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"fine" Dining on Food Stamps................

  • j

A recent post about Carlo Petrini and the Ferry Building in SF grew a bit "heated" when the topic turned to whether organics and farmer's markets are for the few or the many. Some people suggested that it was NOT possible--or at least simple--to dine well [aka fresh produce, organic produce] using food stamps. A number of posters pointed out that the various farmer's markets take food stamps ergo more food stamp surviving folks should be taking advantage.....

Today, I came across this post from Pat Morrison in the LA Times.


It got me thinking, especially the part about worrying about food going bad when you don't have money to replace stuff. Honestly, I can't see how I can feed my family organically for just a dollar per person a meal and I'm pretty darned frugal.

But rather than blow smoke debating the possibility, perhaps all of us who think it can't be done and all of us who think its fairly easy to do, ought to try it for ourselves in June. Say for one week, spend just a dollar a meal per person and see how it works out.

I'm willing to try. We are a family of four---two adults and two kids, one a permanently hungry growing boy. Presuming $3 a day per person times 3 meals a day is $84 for the week. The actual USDA guidelines show a maximum allotment for food stamps is a bit more but then they reduce that amount by .3 X net monthly income. I'm willing to go with the $1 a meal, $3 a day calculation.


Basic Ground Rules: all meals eatten in the home and no stock piling stuff the week before. All items consumed that week must be bought that week. Yes, most people have ketchup and salt around [or whatever] but at some point you had to buy it. I think let this be the week--if you want a condiment, buy it or do without.

I pick the week of June 3 through June 9. I'll pull the exact amount of my food allowence out on Sunday and head straight for the market. If I run out of money before the week is up, I'll report in and confess my sins. I'd go hungry for the remaining time but I think I'd get in trouble for starving my kids.

Anybody with me?

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  1. jenn, the only time I've seen this work is when the produce is prepared for a large group and served immediately. For instance, many farms offer free produce and baked goods that they would otherwise have to throw out due to inevitable spoilage and organizations come around to collect the food stuffs to prepare & serve to working poor, shelter residents.

    Good luck with your experiment. My family of five can only eat well and remain on some form of a budget if we meal plan, freeze ahead and buy only what we need.

    1. A few members of congress are about to do the same thing. http://timryan.house.gov/index.php?op...

      I'll be interested in all the results. When I first started out after college and was paying off student loans to boot, times were very lean. I recall a lot of pasta, rice, and noodles.

      1. This is sort of exactly the opposite of the approach that you'd need to take to really successfully manage a food budget that small. Buying long-storing staples in bulk and spreading out purchases of things like condiments to when they fit in your budget frees up funds to buy fresh produce and such week to week. Trying to simply feed a family on that little money starting on X day with nothing seems pretty doomed.

        We weren't poor by any means growing up, but my mother was the queen of the case lot sale. We always had lots of everything stored away--partly because it was entirely possible for our small town to get cut completely off from the nearest city in the winter, and partly to save money buy buying stuff on sale--and my mother could really stretch our grocery budget that way.

        Not that I think it would be easy even with a stockpile--I spend close to that on my own food budget, and I live alone--but you draw the wrong conclusions if you start with the wrong premises. Far better to fail legitimately and really make the point about the problem.

        14 Replies
        1. re: Jacquilynne

          I'm not familiar with how food stamps work, but is the OP's point that if you are on food stamps, you don't have enough in advance to stock up?

          1. re: MMRuth

            That's where planning comes in--if you're doing this for a week, you can have that attitude, but if you're doing it long term, you'd have to take the position of starting with ultra cheap staples to build a larder. Getting into the position of never being completely out of food gives you more flexibility to grab sales, and such.

            Some of the most interesting reading on stretching budget comes, oddly enough, from Mormon websites. Maintaining a stock of food is pretty much a religious requirement for Mormon wives. If you're looking for advice on how to get by on very little, that's a great place to start.

            1. re: Jacquilynne

              hannaone is correct.

              Look, I was a starving grad student and I can bulk buy and advance plan to knock your socks off. Of course it is easier to do all this by buying large amounts [though the ability to haul tons of stuff from Costco on the bus raises many additional issues.........] but the issue in the Ferry discussion mentioned was FRESH food and organic food.

            2. re: MMRuth

              It looks like the emphasis is on fresh produce/organic produce which is perishable. On an extremely limited budget that is difficult at best.

            3. re: Jacquilynne

              "Far better to fail legitimately and really make the point about the problem."
              Ouch. how you can contend that it would not be a legitimate failure when you say your own personal budget for one person comes close to what is proposed for four?

              "Buying long-storing staples in bulk and spreading out purchases of things like condiments to when they fit in your budget frees up funds to buy fresh produce and such week to week."
              True enough but how exactly do you haul all that home on the bus? I've schleped small bags of groceries on the bus after work and trust me, it isn't easy. I can't imagine how someone should take large amounts. Do you advocate that the shopper make multiple trips to the Costco? Not so easy when relying on public transport or after a full day of work. And where is the Costco, anyway? The ones I know of are quite a haul from my neighborhood.

              "Trying to simply feed a family on that little money starting on X day with nothing seems pretty doomed."

              Maybe, maybe not. But lets take a person just starting on food stamps as an example. Do they have all that stuff stockpiled or do they have to start from scratch?

              I have to say, I'm fascinated that the number of responses to date tell me how it won't work but no one seems willing to try it themselves. Is it too hard a thing to do or too easy? HMMMMMMMMMM.

              1. re: jenn

                I'm not sure anyone is telling you it won't work as much as they are telling you that they don't agree with the premise of it. It's not a lack of willingness, per se. And maybe some folks who have actually lived this experience don't see the appeal in or value of doing it as an experiment.


                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  I suspect we are defining the premise differently. I can certainly buy lots of staples at the 99 cents store and because I typically only cook from scratch, suspect I can do a pretty decent job on that budget. But I'm not sure if thats true if I try to do organic.

                  Honestly, I can't say I find the idea particularly appealing either---I lived broke [like rice and lentils for weeks broke] for a lot of years and am plenty happy to be beyond my penny pinching days.

                  Perhaps I was unclear in my original post---what was posted on the Petrini/Ferry market/slow post was that it was perfectly possible to eat lots of organic stuff and shop at the farmer's markets even if one were relying on food stamps. I don't agree. I think its hard, if not impossible, but I'm willing to see if I'm wrong.

                  1. re: jenn

                    I think it's likely impossible, too. As others have said, eating cheaply requires transportation and the time to shop and to cook from scratch. (And a kitchen!) I don't have much money because I'm a "starving artist," but I do have plenty of time. For me, it's a choice. For others, it's not.

                    BTW do the shops at the Ferry Building accept food stamps? Recently, I was at my local produce market when a homeless-looking guy came in to buy some fruit and asked if they took food stamps. They didn't. It was another half mile to Safeway and he was on foot. I still hate myself for not offering to buy the stuff for him, but it all happened quickly.

                    1. re: jenn

                      jenn, I do believe its only natural that our point of reference for shopping with limited income/resources/knowledge...which makes the experiment no less valid...just subjective. A real experiment would require we all follow the same parameters....good luck with that (wink).

                  2. re: jenn

                    I just think "Can I incorporate a reasonable amount of fresh and organic produce into my family's regular diet while still subsisting on a food stamp level budget" and "Can I start completely from scratch with an empty kitchen and serve my family nothing but organic and fresh products" are two sufficiently different concepts that failing at the latter doesn't imply failure at the former. My guess is that the latter is completely impossible and the former very, very difficult if not impossible. I just don't think failing at the latter proves you would have failed at the former--even if you probably would have.

                    I wonder if you could afford a cost to 'shopping' your pantry proportional to what you use. Buying a 2lb bag of flour that you use only a small part of might set you back $3 on your budget, but if you use only a quarter of it, that would only be .75 cents.

                    As for me, personally, I could never do it. I can't go to the grocery store and buy milk for less than $50 a trip (poor impulse control? me? never!). I know my limitations! ;)

                  3. re: Jacquilynne

                    I agree. I appreciate the emotion behind this but one week is not close to reality. It is like those people who slept on the street a few days to understand what it was to be homeless. Sure it was a better appreciation but no clue as to the reality.

                    Also, I think placing the focus on organic is wrong. The focus should be on healthy ... not buying crackers and bacon and hot dogs and all the cheap fatty stuff.

                    I wouldn't shop exclusively at Ferry Plaza but I would circle it to see what could be found on the cheap. I'd also go to Almany and Civic Center ... in fact in the lean years I did just that. I supplemented that with keeping an eye out for sales and shopping at Cala foods a lot which doubles coupon value. I drank quite a lot of Don Francisco coffee ... $3 on sale with a $1 off doubled coupon = can of coffee for $1. I hate that coffee to this day.

                    I think with a lack of shopping on a budget experience, like that reporter, a false conclusion will be reached. That reporter focused on what she couldn't have, not what was possible. Sure I can salivate in front of June Taylor jams at Ferry Plaza, but when I'm broke, that's not what I'm buying.

                    Also with the lack of a long-term meal budget it isn't going to prove much. Those cheap 39 cent turkeys at Thanksgiving will take you through the holiday season. No one shops for one week and then throws away what they don't eat in a week.

                    The false assumption is buying EVERYTHING at Ferry Plaza. Take that turkey.

                    That is a healthy meat that can be paired with bargain veggies at Ferry Plaza like a $1 bunch of exquisite organic rainbow Swiss chard and a sweet purple Japanese sweet potato with an heirloom baked apple for dessert. Apple maybe 25 cents. Potato maybe 50 cents. Chard lasts for a few meals ... single serving 25 cents. Turkey maybe 50 cents My breakfast budget of oatmeal is less than 20 cents ...so I'm golden in that price range. With wine ... there's 4 glasses in a bottle of two buck chuck. A $7 on-sale box of Franzia cabernet will last for weeks. We are talking a glass of wine for 50 cents or less with that dinner.

                    Those lean years had a permanent impact. Yes I can now buy $10 jars of jam and $20 olive oil. But I still clip coupons and stock up on sales. It is like anything else ... the more money you have the more you save. So I can buy cases of stuff during a sale and not have to buy for months. When I was poor I couldn't buy as much.

                    Living in a poor nabe currently due to my SO's family, I've discovered the corner Mexican Markets. I find it difficult to spend two to three times the money at Safeway for the same thing I can buy ... and usually better quality ... at these local markets. I've also discovered the inexpensive large Asian mega markets like 99 Ranch where fish and produce and groceries can be had for a song. I can make a fine fish dinner or chowder with lo-cost fish from the Asian market paired with whatever veggies were on bargain at Ferry Plaza that week.

                    The one thing that reporter did right was hit the sample route. Ferry Plaza on Saturday is free brunch with cheese, fruit, olives, jam and baked goods. Trader Joe's can sometimes be lunch. There's the cheese course at the Cheeseboard... sampling and then selecting one small piece to take home and enjoy ... with the 2 buck chuck.

                    1. re: rworange

                      rworange --- you're so right about local markets! I love living in my neighborhood b/c of the little Mexican corner store, the Asian grocery down the street, and the guy who sets up a mobile fruit stand every day.

