Review: Food Stamped

Originally posted January 7th, 2013 on crazy dumbsaint of the mind and edited for clarity & additional thoughts

Food Stamped documents Shira & Yoav Potash’s challenge to feed themselves on a food stamp budget. This has been on my To Watch list since it came out but my library just got a copy of it last week. I was the first one to check it out!   So, I watched the library’s virginal copy last night.Shira is a nutrition educator who teaches families how to eat well within a food stamp budget, as well as children. I used to do something similar in a program with Head Start families. It was that experience, as well as working with children in my own daycare ,that helped me to understand one of the key pieces to helping people eat well when they’re living on limited resources. It all has to do with education. I encountered a lot of families who had never made anything that didn’t come in a box or a can(and on the other end of that, MOST low income families did know how to cook but didn’t have the money to eat well). I worked with children who could not identify common vegetables. Even a potato, despite french fries being a  staple of their diet. And really, this education is not just needed for poor people. This applied to every economic class.3D-DVD-coverWhen I started this food stamp series , I had a mission and that was very basically, to prove that you CAN eat healthy on a food stamp budget. It’s certainly become  diversified as I’ve become more aware of obstacles others face to make that happen. I feel like I haven’t focused on things that need to be discussed in depth ( for example  I have over 3,000 words sitting in my drafts folder just about junk food and the complexities of why we shouldn’t prohibit certain items from being purchased on SNAP and why the current political climate isn’t going to allow change to happen anyway and why. It needs to be put out there but it needs edited so people don’t fall asleep reading it) . Overall though, this is still my main objective . This was also the basic premise Shira set out to explore :Can you eat healthy on a food stamp budget?

First of all, the amount Shira & Yoav worked with is quite a bit less than most food stamp challenges you read about. The amount they allowed was about $1 per meal for one week. Realistically, this is more accurate than the $35/week amount most challenges  work with. This has been hotly debated both here and on my Facebook page before. I also moderate a private group online for food stamp recipients and no one receives this amount of $35/person. Right now, we receive $20/person per week and that seems to be about the norm.The film showed both Shira and Yoav’s grocery shopping trip and also the grocery shopping trip of a food stamp recipient. Whereas Shira & Yoav’s objective was to eat healthy, the food stamp recipient represented the Standard American Diet.I took notes while watching and compared how we shop to both:

Shira & Yoav’s Grocery List

  • One thing that can’t be reflected in just a week challenge is the staple items you might buy that will last a whole month. Like for me, vinegar & baking soda are essentials because I also use them for cleaning …and along with the oil they purchased, they could have had salad dressing. Also flour…they could have made bread themselves.
  • During the summer months when we have good access to free produce thanks to the Veterans’ Sanctuary Farm and garden shares, we have a little bit more flexibility to buy the more expensive things like coconut oil. I think the jar of coconut oil I have right now was bought in September and I use it for many things (even making deodorant). It was$9 ,so not a purchase that could be made when I have no flexibility
  • They showed very well how every purchase requires forethought and how much planning needs to happen.During discussions of living within a food stamp budget, the critics will always scoff and point out that SNAP stands for SUPPLEMENTAL blah blah…. that the program isn’t designed to fund a recipient’s entire meal plan. This is where education of the general public fails and the disconnect with those people and the reality of living on food stamps. For most people, that is absolutely all there food budget is and for some, food stamps is the ONLY income they have.
  • I was happy to see that they supplemented with a little dumpster diving (for bread). Depending on  the city, there are some organizations who will collect all the perishable food from the supermarkets and distribute to those in need, so you don’t have to dumpster dive.
  • Yes, we eat a lot of beans,too. Not always organic and it’s honestly the last criteria I have when buying food. It’s important to have enough to feed my family and that takes priority over things like whether it’s organic or local.
  • I buy coffee. It’s not ethical coffee and I consider it my “sin item”. One of these days, I’ll quit it.

Richard (SNAP Recipient)

  • we do buy ramen,too but we throw the nasty flavor packets out (MSG makes me ill and my  kids don’t need it either).We just add spices and herbs to season. I joke that my Faux-Hubby should write a ramen cookbook because of the diverse dishes he can make with ramen noodles. We always add veggies..sometimes meat. The veggies aren’t always fresh .
  • Meat is always the first thing axed from the budget to allow for produce
  • Richard is type 2 diabetic (like my own dear Faux-Hubby) and admits that his diet isn’t what his doctor would recommend. I know from living w/ someone who doesn’t follow the best eating plan for a diabetic that it can be really hard to break out of the habits,even if you do know better. And besides, a food stamp budget quite often does not accommodate special eating needs

They also visit a damn good food pantry. Here in my very small town, the food pantry very rarely has fresh produce. Actually, we don’t use the food pantry because most of what they offer is processed , pre-packaged foods. Obviously, if we were not making do within our food stamp budget, I’d have no problem accepting the food if I had to in order to feed my family but it’s not what I choose to feed them normally. It’s a last resort for me.


However, we have accepted food from The Friendship Donation Network, which is one of those organizations I mentioned before that collect perishable food  from supermarkets,restaurants, and caterers and distribute.Other than the actual experience of food shopping & cooking within the parameters of a limited budget, Food Stamped very thoroughly covers the basics of the hunger in America, the food stamp program itself , the political factors affecting poverty in America , the obstacles poor people face in accessing healthy food, and (hallelujah!) the relationship of The Farm Bill to SNAP. Shira & Yoav Potash did an excellent job at presenting the information that everyone should know, whether they are a critic of  SNAP, a concerned citizen who would like an activist role to play in food security, or a food stamp recipient. Rep Jim McGovern  and other politicians also appear to offer their input on why hunger is how it is and what should be done. As McGovern says, “Hunger is a political condition. We have all the resources, we have all the knowledge…we have everything we need to solve it. What we don’t have it political will.”

 I often feel that if  citizens were better informed on the issues, there would be more of a push to affect change and more pressure put on politicians to change the broken system.The harsher of my own critics who have followed the food stamp series here are the kind of people who could benefit the most from seeing all this information in one piece. I always feel so frustrated after watching a good documentary because I feel like the people who need the information the most will never take it upon themselves to watch it ,or if they do, they do so with their ingrained mindsets firmly planted and closed to receiving info that could even slightly alter their view. My local grassroots organization Back to Democracy hosts public viewings of documentaries on many topics and it’s always the same people who attend. People who already have an inkling on the subject matter and already would have a leaning to not only be receptive to any information learned but also be inspired to take action towards changing things.

As my friend Jennelle just said, “What annoys me more is people who should see a particular documentary and not only do they *not* see it, but then they comment on it like they’ve seen it when they’ve only vicariously seen it through whatever bullshit they’ve heard about it in the media.”

It’s SO true. I know I’m an altruistic dreamer but I really wish people could just be open to receive information purely and unfettered,without preconceived notions and bullshit clouding how they process it and exactly what Jennelle said…. be willing to get the information themselves instead of being fed what they know from other sources.So, see it or don’t but of all the information out there, this is one excellent resource to get the fundamental idea of the issues that affect those living on food stamps

2 thoughts on “Review: Food Stamped

  1. We just watched this documentary recently and I really liked your comments. My husband has diabetes and my children have severe food allergies so I had wrote a post commenting about the difficulty it would be buying alternative foods on a small amount of money. I agree with what you wrote especially when having to buy items like coconut oil. There are items like oils and spices that last a long time but are also expensive to include in a budget. I also wish more people would watched these documentaries are get outraged about the 40 billion cut to SNAP over the next 10 years.

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