Notes on the Food Stamp Challenge

My recent post drew a lot of criticism and a lot of support, which is good because at least people are talking about these issues. And while I certainly don’t believe anyone should throw up their hands and resort to twinkies because food stamps and chain grocers can’t possibly cover optimal foods at this time, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t discuss these issues and fight the good fight through nutrition education and by improving accessibility of optimal foods. That is, in part, what the challenge is all about.

Traditional foods is considerably more than what we choose to eat, it’s how we choose to prepare the foods we eat: with care and attention. It’s choosing whole, unrefined foods. Traditional foods are peasant foods, and peasant foods were strikingly varied (not all pease porridge, and neither all wild game and foraged berries); however one thing remains constant: the foods were naturally raised and naturally grown and that is something that is simply not available at chain grocers regardless of your budget.

Providing grocery lists, meal plans and recipes illustrates that you can, indeed, eat healthy and unrefined foods on a minimal budget. While not optimal, these meals are healthy and a lot healthier than the Standard American Diet whether it’s purchased on food stamps or an ampler budget. Fresh produce, even conventionally grown, is a far cry better than no fruit or vegetables at all. Meats, even those that aren’t raised on pasture, still provide protein and micronutrients. Legumes and grains, when properly prepared, still fill bellies and provide much needed nutrients such as folate, dietary fiber, magnesium and phosphorus.

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Many folks have said we should be thankful for what we have because it fills our bellies, but that doesn’t mean we should be complacent. In a nation of wealth and plenty, we shouldn’t have to settle for beef laced with e coli, chicken contaminated by salmonella, potatoes that rot within a week of purchase or even oranges that are half-rotten before you get them home. We deserve better.

Did I expect to buy pastured poultry and sun-ripened heirloom tomatoes at my local Safeway and Kroger? Hell no!

We’ve lost touch with our food and there are no seasons at your grocery store. Bananas, apples, cabbage, berries and tomatoes are available year-round. If you think those red ripe tomatoes lurking in your produce aisle are sun-ripened in either July or October, you have another thing coming. I’d love to focus on seasonality as my family generally does, but on this challenge price is the bottom line as the concept of seasonality is largely absent from grocery stores these days.

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Life is about choices, priorities and exchanges. What do we give up in order to acquire something else? My family is not rich – or even close. We are a single-earner household and we hover on the line at the nation’s median income and are squarely middle class. Valuing nutrient-dense foods we’ve made the choice to give up common luxuries to acquire wholesome foods. So I don’t buy into the defeatist attitude that good food is only for the rich. It’s not.

Purchase the best you can with what you’ve got, and if that means filling the grocery cart with gassed tomatoes or feedlot beef, so be it. But, don’t settle. Don’t be complacent. Ask for more because you – and the people around you – deserve more.

If you need help determining how to eat healthful, unrefined foods on a budget and to plan low-cost menus, please download the challenge’s meal plans and grocery lists which are available each Monday. If you’re up in arms and are ready to act, contact me because in November we’re going to start effecting orchestrated change in our communities.

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