                      For example, lemons are 59 cents at Shaws, yet I bought four delightfully juicy lemons for $1 at the Asian market. Ten limes for a dollar at the tiendas and the Asian market, much higher at Shaw's or Stop and Shop or the farmers' market, for that matter!

                      I drink lots of coffee with doubled coupons -- I was glad to read your mention of the double-coupon-coffee! I'm trying to make it as a working artist, so I'm very aware of sales/bulk/coupons as well as the astounding amount I spend on produce! I clip coupons constantly so I can get the items I want (Hellman's mayo for $1 with sale and coupon, Grey Poupon, etc) and I cook everything I can from scratch, but any time I want produce I need to go to the Asian or Latino market or I end up broke. I also eat mostly vegetarian and it's shocking how much more expensive it is to prepare a fancy veggie meal than a meat one!

                      1. re: foxy fairy

                        Around here (Toronto) I also find the small greengrocers will often be a reliable source for local produce during our brief season. They seem to have more flexibility than a larger place that just wants to have the same supplier for strawberries year-round.

                        1. re: julesrules

                          "Brief season" -- yes! -- you hit another point that I wanted to throw out there. In New England, we do have some awesome farmers' markets, but there's nowhere near the variety at the CA markets. Plus, we can only enjoy them for a few months each year. I used to adore that Ferry Market -- defiitely a weekly staple, and I always enjoyed the Oakland and Berkeley markets too (especially the hippy vibe in Berkeley!) Plus, as you said, our seasons are so different - our climate is so much harsher for produce! In a way I guess that's a creative challenge - to cook locally all year, maybe can a LOT of fruits and veggies in the summer. I haven't tried that yet but I'm yearning to give it a try this year. They're just starting the produce-in-a-box movement near me, so I'd like to get into that too. I know working at the local coop a few hours a month is a great way to find out about cool ingredients in bulk (alternative grains, new spices) and you also get a discount on everything you buy.

                  4. I wrote a column for the local paper last year about cooking for college students, and I shopped with a very keen eye for price while I was testing recipes. There was no way on earth I could've bought local/organic! These days, it's even worse -- food prices are climbing into the stratosphere. As I posted on another board, I paid $2.32 for ONE onion (non-organic) last week at my local supermarket.

                    1. jenn, I like the challenge, as I'm sure other CHers do. I think an inherent problem is the difference between food-educated CHers and many of the less-educated poor consumers in the US. What has long driven the food choices, unfortunately, of such poor consumers has been the high calorie density of processed junk food--you get the most calories per buck from processed junk food.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Sam, I think your comment is unfair to poor people in the U.S. Processed food here is full of cheap stuff, like high-fructose corn syrup It's easier to fill up four hungry bellies on crap than on fresh, wholesome foods. I think it's even harder in Europe, believe it or not: Prices there for quality fresh produce and meat are out of sight. I was in Chile last year, and went to a farmers' market, but no supermarkets. The prices seemed to be more reasonable than here. The choices are, I think, less about education than availability. If you could go into a neighborhood grocery and find cheap, quality food, you'd probably buy it. Unfortunately, that possibility doesn't exist for the poor in our inner-cities.

                        1. re: pikawicca

                          and organic produce costs more..which means a family is buying less per portion.
                          organic doesn't always have as long a shelf life in or out of refrigeration

                          It would be far easier for the family to receive free produce and market goods that would otherwise be tossed then try to budget these items using food stamps. Saving the 'stamps' for other budget stretching items.

                          Experimenting with how it would be IF we were in these circumstances; feeding ourselves and our family is hardly an indicator of how we would manage under REAL conditions. Thank goodness that are resources beyond food stamps for families to manage.

                          1. re: pikawicca

                            pikawicca, I agree with you fully. I think we're saying the same thing.

                            1. re: pikawicca

                              Add to this the fact that in many urban neighborhoods, supermarkets are nonexistant. Here in Chicago the Jewels and the Dominicks are located primarily in the more affluent sections of the city. There are a few places like Aldi scattered around, and in the predominantly Hispanic areas you can find supermarcados, which tend to have a decent selection of produce. Otherwise, you choice is to carry groceries on the bus, or shop at highly priced corner stores which stock a lot of processed food and very little fresh food. (they also stock a lot of cheap booze and lottery tickets, but that is a rant for a different board)

                              Also, all of the people mentioning Costco seem to have forgotten that it cost money to buy a Costco membership. The Costco where I shop is located within blocks of the projects, but the parking lot is filled with expensive SUVs and the store is filled with obviously middle-class and upper-middle-class people.

                          2. When I was 15, my mother fell too ill to work, my dad could no longer pull off 16 hour days... plus he was fortunate to get Kaiser through work so we couldn't afford him risking his health and by extension the family's health insurance (of which most families in question have none) and we hit some tough times. The short of it... is that the family's food budget was roughly $50 a week... without including inevitable contingencies like forced meals out when my mom had some kind of treatment to get to etc.,

                            We were very knowledgeable about eating well... getting complete proteins, fiber etc., and cooked most meals from scratch. We were also lucky to purchase cheap organic produce from a true farmers market - but as farmers have to actually do some farming and can't spend their time hanging out with the petty burgeosie... it was only a monthly event. In contrast to what is now representative of a farmers market... these people did not grow anything particularly exotic, it was held at a park where rent was free, it wasn't a cool thing... mostly just attracted retired folks surviving solely on social security, a lot of produce was naturally organic (and it looked like it... beat up, unattractive, with worm holes etc.,) and prices were generally comparable to the inner city Asian & Mexican markets at the time.

                            We generally ate well because we could cook well... and had time to do it, we took advantage of every possible loophole, sale & freeby we could get without compromising normal expectations of dignity (of course our dining budget was probably so tight because my parents refused Food Stamps despite qualifying for them).

                            I projected the $50 budget to today's inflation adjusted dollars and it turns out to be $3.71 per person / day.

                            So given that it we was over the $3 per person / per day discussed... and that didn't include the several meals a week eating out... I doubt anyone can sustainably eat very healthy on that budget.

                            19 Replies
                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              Good for you! It sounds like you did a superb job under almost impossible circumstances. I think most people are not so fortunate. And I know I keep sounding like a broken record, but what does it mean when ONE onion costs more than $2? I use many onions per week, and if I were on a strict budget, I don't know what I'd do.

                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                "We generally ate well because we could cook well... and had time to do it, we took advantage of every possible loophole, sale & freeby we could get without compromising normal expectations of dignity (of course our dining budget was probably so tight because my parents refused Food Stamps despite qualifying for them)."

                                Why in the world would you refuse to take Food Stamps? The whole point of paying into the system is so that the system is there when you need it.

                                1. re: lulubelle

                                  Because there is a huge stigma attached to food stamps among other things. Many recipients report being embarrassed by having to use them. Many report feeling like they are being judged and what they are buying is being judged. Whether that is true or not doesn't matter if that's the perception people buying them have. For others it's a pride thing, they think the food stamps are an indication that they somehow are not capable of providing for their family. And some don't want to be dependent on the state or tax payers, they want to be (novel concept) responsible for themselves.

                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                    Ordinary, regular people fall into needing public assistance for all kinds of reasons. It's a little harsh, I think, to suggest that you're not being "(novel concept) responsible for yourself" if you tap into public assistance. In fact, if you've got young dependent children, I might suggest that it could be irresponsible to refuse public assistance solely on the basis of pride. (And this is not meant to be a criticism of Eat Nopal and his family--clearly, his story is an encouraging story of success.)

                                    Also, I'm not sure it's valid to assume that all people who use food stamps live in an urban environment.

                                    I just think the whole premise that "stockpiling" isn't allowed as part of this experiment makes it a false one. After all, there are all kinds of ways of preserving food --canning and drying and freezing and curing and so on--that someone who is truly struggling to support their family on a limited income would, of course, try take advantage of, though it certainly wouldn't be easy. In fact, some of our most beloved culinary traditions for cured meats and making cheeses and such grew out of a necessity to preserve food in the pre-refrigeration age.

                                    And, someone struggling to support a family on a limited income certainly wouldn't throw their perfectly good food out at the end of the week if they were fortunate enough to have some left over. A bag of flour? Dried beans? Root vegetables? Squashes and apples? Dried pasta? Rice? Part of the real challenge would be to learning how to buy food that could last a while without compromising the quality of your meals.

                                    I even think that the requirement of this experiment that the food be "fresh" is a false premise. For instance, people who live in say, extreme, Northern climates, don't necessarily have an expectation of eating fresh produce year-round. There are reasons, aside from budget, to eat food that isn't "fresh."

                                    Do I think there's value in trying to put yourself in someone else's shoes for a week and try eat well (which, by the way, I do not equate with "fine" dining as the title of this thread would indicate), even organic, on a limited budget and see how you fare? Sure, you'll learn something. And you'll certainly find that it's difficult to impossible. But, I'm not sure you'd prove anything. Poverty isn't a short-term problem. Try living it for an extended period of time--perhaps a month or two-- and eliminate the artificial rules against stockpiling and curing and preserving and see how you fare. That's a more valid experiment. I still think you'd find it to be difficult and exhausting. I see the restriction in this experiment to say you can't stockpile before starting, but to say you can't attempt to stockpile once you've begun and as part of your strategy of eating well over the longer term doesn't sound reasonable to me. And if you "failed" using this more reasonable approach, what you'd end up learning and proving would be a lot more valid and persuasive.


                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      You're right, it's not a valid assumption to think that all people who use food stamps live in an urban environment. Just like it's not a valid assumption to assume that all farmers markets will accept food stamps, or that recipients know about farmers markets and would shop there if they could.

                                      However, after 15 years spent managing child nutrition feeding programs, my assumptions have a pretty solid foundation rooted in actual experience dealing with (as in direct day-to-day contact) the people using food stamps and other government food programs. Many are very nice people, genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of their children and families. A lot of other people are not nearly so nice and really don't want to take care of themselves, they want someone else to be responsible for making sure they are housed, fed and clothed. Been there, seen the attitude first hand.

                                      25%+ of children in America live at or below the poverty line, more than 50% of those children live in a single parent (usually with the mother) home in which the parent is struggling to make ends meet. The majority of these children (and their parent) do not have health care coverage and do not receive regular medical or dental care. The food stamp program is rife with well documented fraud and abuse, so much so the federal government has consider not reauthorizing the spending on it, or seriously reducing expenditures. The original intent was to help struggling families over a rough patch or two so they could get back on their feet. That's not happening so much any more because socioeconomic conditions have changed to the point where if you hit a rough patch these days it's much hard to get over it very quickly.

                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                        So, given your assertion that socioeconomic conditions necessitate that people who rely on public assistance find it much harder to get over it quickly (paraphrasing), how would jenn's experiment be a valid one if she threw her food out at the end of every week without any attempt to preserve or stockpile?

                                        Also, why would you suggest these "very nice people, genuinely concerned about the wellbeing their...famililies" aren't "(novel concept) responsible for themselves" if they accept public assistance just because they've hit a rough patch, which is hard to get over quickly? I would think that exact kind of thinking about folks using food stamps might be part of the reason there's such a stigma against using them.


                                      2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        Small correction: I meant to say, "ordinary, decent" people, not "ordinary, regular" people above. That's what you get for posting past your bedtime...


