I spend $1 a day on breakfast, $7 a week. I get 100% of almost every vitamin and mineral in that and I'm basically eating a whole grain, organic brownie. Yumm. I thought I was pretty efficient and frugal until I started following Julie's blog. In honor of Hunger Action Day (May 20th), Julie Flynn is committed to spending only $35 a week on food, the equivalent of the typical food stamp allowance. When I first got her email I ran my food budget quickly through my mind. I thought the $7 breakfast deal was pretty good (a few cents per vitamin?), and add to that about $3 for lunch per day, $21 a week. So, that leaves me about $7 for dinner, snacks, and treats, not including the occasional glass of beer or wine or (forget it!) a $1.75 Diet Mountain Dew. Living in LA, I've seen glasses of wine that cost more than the value of a full week's food stamp allowance. It's certainly a city of extremes.
I went back through my budget over the last three months (yes, being a student again and living in LA, you've got to keep track of every penny) and I spend somewhere between $96 and $112 a week on food, about $15 a day. That's groceries, eating out, caffeine, snacks, and alcohol (including one magical, smoky, heavenly beer float at Golden State Cafe and a highly subsidized set of birthday dinners - thank you everyone). At that rate, which is not so extravagant, those on food stamps could eat for two days, and lunch on a third. What happens the rest of the week?
Julie is also doing this whole experiment as a vegan, and selectively as an organic vegan (she has some great tips on her blog about priorities and resources). She's asking us to just simply read along, offer pointers and suggestions, provide support, think about what we consume, and, most importantly, recognize how difficult it is to be healthy, socially integrated, and low-income (yes, food and alcohol are huge aspects of our social lives and pressures - see the grilled cheese incident of May 19th on Julie's blog). Also, be sure to click on the "Congressional Food Stamp Challenge" and see how Congress members in 2007 - on $21 a week - fared in their own efforts to understand the dire consequences of poverty on health.
Eating on a miniscule budget for a week is hard, for a month is at least four times harder yet brings with it real awareness and activism, but for a lifetime, having to eat on $35 a week is truly tragic, with consequences beyond malnutrition like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease from eating cheaply which often means high carb, high fat, and low nutrition. In addition, we often equate food with love, ritual, celebration, seasonal cycles, not to mention pure joy, sensuality, and sensory stimulation. I can't imagine a life lacking the simple beauty of good, healthy food. Though it happens in this country for millions of people each day.
Here is Julie's original message:
To all my friends, family, and supporters:
Today, May 20th, is Hunger Action Day.
In honor of that, I would like to invite all of you to follow my Blog. For about a week and a half now, I have been living on $35/week for food as a vegan. I am attempting to eat a healthy, environmentally sustainable diet on a budget that represents a typical food stamp benefit allowance. I am only shopping at stores that accept food stamps. Through this experience I am exploring the barriers low-income Americans face in the quest for healthy food by living the challenge myself.
This is a month long experiment, and the Blog will likely continue to explore these issues all summer. For now, I am posting every day. Each post is different - sometimes an article, sometimes a recipe, sometimes a reflection. Here is the link: http://onfoodstamps.blogspot.com/
I would love if you would support me by "Following" this Blog, or by passing it on to friends. A large part of this is about increasing awareness about the intersections between poverty, food, health problems, urban pubic health, and sustainability. The more people that know about this experiment, the better. As you will see in the first post (it gives all the background info- I suggest you start there), there is an interactive/participatory element to this. After reading, let me know if you want to contribute as well.
Have a great day, and thanks for reading.
A final note, there are many people trying to be proactive in combating their own limited choices, limited space, and limited access to healthy food. The South Central Farm was the largest community garden in the country and was lost due to a various and shady mix of greed, deals, and development. In June of 2008 a new documentary was released on the South Central Farm called The Garden. It was nominated for a 2009 Academy Award (along with Trouble the Water, one of my very first posts on this blog). It documents an ongoing story of activism and injustice. At the end of May it will play in DC, New York, Telluride, Salt Lake City, and Amherst. In June it will play in Charlotte (at Park Terrace, my old movie theater), Portland, San Diego, Denver, Louisville and Tucson. For updates, specifics, and more locations see their website or their page on Facebook. You can also volunteer or attend the rally to mark the third anniversary of their eviction from the abandoned incinerator site at 41st and Alameda. This is one small way to combine our new awareness with action.