for 2 years now, and we barter with a CSA for veggies, eggs, beef, pork, chickens, lamb and even fruit. I can and freeze a lot. I know it’s not optimal, but it’s easier for our family of 8. But I have to cook A LOT to make affordable meals. And most of my friends would rather NOT cook that much. And by cooking, I don’t mean reheating.

    If I were to rely solely on our FS budget of $425 for the month, I don’t know how we could eat much more than cheap ground beef (with who knows WHAT in there) and the most basic of vegetables.

    We have developed a culture that doesn’t know how to cook beyond opening packages. And all those conveniences like pre-cut vegetables and individually frozen pieces of chicken (where you lose the yummy bones) cost more. How do we educate our neighbors to stretch their dollars by getting whole foods? How do we teach a new generation how to cook again?

  40. Jenny says

    Chelle -

    I’m not sure I understand your comment.  Are you disagreeing wtih me? Or with another commenter on this thread?  Perhaps I was unclear when I wrote, “I still maintain that it is possible to eat healthfully on a food stamp budget.”  Please clarify.

    Thanks!

    - Jenny

  41. Laura says

    Okay, my family receives food stamps and we are very poor right now. We haven’t always been, but like a lot of America, this is our reality now.

    I am kind of shocked by some of the comments on this blog– clearly by people who have no idea what it is to be poor.

    Just because you are poor, you don’t suddenly start drinking soda and eating boxes of mac and cheese.

    We buy beans and rice through a farm (for cheap, and organic– but doesn’t take EBT) or through a co-op grocery that does that EBT. We boy 25 lbs. whole wheat flour, and make all our bread/pancakes, etc. We buy a 25 bag of oatmeal for 11 bucks.

    We grow a lot of our own food–and you can buy seeds with EBT (at least in my state). We have chickens, but still get more eggs from the store since it is a cheap protein.

    We buy a whole chicken, and save the bones/skin for broth.

    We don’t eat a lot of meat, because it is just too expensive.

    Some veggies we buy organic or transitional farm produce, some just pesticide free/local. We are lucky to live in a city that is very close to farms and has a strong love of food.

    But all of this takes a huge amount of work for both me and my husband. Let me tell you, we bust our rear-ends being poor. with the addition of being thought of “lazy” and immoral because we are poor.

    But unlike a tourist, when we wake up in the morning, we are still poor. And it isn’t a cute experiment we are doing.

    It is our life, and ultimately that will allow us to bring about more change in the face of food stability challenges then anything else.

    As a food activist I was interested in your experiment, but people still make comments like :

    “I have to say too that most people are not educated at all when it comes to food and nutrition. They do what is easy. You have to take into consideration the circumstances of the people living with this assistance as well. Not all of them are emotionally, physically, spiritually, or financially able to spend the time in the kitchen and are buying convenience foods. When you are in hard times, it is more than just the physical ability to do something that factors in.”

    Which makes me think that they have little connection to the people using EBT and WIC. It is generalizations like this that just muddles the water.

    WIC doesn’t exist to help the poor people, it exists to keep a oversupply of dairy products off the market, to drive prices up.

    Food stamps exist to keep America from realizing how poor she really is.

  42. josee says

    i’m a single parent, i feed my kids & myself for ~150$/ month. i get milk and canned goods from the food bank, but otherwise everything comes from the grocery store. this is canada, so food costs more to begin with, plus my inner city grocery store doesn’t sell organic anything, or even ripe anything. the fruit is usually rotting, the meats are prohibitively expensive… you get the picture.

    so what would you do? i have no options, thanks to my location & income, but avoiding chemicals and animal cruelty is important to me. in the summer i can garden, but summer is short. we eat mostly beans & rice with canned tomatoes and frozen corn… it’s boring but cheap. what would you do/ change?

  43. josee says

    oh – forgot to mention that we eat 2 dozen eggs a week, since an amazing organic farmer friend of a friend sells them to me for 1$/ dozen, so i do have one source of free range, happy eggs. so not everything we eat is conventionally grown/ raised crap, just mostly. ;)

  44. says

    I am enjoying your challenge and continue to look forward to it.

    One thing I want to say (and this comes from a very low income family with a very small food budget) I do not understand why people say that buying fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive. Maybe it is the area I am in and the things available to me but it is much less expensive to buy some oranges, tomatoes, etc than a box of wheat thins! I cant imagine trying to give my kids snacks that weren’t fruits and veggies. I wouldnt be able to afford it.

    I will agree that free range organic meats are near impossible to find or afford here in my area, I do at least have the option of purchasing locally raised meats instead of tyson. Instead of putting such a large portion of our budget to meat I try to find other healthy and delcious ways to get high quailty protiens. It can be done but you have to be adventurous and open minded.

    Good luck with your challenge.

  45. Dana says

    kj: you might eat well on $900 a month, but try feeding five people with that, and something better than conventional food too.

    People think welfare, food stamps, etc. are untold riches. You’d be very surprised at the reality.

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