                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          1) I made no assumptions or comments about Jenn's experiment. You made implied assumptions based on your own beliefs and value structure.

                                          2) I did not say that "very nice people concerned with the welfare of their families" were *not* trying to accept responsibility for themselves. I said that the "other people who were not so nice" did not feel the need to accept responsibility for themselves.

                                          3) I think I was pretty clear that my comment was based on my personal experience and interaction with people participating in federal food programs based on 15 years of work experience in those programs, of which the food stamp program is just one.

                                          1. re: DiningDiva

                                            RE: your point #1: I'm not making assumptions--the ground rules as stated by Jenn clearly say "no stock piling stuff the week before" and "All items consumed that week must be bought that week" which means you can't eat anything beyond the week after you've purchased it. (I suppose I did indeed assume you'd throw the food away after a week rather than let it rot, but, surely you'll allow me that assumption. The other alternative would be to give it away, I suppose, but regardless of what you decide to do with the food after one week should you have any left over, the ground rules are quite clear that you can't eat it.)

                                            I'm asking your opinion about whether or not you think this experiment is valid because you said you had 15 years working in this field. And you specifically made the point that "if you hit a rough patch these days it's much hard to get over it very quickly" (which, by the way, I absolutely agree with), I was wondering what you thought about the validity of this experiment. Don't you think that preserving and stockpiling would be critical for people who rely on foodstamps for an extended period of time (because it's hard to get off quickly, as you stated) and that by making that arbitrary requirement that food can't be eaten beyond the week after purchase makes it pretty unrealistic as a "test"?

                                            As for your other points 2 & 3, thank you for your clarification.


                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                              My original comment was in response to the question about why people might not use food stamps, not Jenn's project. But since you've asked...

                                              The issue for me isn't whether it's valid so much as is it realistic and given her structure for it, some of it is, some of it isn't. Her idea of starting from scratch isn't that far off, but for the wrong reasons. There may, or may not, have been sufficient food in the home the week before, some of it may be left over, then again, the larder could be pretty bare. That will vary from family to family for a variety of reasons ranging from lack of money to substance abuse problems to they've just given up hope and don't shop. Very few families would throw out food - if there was food to throw out - at the end of a week. Condiments are such a non-issue. If someone needs, say Mayo for example, they know which restaurants in their general area have it available in packets and how to either finagle or swipe them. And none of them are worried about making mayo, ketchup, mustard or worchestershire sauce from scratch. Salsa, yes, everything else, no.

                                              In the early 80s I worked in Long Beach, CA and we had a really young kid start showing up in line for breakfast. It didn't take long to find out that his older brother was bringing him. My manager running that site finally pulled the two aside and asked with was going on. The older kid confessed "our mother drinks, there isn't any food in the house and I knew you'd feed my brother". We did indeed, continue to feed both brothers until county social services finally stepped in. The mother *had* food stamps, she didn't use them because she had her own problems, namely alcoholism, that she couldn't deal with, so her kids suffered the consequences. This is NOT that UNCOMMON.

                                              The reality is that Jenn or anyone playing along with her probably has better resources going into this than a lot of food stamp recipients. Even though Jenn is choosing not to use much of it this week, she probably does have ready financial reserves, most food stamp recipients don't. Jenn probably has a car to get back and forth to the grocery store, farmers market, co-op, whereever. Many food stamp recipients don't, or if they do, they may not be able to put gas (which is hovering around $3.40 here in San Diego) in the vehicle. As has been pointed out, you can only schlep so much on public transit. Jenn has time, time to shop for bargains to stretch her food dollars. Many recipients simply don't have time to turn shopping into that kind of game. If they are employed, they may be working multiple (and most likely minimum wage) jobs and up to 14 to 16 hours a day. Just getting to and from work takes time. If they, or a child, is sick, chances are good they have no medical insurance so they spend big chunks of time sitting in an emergency room of a county hospital that will treat them for free or almost free; this may require multiple trips over the course of days or even weeks and months. Jenn has the freedom to move about and choose where she shops. If the neighborhood in which the person lives is at all dicey, leaving the house after a certain time of day could prove hazardous to the persons safety. Most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods are grossly underserved by reasonably priced food stores. Poverty, and especially chronic or grinding poverty, screws up the mind.

                                              These are things that can not be duplicated in any study, project or experiment unless you've really lived them and understand just have far and how fast it's possible to slide. Just surviving life day-to-day was the biggest and most pressing issue facing the bulk of the people with whom I worked, it was not seeing how creative they could get shopping. Life was forcing them to get creative, if they so chose (and many did not). Most of us on this thread have choice, we're not being forced into it by circumstances that may or may not be of our own making and may or may not be out of our control.

                                              Sam Fujisaka hit it closest, and rworange echoed it. By far lack of adequate education plays a big part in whether the average food stamp recipient can, or cannot, effectively use their allotment. A lot of the people I came in contact with had poor reading skills and difficulty reading and following instructions. Writing skills were weak and rudimentary math skills. If reading is a challenge, and math difficult, how can someone read the nutrition label on a box and make an informed decision, especially since nutrition labels are notoriously misleading.

                                              Many women (and 75% of those living below the poverty line are women and children) I met had no cooking skills, no understanding of meal or menu planning. Essentially, they were overwhelmed by the position in which they found themselves, which was compounded a million times if they had a child with ADD, AD/HD or a medical issues such as diabetes, celiac disease or even lactose intolerance (which is very common in most ethnic groups). Because their learning skills and capabilities had not been developed by the normal educational processes it took them longer to do simple tasks and generally they found those tasks to be more difficult.

                                              Menu planning? Meal planning and prep? Stockpiling? Shopping? Not the highest priority when you don't know how and haven't a clue where to begin, and... when the baby has a runny nose, the 3 year old is still wetting his pants and bed, the school called because the 7 year old is inappropriately acting out, the boss is angry because you've been late 3 times this week for a 20-hour a week job that pay $5.75, bus fare just went up, the car needs repairs but you don't have the money for it, you haven't been able to pay the gas/electric bill for 2 months it's about ready to be shut off, the neighbor upstairs was mugged walking home from the bus stop, and you're hoping that when your husband/boyfriend shows up he's sober and/or not high and that he won't physcially or sexually abuse you and/or the kids. Education can't cure this, but it can go a h*ll of a long way towards preventing it, not to mention the tremendous resources it provides.

                                              Poverty and hunger both exist in America. They are real, they are heart breaking and they are well entrenched (in spite of what the present administration things). Sure we could all try Jenn's experiment so that we could be "one with our brethren" but until an experiment can be designed to incorporate all the myriad of other factors and issues facing people and families living via the entitlement programs it's only a feel good exercise designed to help us feel better. How this country treats children and those who have not is appalling.

                                              I can not remember the author of Nickel & Dime, but she spent a year undercover researching her book on women working at or below minimum wage. She discusses at length the cycle of entrapment. It's a good book and a scary book.

                                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                                Barbara Ehrenreich wrote "Nickel and Dimed".

                                                Though, to be honest, Ehrenreich's work chronicling her days as a maid in Maine, waitress in Florida and sales associate in a Minnesota Wal-Mart is marred by the same flaws as you point out in the post above, DD. She is a highly paid writier living in Manhattan who proposes this project to her editor over an expensive lunch. Ehrenreich takes "vacations" between her stints at minimum wage jobs. It is very difficult to put oneself into the shoes of another, especially when their shoes likely came from a thrift shop and yours are Manolo Blahniks!

                                      3. re: DiningDiva

                                        In most of California at least, food stamps are not 'stamps' at all, but rather a card, much like a debit card (called 'EBT' or electronic benefit transfer) and scanned in the same way by the ATM/credit card machine, so the stigma would be minimal. I suspect in my neighborhood that folks use them, but I've never noticed: from the standpoint of others in line it appears to be basically the same process as using a debit card.

                                        Of course, not all farmer's markets have debit card capacity and even if they do, may not have set them up to take EBT. Come to think of it, that may be another barrier to the poor shopping at farmer's markets: once you have an EBT card it could well be a big bureacratic hassle to change some of that credit over to 'stamps' or 'coupons'.

                                        California's EBT program:


                                        1. re: susancinsf

                                          It's actually possible to get cash back from an EBT transaction.

                                      4. re: lulubelle

                                        For one my parents grew up in the Jalisco Highlands... a very conservative area were people are extremely prideful. This was a place were people got killed over teens frollicking in the bushes, unpaid debts, or close horseraces. My grandmother taught her children to never luck hungry, even though at times of the year the widow could barely put one proper meal a day on the table.

                                        That aside... DD is correct... there can be huge stigma to Food Stamps. I understand they may have switched to a Debit Card... but at the time they were actually very colorful stamps. At the local Safeway... they had special register for Food Stamps so everybody knew you were using them. Further, there is a long interview process to get them... involving many personal questions that I am sure most of you would not want to answer, the officials treat people like crap, it is further intensified in the case of minority underclasses, and if I am not mistaken the monitor bank accounts and cap how much you can have saved (I believe it is currently $2k... which of course will make it hard for people to get out of the poverty if the can't save for bigger investments like education etc.,).

                                        In contrast, when my mom became pregnant with my little brother... she did take WIC (which by the way is widely considered to be the most effective Federal Social program of all).... and the experience was completely different. The people adminstering it tend to be Social Workers, Registered Dietitians & College Interns that believe in the program, and it is run by a type of government funded NGOs rather than directly run by beauracrats etc., It is also perceived to have such an honorable mission that it isn't seen as a handout.

                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                          Sadly EN, abuse of todays system has also tainted perception of the program and the process for individual families in need. Which is one reason why food pantries, soup kitchens, in-school nutritional subsidies and large food distribution centers operate on a larger scale...why hundreds of corporate programs have a nutritional project listed among their community outreach profiles.

                                          Perhaps the article linked to this OP is only offering: food for thought.

                                          1. re: HillJ

                                            Unfortunately the myriad of efforts is a largely ineffective, inefficient use of tax payer dollars.

                                            When I was an undergrad... my poli-sci club put together a multi-disciplinary group of students to research & propose legislation for social programs... what we came up with is more or less....

                                            > Any one that files taxes & has a valid social security #, and has income below a certain level (at the time it was $20k for a family of four)... gets a minimum payment... it may have been something like $12k a year for no special reason.

                                            > For each working adult... you add $4k.... as the family's income goes ever $20k... the government payment is scaled back... but in a logical, linear pattern (not the existing abrupt drops that current maintain people in government assisted poverty). And then at a certain point the benefit phases out... it may have been at about $35k for a family of four.

                                            The idea was that a family with 2 working unskilled adults could raise themseleves above the existing poverty line, afford some child care etc.,

                                            The program would replace the whole jumble of ineffective programs like Wel Fare, Food Stamps, Retirement Benefits to the poor etc., and consolidate into one simple to administer program.

                                            We calculated it would pay for itself with the savings on beauracracy alone. And then went on to characterize a host of other economic benefits that are hard to measure without empirical data... by lifting so many above the poverty line... crime should drop saving money on law enforcement, improve academic performance, mitigate behavorial problems allowing schools to shift resources to learning rather than policing students,

                                            In any case consedering this country's vast resources... the performance of our social programs has been shameful at best.

                                          2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                            See my post above about EBT in California. At my local Safeway, it is definitely a debit type of card with very minimal hassle and little or no stigma.

                                        2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                          Eat Nopal, I too came from a household from which at a certain time only one of my parents was working (my dad), and we also qualified for food stamps. My dad adamantly refused to accept them solely based on his pride and the belief that he could provide for his family...and he did. We never ate processed foods simply because that was not our custom and we were not familiar with them, having just recently arrived in this country. We never went without a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner and even dessert...all made from scratch. We ate many homemade apple pies, lemon meringue pies, rice pudding and flans. Chocolate pudding was a treat when my dad would bring home a small block of chocolate with him for that specific purpose. The basic staples we had were flour for baking, avena (rolled oats), corn meal for porridge, rice, potatoes, eggs, milk, oranges for juicing, plenty of assorted legumes and fresh vegetables and fruits, never frozen. Mom had the talent of making any meat stretch, be it in the form of a stew or hearty soup loaded with lentils, beans and assorted viandas. My mom also made cheese and yogurt at home for us. One thing my parents did was buy veggies and fruits on the day they were to be prepared. We couldn't afford to have them sitting around possibly spoiling. We also took advantage of many freebies, such as the drinking glasses that came in the Duz detergent boxes. On ocassion, my dad would bring home a pint of Baskin Robbins ice cream for the 6 of us. Mom rationed it out equally, and boy was that a treat!

                                          I remember going to friends homes and sometimes envying their Tropicana OJ, Entenmann's cakes and bags of chips. I didn't have the appreciation as a kid of homecooked meals. When we wanted chips or fries, my mom made them from scratch from potatoes or sweet potatoes. I remember crying one time because dad refused to take us to McDonalds. What did we do? Mom made burgers and fries at home for us. I still cried and remember not wanting to eat it. Today, I see things in a completely different perspective. Having said all this, I think teaching people healthier eating habits would make a tremendous impact on being able to do a bit more on a tight budget. It's not the end all to a serious problem, but it would help.

                                          1. re: sandrina

                                            We ate very much the same, but in addition had a large yard full of fruits and vegetables. I didn't have a Big Mac until I was 39 years old and living in the Philippines--and then only because someone else insisted late at night on the road.

                                        3. Food stamps are a source of food and not always the sole source for low income families. Many families supplement their food stamps to make ends meet (with income, with WIC (much lower income threshold) and if they can't supplement with income, supplement with visits to a food bank. You might consider both when planning your week.

                                          (I would be interested in joinng you but am due to give birth this week. Not ideal....)

                                          1. I was able to live on $3 or less a day for the last five months but that's because I don't have kids so my meals can be boring. I did go to the farmer's market a couple of times, but you just can't buy much on that budget.

                                            A couple of book writers named Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross tried this experiment, which they wrote about in their cookbook "Cheap. Fast. Good!" Their final conclusion was that creating an interesting meal plan on $100 for 4 people a week was doable. They even broke down the cost of each meal per person. However, their prices reflect non-organic goods bought on sale.

                                            1. OK, there's 2 of us so that would be $42 a week .. I could live well on that ... with wine and beer.

                                              I'm not willing to actually do that, I've had to do that at times in my life for less. But I tell you what ... next time I'm at Ferry Plaza, I'll put together a menu of what is possible just shopping there for produce.

                                              I didn't see the rule for orangic only. If that's true I'll go for that.

                                              However, if we are not talking organic, no prob. What is the the point here? Just shopping and putting together healthy meals? Putting healthy meals out of farmers markets?

                                              That reporter was just clueless.

                                              Let's say that we aren't talking organic ... just healthy ... here's what I could put together for this week.

                                              Grocery Outlet (really on sale this week)
                                              $3. - Quaker Oatmeal 42 oz
                                              $1.50 - Dozen of Judy's organic eggs
                                              $2 - 10 boxes of 100% juice - Juicy Juice strawberry / kiwi
                                              $1 - two Hagen Daz mint chocolate ice cream bars... who cares about health with that price
                                              $1 - two pounds of tomatoes
                                              $.50 - mega cucumber ... and it looks good
                                              $1 - package of toritllas
                                              $1 - bag of dried beans
                                              $1 - 3 cans of tuna
                                              $1 - tomato sauce

                                              Total: $14

                                              Out of pocket - food stamps doesn't cover booze
                                              $3 - bottle of Marsalla
                                              $1.50 - bottle of Covey Run Chardonnay
                                              $2 - bottle of Jest Pink white zin

                                              Total: $6.50 (out of pocket)

                                              $1. - box of 4 packets of Knox gelatin

                                              $2 can of coffee ... sometimes as low a $1.50
                                              $1 - box of dry raisins
                                              $1 - 2 cans of sardines ... sometimes 3 for $1.

                                              Total: $4

                                              Big Lots
                                              $1 - Spray can of cooking oil
                                              $.50 - bag of popcorn

                                              Total: $1.50

                                              Farmers markets / Street vendors
                                              $3 - 1/2 flat of strawberries from guy on the corner
                                              $2.50 - bag of oranges ... same guy
                                              $2 - 1 pound cherries ... same guy
                                              $ .50 bunch of parsly
                                              $1. bunch of carrots
                                              $1. Celery
                                              $1 - lettuce
                                              $1 - onions
                                              $1 - white potatoes
                                              $1 - green beans
                                              $1 - sweet potatoes
                                              $1 - mushrooms

                                              Total: $13

                                              $4 - Fresh chicken
                                              $4 - Box of Powdered milk - 8 quarts
                                              $1 - cottage cheese

                                              Total: $9

                                              Now we are working with my limited cooking skills here and we are talking about extreme healthy.

                                              Otherwise I'd mix things up maybe switching in a small bag of flour $1, 1/2 pound organic butter ($1.50, grocery outlet), a small box of sugar $1, a $2 loaf of bread. $2 mayo, rice $.50 bulk, macaroni $.50 ... and adjust some of the list above accordingly.

                                              That would vary things with sandwiches, pancakes, french toast, muffins, etc.

                                              I'm just going off the top of my head with prices I know as of today. so the menu is boring. In reality I'd do better. .I'd buy smaller quantities and larger variey of veggies and meat. What you do is work the sales .. use coupons.

                                              Don't forget that $6.50 is out of pocket for booze.

                                              The reality is as everyone has told you ... except for produce you stockpile and horde stuff on sales ... Five pounds of sugar for $2 during holiday season, That $1.50 coffee, canned fish & veggies and oil and condiments. The oatmeal goes on periodic sales. The meat and cheese you freeze.

                                              Even with produce, say you are bargain hunting at the end of the day at the farmers market or snagging deals with marked down produce .. .you can cook and freeze.

                                              But the thing is ... I like food ... it is entertaining to me. So I'll spend the time at farmers markets, etc. Most people don't. If you are clueless like that reporter and shop the major markets and ignore farmers markets, don't take advantage of coupons or sales and ... for heaven's sake BUY a cup of coffee ... it won't work.

                                              Then we are not talking the homeless. A homeless woman I know can't buy a hot meal with her food stamps or much prepared food because the program doesn't allow for that. She can't buy salad from a market salad bar.

                                              It is fine that maybe those politicians will try to get more money for meals. But it would be nice to throw a little education about how to shop smartly and cook deliciously.Heck even a reporter and politicians were not food-educated enough to do that.

                                              That doesn't mean that living on $1 a meal isn't a soul-tearing way to live. Having to deal with food-smarts and counting pennies and never splurging ... I hated it ... hated it ... and I won't do that voluntarily. I've been there ... fortunately never on food stamps ... that would have just added to the nightmare.

                                              Note: Jello is made with Knox, boxed juice, sometimes wine and fresh strawberries

                                              Breakfast- Oatmeal with fresh strawberries, cup of coffee with milk
                                              Lunch: quiche, juice, fresh strawberries
                                              Dinner: Roast chicken, green beans sweet potatoes, glass of wine, Haagan Daz bars
                                              Snacks: popcorn, strawberries, cherries, or orange

                                              Breakfast- Oatmeal with fresh raisins, cup of coffee with milk
                                              Lunch: Salad with tuna, fresh orange, coffee
                                              Dinner: Chicken soup, salad, tortillas, glass of wine, strawberry/white zin jello
                                              Snacks: popcorn, strawberries, cherries, or orange

                                              Breakfast- Oatmeal with strawberries, cup of coffee with milk
                                              Lunch: quiche with salad, strawberry white zin jello. cup of coffee with milk
                                              Dinner: Chicken tortillas, salad, beans, glass of wine, strawberries marinated marsala
                                              Snacks: popcorn, strawberries, cherries, or orange

                                              Breakfast- Oatmeal with fresh raisins, cup of coffee with milk
                                              Lunch: Mushroom omelette with salad, cup of fresh strawberries, coffee/milk
                                              Dinner: Chicken soup, salad, tortillas, glass of wine, oranges marinated in marsala
                                              Snacks: popcorn, strawberries, cherries, or orange

                                              Breakfast- Oatmeal with strawberries, cup of coffee with milk
                                              Lunch: cottage cheese salad with cherries, orange, strawberries & jello, coffee/milk
                                              Dinner: Some sort of main with the beans, veggies/ tomato sauce/ potatoes (chili?), tortillas, salad, glass of wine, strawberries/oranges with marsala
                                              Snacks: popcorn, strawberries, cherries, or orange

                                              Breakfast- Oatmeal with raisins, cup of coffee with milk
                                              Lunch: quiche with salad, strawberry white zin jello, coffee/milk
                                              Dinner: Chicken soup, salad, tortillas, glass of wine, cherries marinated with marsala
                                              Snacks: popcorn, strawberries, cherries, or orange

                                              Breakfast- Oatmeal with raisins, cup of coffee with milk
                                              Lunch: Salad with tuna, cup of fresh strawberries
                                              Dinner: Something else with the beans and whatever is left, salad, tortillas, glass of wine, strawberry/white zin jello
                                              Snacks: popcorn, strawberries, cherries, or orange

                                              15 Replies
                                              1. re: rworange

                                                Tomatoes for 50 cents a pound? Were they hollow?

                                                1. re: mardy

                                                  50 to 65¢/lb. for roma tomatoes is the typical price at our local Latino markets. And, generally they're better quality than the far more expensive hot house grown.

                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                    Really? At Lola's anything saladable is at least $1.50 / lb. Salsa grade Romas maybe $0.99 / lb.

                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                      Lola's is a big supermarket. Produce is cheaper at smaller stores with more variability in quality, need to sort through a pile to get the better specimens.

                                                2. re: rworange

                                                  Nice effort for someone who seemingly eats out about 8 times a day! However, it's pretty much what diligent, thrifty shoppers are already doing, and doesn't really address "fine dining" unless a couple of serendipitous "organic" bargain finds more than offset all the nameless supermarket, drugstore, and remaindered food outlet products you cited. Walgreen's Coffee? Powdered milk?

                                                  1. re: Gary Soup

                                                    That's why I asked for parameters. The OP wasn't clear

                                                    - The LA Times reporter was just eating vegetarian not organically
                                                    - The OP mentions Ferry Plaza and eating organically but doesn't seem to put that in the requirements ... only I assume not eating the default high fat-sugar-carb-calorie diet that is the default of being broke.

                                                    That reporter was absurd. Why buy pricy canned beans when a bag of dried beans is a fraction of the cost.

                                                    BUYING sandwiches AND sprinkling them with faux bacon bits at $1.29. How damn idiodic is that? And then she whines she can't buy a loaf of bread.

                                                    How many good bakeries are there that sell bread half off or at the end of the day or have two for one sales? In our area there's the Bread Garden in Berkely and Citizen Cake .. you heard me ... Citizen Cake. Those are humoungous loaves and the two I bought for $5 lasted me for weeks.

                                                    And what the heck is wrong with her that she won't eat oatmeal for breakfast? Raleys even sells the 18 oz organic oatmeal for $3.

                                                    And again it was apples and oranges ... organic milk and then buying non organic sandwiches or yogurt.

                                                    Walgreen has weekly sales on name brands like Maxwell House and Yuban.

                                                    I don't drink milk straight so using powdered milk for cooking or coffee works for me.

                                                    And ... the same tomatoes for 50 cents a pound at Grocery Outlet were going for $1.99 at Raley's.

                                                    1. re: rworange

                                                      I think you raise all excellent points, rworange (and I'm astonished and impressed at the amount of work you did to put together a shopping list AND a menu), although, one thing to consider is that someone living on food stamps--say a single mother with young children and without access to a car--may not necessarily always have the freedom (find a sitter? shlep the kids around?) to run around town to 7-8 different stores to pickup groceries. But, still, you illustrate the point very well that careful planning goes a long way. Coupon clipping is a must. Becoming informed about sales and regular bargains is a must. Of course, this theoretical person will have to spring 50 cents for a newspaper (I assume that's how you got all this info) --or make a special trip to the library to read the paper or use the computer there, during library hours of course--which is another hidden cost. And they'll have to pony up for gas or bus fare... And, hopefully, the vendors all accept foodstamps, or, of course, that cash would have to come out of some other pool of funds too.


                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen


                                                        Having a car and the time and interest to shop factor in. The less you can travel, the worse off you are. Also in a neighborhood like West Oakland where there are no local grocery stores only corner markets that sell junk at premium prices really screws you further and more effort is required.

                                                        Yet ... even there ... you can take the bus to the Friday Oakland farmers market and then buy fish/meat at the inexpensive markets in the Housewives market.

                                                        In SF you could make two trips. One to Ferry Plaza with an eye to bargains and then to Chinatown or the Mission for inexpensive other ingrediants.

                                                        People leave their papers at Starbucks and other coffee shops so you can always walk in and pick up coupons from papers left by other customers.

                                                        But all of this takes some food-smarts. There's this woman in Hayward who runs a place called Curry Corner who explains to teens who come in how to cook those same dishes. Her philosphy is that you can make wonderful, inexpensivee meals with five ingrediants ... and she does at her restaurant. She tell the kids how to shop and how to cook. Her hope is someday to conduct cooking classes for poor people in Oakland.

                                                        It is a matter of education too. If people don't know how to find the bargains and then how to prepare them it is a further barrier to eating well on the cheap. To some of those kids she teaches it is a relavation to them how well they can cook ... and do it themselves.

                                                        1. re: rworange

                                                          rworange, thank you for the article link below and your perspective on this interesting thread. Everyone has added such richness to this discussion.

                                                          As someone who helps secure funding for food programs at the state level I can attest that the biggest monkey wrench in this specific educational component is STRESS. Working poor parents are not thinking or living proactively in an environment where they have to worry about so many financial decisions. Food, something we all need, everyday shouldn't cause undue stress to a family but without at least 2-3 square meals a day people can't cope, children can't learn and the cycle we are all talking fails to heal.

                                                          Even with real programs in place-far too many Americans go to bed hungry.

                                                          1. re: HillJ

                                                            Definately stress plays into it. People just have no clue about how overwhelming the experience can be. I have had my bad spells but I was lucky enough to basically just be responsible for me, had no real family relying on on me and was blessed with a college education, health and youth at the time.

                                                            1. re: rworange

                                                              Brava! rwo, thanks so much for your posts in this thread. I didn't know you had this in you. I feel exactly the same way and it makes me nuts every time some reporter or congress person attempts to eat on a welfare budget without real incentive or know-how.

                                                              My bargain-hunting has not been driven by economic necessity, but reflects the Depression era values of my mother and her food smarts. It's a sin to waste money when good, healthy, whole food can be had for much less if you know where to look, can plan, and know how to cook as she always has. She buys ham AFTER Easter and corned beef AFTER St. Patrick's day when they go on deep discount. Since I've been doing her shopping, I always look at the bundled $1 bags of produce at the market. Most of the stuff is about what veggies kept in the fridge for three days might turn into and if I can use them right away, I buy 'em. A big key is eliminating waste and knowing how to use leftovers creatively.

                                                              Yesterday I took my parents to the farmers market in Montery, mostly organic and priced accordingly. It was quite interesting to watch my mother make her selections weighing the price-value equation in her head, and tasting as she went along. We ended up with two kinds of cherries ($12), two heads of organic garlic (total 75¢), a loaf of sourdough bread ($2.75), sausage ($3.19), and organic beets ($1.50). She wasn't happy with the taste and texture of the stone fruit and strawberries available, and she ignored the green veggies as priced too high conpared to conventional.

                                                              Hillbilly housewife's recipe advice shows what can be done on a tight budget,

                                                              P.S. You might want to experiment with agar-agar. Much more gelling power than Knox gelatin for your money.

                                                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                I always felt a kinship with your mom from your posts. I like the way she doesn't foolishly spend money ... but can appreciate good food and will pay the price when something is great like those cherries, I imagine.

                                                                That is the exact approach I meant when shopping on a budget at Ferry Plaza ... though skip the cherries no matter how great if pinching pennies.

                                                                I was a late-life baby with parents who were children of the depression and my grandparents were Polish immigrant factory workers. So there was a respect for food and bargains. My grandfather if he dropped a piece of bread on the floor would pick it up and kiss it as a sign of repect for not wasting. Like a poster's parents they had their own garden, chickens and canned their own food.

                                                                Roberto and family are first-generation Guatelmalans. So there is a lot of food bartering amoung friends and relations. In exchange for doing some work for a friend, he brought home a beautiful box of eggs in colors of white and brown and blue and green that were produced by a neighbors chickens raised free-range in the back yard ... and sometimes the streets of San Pablo ... the rooster and his girls like to take strolls . I'll bet if I ever do try those $8 dz eggs at Ferry Plaza they won't match these.

                                                                No matter how broke they have been, they ate very well. It is part of the culture and how they grew up using fruits and beans veggies. Ironically, once the family became flush, some developed diabetes and high bood pressure on an American processed food diet.

                                                                Thanks for the agar-agar suggestion. I' saw some at Raleys. Target exceptionaly cheap for Knox. Usually it is 2 to three times that price for the same size box .. .I had bucks so I stocked up.

                                                                1. re: rworange

                                                                  My parents had two more kids - my brother and me - when their friends were sending their children off to college. We've always teased that we kept them young and saved them from senility. As far as Depression-era values, it has been interesting to observe that my mother's older sister shares them, but the younger siblings not at all. I'm grateful to have the many lessons of self-sufficiency, and the economic freedom to choose. By not wasting money, we can have more to spend on food where it makes a difference.

                                                                  Your bargain-hunting ways will like agar-agar. The $1.49 package I bought at Ranch 99 is the equivalent gelling power of about 1,000 envelopes of Knox. However, it does have a stiffer texture and you'll need to experiment a bit as the Chinese packaging doesn't have any instructions.

                                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                    Worange, love the exchange. My first wife and I were completely independent when we went to university (1968-72) other than we used food stamps--proudly. It was $28.00 worth for two people per month! I was a depression era and concentration camp offspring then.

                                                                    Melanie, my 3 1/2 year old daughter keeps me young, as you did your parents. Hopefully, my agar-agar ways will keep us from spoiling her rotten.

                                                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                      Not unlike my family, actually. My little brother was born when three of us were already in college. And the values we are talking about are not just depression-era, they are as near as the belt-tightening in WWII when nearly every family in town dedicated part of the back yard to "Victory Gardens." Our family grew all manner of gnarly veggies (some of which would be considered "heirloom" today) and they formed a good part of our diet, as did the wild berries we chased through the berry season -- berries with a taste I have never encountered to likes of again and FREE. The "Victory" Garden was maintained for over 30 years, until my father died.

                                                  2. In my area, qualifying families are provided free breakfast & lunch for their children M-F at school. Dinners, weekend meals, snacks are the challenge. Again, in my area families know where the pantries, generous restaurant owners, farms, produce markets and soup kitchens will help them supplement for the entire family. All in addition to food stuffs purchased with 'stamps.'

                                                    County resources are promoted at free libraries, in schools, in clinics. A working poor family going thru a REAL crisis and not an experiment could teach all of us a thing or two about how hard it is but how frugal, forward thinking or innovative any of us are about meal planning takes practice and discipline.

                                                    I believe we've all seen food wasted, thrown away and disgarded as spoiled countless times.

                                                    17 Replies
                                                    1. re: HillJ

                                                      Amen. Hunger is alive and thriving in the United States. Just getting food on a table it difficult for many people, let alone having to make it creative or politically correct.

                                                      1. re: HillJ

                                                        This is an excellent article about how various organizations in the SF Bay Area take advantage of food that might otherwise be discarded

                                                        Waste Glorious Waste by John Birdsall

                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                          Just a note on the subject of free and reduced lunch. I teach in an urban high school school with a free/reduced lunch rate of about 85%. The lunch options include chips with nacho "cheese" sauce poured on them, chicken patty sandwiches on white buns, pizza, and canned ravioli. Once in a while there are salads made out of iceberg lettuce. The kids get a choice of juice or apple, cookie, and white or chocolate milk.

                                                          The lunch may be free, but it is certainly not healthy.

                                                          1. re: lulubelle

                                                            and when your choice for food that day comes down to what a school provides your parents don't have the luxury of a 100% healthy meal...but it beats an empty stomache. food is fuel and a child gets a chance at learning.

                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                              Beats an empty stomach, certainly. But one of the things I keep thinking about is that we can't possibly have effective nutritional education for people in this country if we can't serve a healthy diet in schools themseleves, especially for children who have no other choice or means to eat those meals.

                                                              1. re: ccbweb

                                                                Folks, I was the Director of Food Service for the San Francisco Unified School District for 5 years. It was otherwise known to me, my friends and my family as the job from H*LL. We served 28,000 lunches a day and about 18,000 breakfasts every morning on a $13 million budget, of which over 60% went to pay for labor. Not much left over for food even *with* USDA commodities.

                                                                Ya'll need to understand one thing, the National School Lunch Program is NOT, repeat NOT about feeding kids. It is about removing excess agricultural products from the market in order to support prices, agribusiness and special interest lobbies. And it is about big business; the processing of USDA commodities is HUGE and once a company gets approved, very lucrative. Kids are about 4th or 5th or lower on the list of priorities for the program.

                                                                It is NOT about the food, it is, however, a very good example of the politicalization of food and program over-regulation. At one point the NSLP generated more paperwork than any other government program than the Pentagon, yet it's entire budget was less than 1% of the total budget for the federal government.

                                                                Then you've got the schools themselves which do NOT believe that it is their responsibility to feed children, they are (as they will remind you almost daily) educators, that it is the parents responsibility to feed their children. Well, yes it is, but when you've got parents who can't feed their kids for whatever reason, it's a problem, and the children don't learn.

                                                                Teacher unions have negotiated duty free lunches so teachers are required to neither eat with or supervise children during lunch (and teachers need a break too). Administrators often set impossibly short lunch periods in order to comply with State Ed Code regs for minimum number of instructional minutes. So the focus becomes to feed as many kids as quickly as possible.

                                                                The reality of the vending machines and soda sales on most campuses is that they installed and maintained by school departments like Athletics, Drama, ROTC or even the PTA as a way to raise funds. The Food Service departments almost NEVER received any income from these machines or sales, yet they've taken the PR hit on them publicly. The most creative solution I've heard about was in Vista, CA where the Director purchased her own vending machines and stocked them with health food and snacks. Hers are now the only authorized vending machines on all the campuses, but this is an enormously expensive proposition and most school districts don't have that kind of funding to commit, especially to a department they wish they didn't have to deal with.

                                                                School menu(s) are only as good as the person developing them and, unfortunately, far too many of the directors I knew and their staff members were not terribly creative. Most of them were merely trying to meet the USDA regulations for menus, which are extremely specific in what and how much can be served. If a school does not comply they don't get their reimbursement, it's that simple. Here it is, a free and/or reduced meal must contain 2 oz. of meat/meat alternate, 1-1oz serving of bread (really starch, but it's generally just referred to as bread), 2ea. 3/8 cup servings of fruit and vegetable from at least 2 different sources, and 8 fluid ounces milk. The USDA categorized potatoes, corn and peas as vegetables, IIRC, 5 or 6 tator tots is a serving. In 8 fluid ounces of milk there is usually only about 40 calories difference in calories between white and chocolate milks, if the student is willing to drink the chocolate milk but not the white milk, which way is more efficient to get calcium in them? White milk is frequently wasted, chocolate not so much. And never forget, or underestimate the power in Washington D.C. of the dairy lobby.

                                                                Additionally, many school food service programs operate on employees that are 4 hours or less, so that they don't have to pay benefits to the employees. The over 4 hour employees generally don't have cooking skills or backgrounds. As a result very little cooking from scratch is, or can be done. NSLP used to get whole turkeys but they're hard to deal with when no one knows how to roast one let alone how to bone or dress it out. Even if they could cook, many school cafeterias have old kitchens and equipment that have not been maintained and usually won't be replaced. Larger districts can get around that by going the central kitchen route and then bulk transport to the site for service. And once again, what comes out of a central kitchen is only as good as what goes in and who works there. I can guarantee you they are more concerned about satisfying the USDA than what the final product is. I spent a lot of time working on the palatability of food in large volume recipes and it is not easy.

                                                                In the nachos lulubelle mentioned above the chips were most likely made from USDA commodity corn, the cheese sauce from commodity cheese, the chicken patty from commodity chickens and if breaded USDA flour, the bun may or may not be from commodity flour as well. That school lunch pizza? The crust is enriched and made from USDA flour, the tomato sauce from USDA tomatoes, more USDA cheese and the sausage crumbles and pepperoni from USDA pork. Depending on the product selected as the end result of all the processing will deliver, 1 1/2 - 2 meat alternates, 1 bread serving and 1/4 cup of Fruit/Veg, add an apple worth 1/2 Fruit/Veg and the milk and you're good to go. Oh, and did I mention that pizza was engineered to provide no more than 30% of calories from fat. The USDA commodity pizza runs about $.16/serving. The same pizza without commodities would cost around $.96/serving or more. Very few programs can afford the non-processed pizza. Most center of the plate items are not what they appear to be on the surface. Many of them are made to meet USDA nutritional requirements, which usually means reduced fat, sugar and salt. Hot dogs are invariably turkey dogs, ham, pastrami and other lunch meats are also turkey based, a lot of cheese is actually reduced fat cheese, canned fruits are now packed in juice not syrup, and so on.

                                                                Salad? Look in the trash can after lunch and see how much is wasted. If salad is not on the menu at home, kids will rarely eat it at school. Some schools have had good success in reducing waste and getting kids to actually eat it by putting in self service salad bars. Ranch Dressing - aka Kalifornia Ketchup - helps to get kids to eat salad and raw veggies. There's also a good chance the cookie was made with USDA commodity prune puree and is fat reduced, specificallly if it's going to be counted as part of the meal contribution.

                                                                The USDA has very rigid rules and regs for the NSLP, on the other hand the Department of Education has no requirement for nutrition education, which is unfortunate given the amount of conflicting nutrition information out there these days. It would be great if school cafeterias could dovetail and reinforce classroom instruction in nutrition education. Alice Waters (of Chez Panisse fame) started a school garden project in Oakland about 10 years ago and it has been a tremendous success. Students get to tend the garden and then cook and eat what they grew. It's a fabulous learning opportunity, and, from what I've heard and read very effective. Programs like that require commitment from administrators, teachers, Boards of Education, the community helping with the garden and they require time for maturation and space.

                                                                School lunches are an easy target and it's true, many school lunch administrators are clueless and most of them are not foodies or even food oriented. I quit the segment when I got tired of fighting with and trying to operate within the restrictive confines of the USDA. In the 10 years I've been gone I've seen some signs of life as more and more people within the industry turn their attention to trying to fix a bloated and broken program. I hope they are successful. There are hungry children coming to school every day and it's well documented that hungry children don't learn well (nor do they test well, and since No Child Left Behind is based on test performance, that's an issue). For a portion of children the lunch they have at school on Friday will be the last meal until Monday and school breakfast. It's always easy to tell the hungriest kids because they eat and then they peruse the "seconds" table for more.

                                                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                  Well, DD, I hope you've been an investigative journalist for the last 10 years. What you wrote above is very moving, so important, and extremely well written.

                                                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                    Wow! Thanks for all of the information. I knew that a lot of decisons were made based on the USDA surpluses, but didn't really know anything concrete.

                                                                    There is a really interesting start-up organic school lunch program going on in Chicago right now, that has met with some success. http://www.chicagoreader.com/features... if you're interested.

                                                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                      Thank you for your cogent, informative, and fascinating post!

                                                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                        we were approached by a local charter school to beat a central kitchen school lunch bid. specifically, we hoped to be able to use products appropriate for halal diets, hormone-free milk products, whole grains, and local farm products rather than commodities. the price to beat was just over $2 per lunch, which did not include milk or "single use implements." labor, delivery & overhead was expected to be included in this price. it was a bummer but not a surprise to see the amount of paperwork & legality required to get fresh local vegetables from a non-approved, non-commodity source (don't get me started on the time it would take a small family farm to get paid). needless to say, there was no way for us to be able to put out an edible product of any nutritional caliber-- if we were given labor costs to cover scratch cooking that would be one thing, but the system is designed for the main work to be done by an industrial can opener, & big ag is reaping the benefits while the poorer kids of this country are being fed industrial food wastes at school.

                                                                      2. re: ccbweb

                                                                        ccbweb, getting food to the children provides nutrition IF there is no other steady means for doing so. Anyone working in this area of social service would wholeheartedly agree there is much more that needs to be done (and has for decades). A healthy diet is the goal under the best of circumstances but (again) in some communities healthy is unfortunately a secondary consideration to an empty stomache and the range of health issues and social issues malnutrition creates.

                                                                        We are so off CH guidelines here. I thank the Mods for allowing this well meaning, thoughtful diaglogue to occur but clearly continuing this important discussion is limited by the rules of this community. We are way off OP.

                                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                                          Actually, we're not _that_ far outside of CH guidelines insofar as talking about getting _good_ food to children.

                                                                          I'm clearly not arguing we shouldn't feed kids. I point out only that we can't expect people to know how to create a healthy diet or eat a healthy diet if we as a society don't take the responsibility for providing one for the very people we've identified as unable to feed themselves on their own. DD's post is illuminating and shows that we have the abilities and resources to do a good job.

                                                                          1. re: ccbweb

                                                                            ccb, my apologies if I was not clear. Programs, funding, social systems, community outreach, advocacy, education, volunteer leadership, non profit agencies, global missions and much more DO have a large role in hunger issues and feeding children. Whether we work in the system or were supported by it clearly we all understand the issues, frustrations and challenges facing the crisis of world hunger, working poor and programs that never seem to help everyone.

                                                                            My thanks to everyone who has posted here. My work as a funding specialist is not easy and makes for countless sleepless nights.

                                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                                              We're working on improving the micronutrient content of major crops to address related chilhood development problems: s.fujisaka@cgiar.org

                                                                      3. re: HillJ

                                                                        Sure it beats an empty stomach, but all fuel is not the same. Once they took the soda machines and candy out of out building, discipline problems went down dramatically, and there is more and more evidence that other food additives contribute to discipline issues as well.

                                                                        1. re: lulubelle

                                                                          Couldn't agree more lulubelle. I wasn't suggesting that all food is created equal. And, until the day that all food is created financially equal that difference will remain. Short term (vital) programs are a must to supplement what funding will not cover or cover in a timely matter but long term solutions require the cooperation of many separate agencies working together for the greater good. As with all societal challenges, I'm happy to be among the hopeful do-gooders.

                                                                          You mention schools, in our school district a state provided breakfast & lunch (administered/supervised by teachers, parent volunteers and community volunteers, btw) does not include soda/candy or vended products. As a matter of fact, it was the teaching/admin staff who requested the vending contracts remain for their own consumption along with the coffee service.

                                                                          None of the schools in our community participated in soda vending programs and even though that also means not receiving some corporate funding, stuck by the decision.

                                                                          1. re: HillJ

                                                                            Personally, I was distraught when the soda machines left the building. Caffeine is my life's blood.

                                                                  2. plus, Pat Morrison's article altho highlighting the fringe of some very sad commentary about how hard it is to put reasonable priced food on any American table does poke a great deal of the time at the absurdness. I find it difficult to find anything funny about feeding a family of 4 on 20.00 a day.

                                                                    1. How does $155 a month, per person, translate to $3 a day? Is my math that far off or was something missing in the article?

                                                                      1. Things I have done:
                                                                        --foraging dandelion greens, mustard greens, nettles, blackberries
                                                                        --getting apples, figs, lemons, zucchini from friends who have a seasonal surplus
                                                                        --buying staples (dried legumes, grains, etc) from the places with the best bulk prices
                                                                        --buying markdown produce from the stores that offer them
                                                                        --buying day-old bread and storing in freezer
                                                                        --using beet greens, turnip greens, radish greens
                                                                        --recycling poultry spare parts into broth
                                                                        --buying at Trader Joe's the things they have cheaper than anyone else
                                                                        --buying at ethnic markets the things they have cheaper than anyone else
                                                                        --watching sales on chickens, sausages, cheese, etc
                                                                        --getting hams, turkeys, corned beef on seasonal sales

                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Sharuf

                                                                          I wonder how many urban poor families have access to wild greens & berries? And how many of their friends have fruit trees with a seasonal surplus. Finally, in some metropolis like S.F. where rents are very expensive... I wonder how people on the fringes who have to work multiple jobs... have time to do all the investigative shopping?

                                                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                            Depends on which urban area, so it's impossible to generalize. SF's Golden Gate Park attracts foragers looking for epazote, etc. In two enclaves of urban poor, the Mission and Chinatown, many markets are in close proximity to each other for easy price comparison and have generally low prices anyway. That said, Bayview/Hunters Point residents don't have the same options in their neighborhoods.

                                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                              I don't think one can generalize the poor anymore than one can generalize any other group. Some people can and do take advantage of the less expensive options. Others burdened by long hours, lack of knowledge or lack of availability do not.

                                                                              It takes time to be poor ... being at the food bank when it is open and waiting in long lines ... ditto the free food programs ... think of the people who wait on long lines in the street to get that yearly free holiday meal. Taking public transportation instead of driving to markets and bringing less back and having to make more trips. Etc, etc, etc.

                                                                              It often boils down to culture, background, opportunity and/or interest.

                                                                              While I wasn't poor at the time, when my mother was ill between my job and taking care of her I was averaging 2- 4 hours of sleep a night. I still made it a priority to go to the Saturday Farmers Market, Berkely Bowl and any number of the markets because it just is my interest. It was a pleasure and a little down-time for me. It was a big part of my life-style.

                                                                              Foraging is a wasted opportunity. Most people don't know how to do it or what to do with the bounty of foraged goods.

                                                                              I wouldn't know epazote if I stepped on it or what to do with it. It is a culture/knowledge thing.

                                                                              There is a Bay Area group whose name I forget, that you can call if you don't want the fruit on your backyard trees. They will come over and carefully collect it (without damaging the tree) and distribute it to food bank type of places.

                                                                              Lots of poor nabes were populated with immigrants who did have a culture of fresh produce. There are chowhound posts about the fig trees (I think ... something like that) in Oakland planted when Italian immigrants lived in that neighborhood. The Latino's have planted citrus trees in the Mission area. There is this huge citrus tree (I forget what type) that hangs over the parking lot of Mitchell's Ice Cream and I admire the times of the year it is heavy with fruit.

                                                                              Growing up in a European immigrant neighborhood in Connecticut I'd watch the Italians forraging for the first tender dandelion greens which my own ethicity had no clue about what to do with.

                                                                              The neighborhood kids were good about foraging the abandoned lots and not so abandoned back yards. I remember wild concord type of grapes left on a deserted lot where an Italian family once lived and made their own wine. The skin slipped off the grapes with the lovely sourish lychee texture grape. There were blackberry bushes.

                                                                              Mrs. Robert's cherry tree which hung over a school yard was quite popular with the kids. My mom was always yelling at kids who snuck in and climed our apple tree ... mainly because they weren't careful and tended to break major branches. She was cool with anyone coming to the door and asking.

                                                                              There are a lot of lakes in Connecticut and my dad and I took a lot of fishing trips (yearly license though). In San Francisco, a lot of the Filipino nurses at my mom's nursing facility would try to convince me to go crabbing with them. The one foragable thing that is taken advantage of in the Bay View area is fishing. Off of Third Street you will often see people with fishing poles. Yes, you have to have time, but if that is your interest, you find time if you can.

                                                                              In college I remember feasting on sweet wild blueberries from abandoned lots in Rockport, Mass. The tony corner market (this was a rich town) was selling similar berries for $4 a basket ... an outrageous price for that time. So the rich ignored the wild blueberries ... some of the best I've had in my life.

                                                                              So anyone who has time and opportunity, foraging is something to consider. Though not everyone does.

                                                                              That is part of the danger ... generalizing.

                                                                              I wish that people would take a look at needs ... at the person ... and meet those needs. Saying one can eat on $21 a week works for some and not for others.

                                                                              1. re: rworange

                                                                                There are several non-profit groups serving the needy in the bay area that will collect your fruit...one is called Village Harvest, which is based in the South Bay. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the one in Oakland, but when I lived there I called them several years running to come get pears from The Most Prolific Pear Tree Ever. (it was absolutely ridiculous how much fruit that little tree produced!).

                                                                                We also had a very prolific fig tree in the front yard, but that was much less of a problem, since it was visible from the street. The more polite passers-by would ring our doorbell first to ask if they could take some figs, the rest just took some.. :-) Either way, we could have figs daily and still supply the neighborhood during season, so I was happy to share the bounty.

                                                                          2. I was on food stamps for 15 years and if I stockpiled sale priced foods and shop at discount outlets I could make a pretty good meal for a 1$.But with organic food price's it would be virtually impossible.I wish it was.But i'll be checking back to this board to see if anyone gets creative enough to make it possible.The sad thing is most people on foodstamps don't even have a plot of land to grow there own foods because they live in apartments.I agree organics should be affordable to all.

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: widehomehi

                                                                              The organic food scene is changing. It is creeping in to low-end markets. The less expensive SF Almany Farmers Market didn't have organic years ago and now one end of the market does. The prices can be close to conventional produce, but usually higher.

                                                                              I was amazed with Grocery Outlet which has lots of canned organic products that not only match conventional canned goods but sometimes are less. I mean cheap ... organic canned tomato sauce for fifty cents a jar.

                                                                              Walgreens step into organics seems to be dying. I saw organic peanut butter and organic jelly. However while a much better price than at other markets, anyone who is living on $1 a meal is going to choose the 99 cent generic strawberry jelly over the $3 organic. Heck, you can buy conventional peanut butter and jelly for that price.

                                                                              So that's why I think the focus should be on healthy rather than stricktly organic. When you can find a good quality organic product for the price of conventional that would be a good way to go ... or make the choice to spend a little more.

                                                                              Not everything at Ferry Plaza is organic. To tell the truth I can't remember which of the bargains I've take advantage of there were organic and which were not. The important thing was finding quality low-cost produce, organic or not.

                                                                              1. re: rworange

                                                                                That Grocery Outlet is something else.Good quality stuff for the money and now that you mention it i've notice some organic products there too.

                                                                            2. wow! go away for a few days and look what an interesting discussion is missed.

                                                                              For background, we are a single income family with one car and two kids. I use public transport, we don't shop major grocery stores, we do rely alot on Trader Joes and I probably have more cookbooks than most people you will meet. Cooking has been my source of stress relief for over twenty years. We had a plot in a community garden for years, I know how to can [and have done it] and I've even cured meat. If I take all my skills and stashed food, it would be no problem to survive on nearly nothing but the fact is, most people on food stamps and a strict budget aren't me and I recognize that. I'm not trying to engage in "slumming" but I am curious as to how hard it is to get from my neighborhood to the organic food for a week, shopping on a strict budget and schleping on a bus [as much as my two kids can handle it.].

                                                                              A few follow-up comments/points:

                                                                              1. This wasn't intended as the perfect experiment. I am well aware of all the flaws in the thesis. But I was rather ticked off by the suggestion of the poster on the "Ferry Market" discussion that "poor" people eat bad/unhealthy food because they like to/are too lazy to go to the farmer's market and could buy organic if they just wanted to. I don't recall which post it was--it was implied more than once and awfully irritating. I don't think its true, I don't think its that easy but I'm willing to eat my words if I can take my money and have 21 organic healthy meals for four people next week without running out.

                                                                              2. The comments about tracking down sale stuff are fascinating and absolutely true BUT I'm real curious as to how many of the people posting actually use public transportation for their daily needs. I currently do. Its not easy. I had friends in grad school who didn't have a car while I did. Every week I would load up my car with people who couldn't get to a grocery store unless I took them. We also hit the big public market for good fresh produce [Cleveland for the curious]. Getting there on the bus was next to impossible from where we lived. Now I take public transportation to work. When I am on the bus, I see lots of people who don't have the benefit of a single car schleping their groceries home. Taking multiple buses for multiple stops after a full day of work is a hassle and takes a huge amount of time. For Example: I can go to Trader Joes on Sunday when I am not working. If I drive there, I can go from my farmer's market to TJs and have the whole deal done in about 2.5 hours. But if I take the bus, it will take me one bus between my house and TJs and then there is the farmer's market: how do I get there? From home to the farmer's market is at least two buses or one subway and a multi-block walk. But do I really want to haul my produce from the farmer's market to TJs? Probably not. So bus to TJ then two buses to Farmer's market then two buses or maybe 3 to home. Now my trip is probably closer to five hours instead of 2.5.

                                                                              3. Of course it would be better to do this for a full year. I'm only doing this for a week because my dear husband refuses to do it for longer. Heck he won't do it for that long unless I deal with everything. His reasoning is he lived on food stamps and at poverty level growing up as one of two children with a single parent and he already knows how rough it is. He has no desire to induce flashbacks. I was also raised by a single mom who was pretty darned thrifty but organics weren't such a big deal then and she was known to buy tv dinners on sale so that I had a hot meal while she was in grad school.

                                                                              4. I said no stock piling in part because the time I went to apply for food stamps, I only did it after the cupboard was bare. Moreover, the issue is organic food and healthy food. Can you really buy healthy organic food on food stamps and have all your meals that way or not?

                                                                              5. As for the throwing things out after a week thread, I have NO idea where that came from---it wasn't what I ever said. Of course you would accumulate things but honestly, I doubt that if I were on food stamps, I'd be using walnut oil on my salads or to fry my eggs. Thus the statement about not using stashed supplies.

                                                                              6. Concurr about canned beans as opposed to dry beans. Don't know why anyone on a budget buys canned beans but lack of knowledge probably plays a large part. Then again, I doubt that the reporter in the link I posted is the only person ignorent of how to use staples. Way back when, I sure didn't learn anything about cooking in my high school home ec class--we made chocolate pudding out of a box! And isn't lack of knowledge part of the issue?

                                                                              6. School lunches---don't get me started. There is a great article in the NYTs today about kid menus and the dumming down of the american child as eater. My kid's school has fine organic lunches. They cost $5 a pop... of course there are free lunches for those kids who can't afford it. My husband volunteers at the school. He says the amount of lunch that is tossed away every day is just appalling. The kids simply won't eat the food. Its not that its particularly nasty but their taste buds and exposure to all the junk prevents them from trying or enjoying good food.

                                                                              but thats another thread...................

                                                                              9 Replies
                                                                              1. re: jenn

                                                                                Jenn, I'm so glad you're back! I feared the passionate discussion in this thread drove you off and, of course, I'm glad it didn't. :)

                                                                                The throwing stuff out after a week interpretation came from me, I think, after I read your ground rules: "All items consumed that week must be bought that week." If you can't consume anything bought in a previous week (because you can only eat things you bought this week), then it's as good as throwing it out, because the ground rules won't permit you to eat it unless you buy it "this week"... http://www.chowhound.com/topics/40482...


                                                                                1. re: jenn

                                                                                  The Ferry Plaza issue is two fold and they are not really related:
                                                                                  1. Price
                                                                                  2. Transportation

                                                                                  In all the many (many, many, many) discussions about Ferry Plaza I don't ever think it was implied that poor people "eat bad/unhealthy food because they like to/are too lazy to go to the farmer's market and could buy organic if they just wanted to"

                                                                                  Ferry Plaza is expensive, regardless of the socio-economic level.We are talking $6 lb cherries, $8 dz eggs, $10 jars of jam, etc. If anyone on foodstamps buys those, that would astound me.

                                                                                  HOWEVER, there are also bargains to be had there as well. People are blinded by the pricy stuff and the inexpensive staples don't get the same press.

                                                                                  Most of us eat poorly despite our circumstances. Look at the chains board. Its not only the poor keeping McDonald's and Pizza Hut in business.

                                                                                  The detractors ... for the most part ... don't shop at Ferry Plaza and and have pre-conceived notions about the market similar to Petrini. IMO, if you don't shop there regularily, you have nothing to say because you don't know the reality.

                                                                                  There is the pre-concieved notion that the farmers are some sort of rich landed gentry trying to pick people's pockets with exhorbitant prices. Most of these vendors are meeting the bills and far from wealthy. It is the Petrini 'surfer farmer' image.

                                                                                  I'm with you on transportation. The people who run Ferry Plaza have tried to cram using public transportation down peoples throats. The parking is VERY inconvenient but there is great public transportation to that spot. That has resulted in the vendors who sell heavy staples to lose money. I'll buy a pound of peaches rather than a case. I won't buy brocolli or potatoes or anything like that anymore and as a result, since I can't do all my shopping in one spot, I rarely go there any more.

                                                                                  SF is very self-rightous about using public transportation. Too many examples to cite but there is a one-solution fits all mentality.

                                                                                  The public transportation fanatics can't understand that the same people who are happy to use public transportation to work or restaurants might need a car to go to the market. They do not advocate taking away parking lots from Safeway though.

                                                                                  As far as Ferry Plaza, chefs from restaurants are allowed to pick up produce in front of the building. Regular shoppers are not. We are just told to deal with it. I have. I shop elsewhere.

                                                                                  I still don't think your model is valid, but if you are out to do that, go for it. IMO, it will do more harm than good.

                                                                                  In SF there are plenty of farmers markets in the poorer neighborhoods where fresh produce is taken advantage of by people with limited means. They eat well and the produce is accesible. Many of those same vendors also sell at Ferry Plaza so the same qualiy of produce is available at every level.

                                                                                  In addition to farmers markets, areas like the Latino Mission / Fruitdale and Asian Chinatowns are a great source of inexpensive produce.

                                                                                  For the most part, those people who want to eat healthy have the means to do so. There are a few neighborhoods where that is not possible but really not that many. The Cleveland situation may or may not be the same as the SF situation.

                                                                                  The issue of eating healthy and eating organic are two separate issues. Only in the past few years has organic become more mainstream with corporations jumping on board. And at any economic level, often those organic experiments are failures. People in general are not willing to pay the price for organic.

                                                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                                                    seriously, and i am not trying to be snarky or disrespectful - i don't get why some many people think jenn's experiment is a bad thing, and why people say things like "I still don't think your model is valid, but if you are out to do that, go for it. IMO, it will do more harm than good."

                                                                                    i mean no disrespect, honestly!! all she's trying to do is to see how hard it would be to get organics on food stamps on the bus.

                                                                                    it's strange to me that so many people are getting upset by this.

                                                                                    here's one piece of the ferry plaza puzzle no one has mentioned - hours of operation..

                                                                                    assuming you can get to ferry plaza from your neighborhood in a reasonable amount of time, and assuming that your 21 bucks in foodstamps for the week can work for you, you still have only 2 days to even shop there. tuesdays from 10 to 2, which is going to rule out most working people who rely on the bus for transpo, and saturdays from 8 to 2. which again, may be problematic.

                                                                                    1. re: winedubar

                                                                                      There are other sources, other markets and other days of the week.

                                                                                      Well, the conclusion is going to be ... it is too hard for the poor to eat organic.

                                                                                      I'd bet big bucks on that.

                                                                                      In some cases yes. In some cases no. And even if you have big bucks, the all-organic group is in the minority.

                                                                                      There are mixed intentions. The OP writes "Some people suggested that it was NOT possible--or at least simple--to dine well [aka fresh produce, organic produce] using food stamps. A number of posters pointed out that the various farmer's markets take food stamps ergo more food stamp surviving folks should be taking advantage.."

                                                                                      Fresh produce and organic produce are two different things. Ferry Plaza is hardly all-organic. My favorite rasperries there are $1 a basket and not organic.

                                                                                      It is the article cited in the OP post that disturbs me. It set out to prove that food stamp healthy eating couldn't be done. The reporter who wrote that article was just plain stupid.

                                                                                      If the point was to prove that the poor could eat healthy, shop at farmers markets, and use public transportation that would be doable. All organic ... even I couldn't do that no matter how clever and how many markets there were. I can't think of one week in my life when I ate all organic ... or tried to ... no matter how flush I was.

                                                                                      Farmer's Markets are my thing. I love them. For decades I've eaten well ... rich or poor ... shopping at them ... including Ferry Plaza. That is not an impossible dream. It is doable.

                                                                                      jenn, I think your goal is noble. I just wish you would talke totally organic out of the equation. See what you can buy comparible organic and for everything else, just go with healthy. If there is a $1 basket of conventionally-grown raspberries, I see no point in paying $5 for the organic berries. However if a huge bunch of $1 organic chard is availabe ... go for it.

                                                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                                                        ...and altho my perspective is def. funding focused, I agree with rworange that it was the cited article in the OP that wasn't well matched to jenn's intent...but it's food for thought!

                                                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                                                          The cited article was not meant as the be all end all, its just what made me think about what it would be like to try to eat organically and locally on food stamps---thats all.

                                                                                          Cut me some slack, guys! its the end of the school year, I'm working way too much and we are in the midst of moving to a new city!!!!!!

                                                                                          1. re: jenn

                                                                                            someone shut me up if i'm misinformed: i was under the impression that you CAN'T buy organic produce with food stamps/wic. it's not approved--right or wrong?

                                                                                        2. re: rworange

                                                                                          There are some inexpensive vendors at the Ferry Building market but I'll tell ya, the organic goods are always a lot more expensive unless I've missed a vendor. Everything about raising foods organically costs more money and so they gotta make the prices higher to make a living. Nothing wrong with that, but it ain't necessarily gonna fit on a food stamp budget.

                                                                                          That said, in my experience, IIRC, I think eating at a lot of organic foods on $3 a day can be doable, but it won't be pretty. We're talking boring stuff like bulk organic oats and dry beans from the natural foods store. Organic fruit and veg can be found cheap(er) esp if frozen and you have a cheap source like Trader Joes. Milk and meat are the most pricey parts of the organic diet. Good time to experiment with vegetarianism, lol.

                                                                                          Going local on a food stamp budget, now that would be freaking difficult. lol. Hell it's difficult on a normal budget.

                                                                                          1. re: rworange

                                                                                            rworange - thank you for clarifiying.. i think this is a really great thread, lots of things to think about..

                                                                                            i think that there are about 10 hypothesis that could be tested here, all of them valid. i think its important to remember that the op was reacting to the ferry/petrini issue, and responding to claims of elitism and access to organic. *and i know i am overly simplifying for the sake of brevity*

                                                                                    2. If I could impose on jenn's original ideas with apologies, I think the spirit of the test is to see if one can eat healthy on a food stamp budget (and often without a car as others have discussed). I think we should think beyond San Francisco, beyond the particular farmers' market, and beyond the bar being placed at organic. Why not just see if we could all eat sufficient and healthy meals for $3/day/person.

                                                                                      And I'll repeat a concern expressed earlier: one of the reasons people don't eat healthy food is because of the alternative--the most calories per buck, the least effort in preparation, and the most familiar foods for many are prepared and junk foods and soft drinks.

                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                        ...and I would respectively add Sam that people on limited incomes and the stress of living below the poverty line who would like to change their families diet and do not have the first-hand experience, training or fellowship often needed to change behaviors overnight are offered dozens of programs and funding options if pursued....and those who do not simply choose to remain on assistance and continue a diet such as you and others have described.

                                                                                        its always about choices on every budget.

                                                                                        when i was putting myself thru school $3/day plus the cost of rent/insurance/fun was always a balancing act and a time when family/friends/neighbors was the difference btwn eating and eating healthy.

                                                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                                                          Yes, its about choices but sometimes the choice is between seeing your kids and going to some training. Is that really a valid choice? Maybe not the best example but my point is that sometimes the choices aren't really choices because the person is just struggling to survive so they are dealing with work from 7 am to 7pm [including transportation here] and then they have child care and buying food is something they do when they see the store. My husband used to pick up a little boy [1st grade] at our kids' school and take him to our house because there was no way that the mom could leave her job and pick him up after school. His "big" brother---just entering 6th grade--would take him to school because the mom had already left for work. We didn't really know the mom at all--my husband dealt with carpool and this kid was left behind a few days waiting by himself for his mom. She couldn't afford the cost of aftercare so she ended up resorting to having a complete stranger [albeit fellow parent] pick up her kid.

                                                                                          When you have to make those sorts of decisions, how do you squeeze in going to training for good nutrition?

                                                                                          1. re: jenn

                                                                                            jenn, I believe that is exactly what I was saying. How does one do all those "helpful" things while balancing hard lives?

                                                                                      2. In the interests of adding more light than heat to this discussion, nice guy that I am, I would like to point readers to this community blog which is very relevant to the present discussion:


                                                                                        I discovered it through one of my favorite blogs, by a black woman in Syracuse (but with Bay Area roots) who happpens to be a church pastor and preaches eating well:


                                                                                        You go, girl!

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: Gary Soup


                                                                                          I'd love to officially do the local challenge but things at work/home are just too stressful right now so it will have to wait. Of course, by the time things are less stressful, we will be living in Seattle which will mean all new considerations to eatting local as opposed to our current easy location, LA......

                                                                                          Unofficially, we buy just about everything fresh [including eggs and some meat] from the Hollywood Farmer's market. I think most of the farmers are within 200 miles of Hollywood, if not closer. We cheat on the wine, pasta & milk by shopping at TJs and on the bulk dry goods by hitting Whole Foods. Oh and I must confess to buying fancy-pants olive oil, sea salt and chocolate at Surfas....and cheese at Cheese Store....and cofee at Peets....okay, I guess I'm not doing so well, am I? oh Well!

                                                                                        2. Jenn--

                                                                                          I appreciate the spirit of what you're trying to do. I don't understand why some responses to your experiment seem so -- well, combative. I applaud you for the effort!

                                                                                          So much of this discussion really comes down to time, in addition to money, doesn't it? I live quite frugally, counting down to the penny. I prepare almost everything I eat from scratch. I visit six separate stores for groceries each week, wait on lines for rain checks, cut coupons and meticulously organize them, wait to combine sales with coupons for the best deals. Yet I eat better than I ever have - due to the sweet luxury of time to cook!

                                                                                          I think I could come close to the budget you mention (without eating organically), by eating lots of beans prepared in all sorts of cool ways and making chilled and hot soups, casseroles, baking my own bread, popovers, muffins. But I can do that because I have time (and resources: lots of cookbooks, education on healthy eating, and chowhound!)-- as mentioned so much above, many struggling parents don't have time or experience cooking this way.

                                                                                          I'll try with you, meticulously keeping track of spending. I hope it will motivate me to bake a lot too and actually use all of the produce that I buy. Good luck, hounds!

                                                                                          1. Jenn-- how did the experiment go for you?