In the News


On that $3.57 a day, I have been able, through
careful planning, to feed myself well — with enough left over to
prepare lunch four days a week for the five people on the staff of my

my entire diet since April has been grains and beans grown
certified-organic and a mix of organic and cheaper non-organic

So imagine my surprise to read that Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio)
and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), in attempting to live for one week on
a food budget of $21 as part of the "Food Stamp Challenge," decided
that they could not afford organic foods and fresh vegetables. Or that
McGovern, who lamented that he was forced to choose hamburger that was
high in fat, concluded that "it’s almost impossible to make healthy
choices on a food stamp diet."

For more than six weeks, my
diet each day has consisted of three meals made up of whole grains such
as rice, wheat, oats, barley or rye, with prices hovering at $1 a
pound; white beans at $1.39 a pound; or lentils at $1 a pound. I have
supplemented those staples with all kinds of vegetables, such as onions
at 99 cents a pound, Yukon Gold potatoes at 99 cents a pound, carrots
at $1.29 a pound, parsnips at $2.59 a pound and turnips at $1.99 a
pound. I have also added a small amount of walnuts daily for protein,
at $7.89 a pound.

Keep in mind, the above prices are for completely organic produce;
the cost seems to drop 30 to 50 percent if one moves to supermarket
prices and nonorganic vegetables.

Believe me, I know this is a very simple diet compared with what we
are used to in our affluence. What I am learning from this experience
is that one can enjoy eating, as well as work upwards of a 40-hour
week, just fine on this meager amount of money.

I must share one caveat and one more piece of information. The
caveat is that this budget does not account for the spices and fresh
herbs I consume (which, to be honest, are what has made the monotony
endurable). But guideline No. 3 of the Food Stamp Challenge
registration form states that the cost of spices and herbs is not to be
counted. The piece of information is that, like Ryan (6-foot-3 and 215
pounds), I’m a big guy (6-6, 240).

Let it be said that I completely agree with McGovern that "it’s
immoral that in the U.S., the richest country in the world, people are
hungry." However, with all due respect to these elected officials, I
would vigorously challenge the nutritional wisdom and fiscal prudence
of their shopping lists.

Tom Wolfe, College Park, Maryland,


  1. Funny how people with nothing much to say find a way to make fun of the messenger.

    The point is that over the past few generations we’ve been seduced into a completely corporatized food system that just happens to be supported by our tax dollars through a federal government that works hand-in-glove with corporate agri-business.

    If people rediscovered a relationship to the land, they might realize that they have the power to feed themselves–if not completly, at least in part–and do it much more healthfully and inexpensively than the diabetes-inducing diet the government-subsidized industrial food system would have us consume.

    Introducing kids to plants–especially food producing plants–should be a common mission for all of us.

  2. Our own governor in Oregon took the same challenge and was able to do reasonably well with some forethought and planning — buying a whole chicken, for example, then using every last bit of it and boiling the carcass for soup. Too bad he took such flack from letter writers to the newspapers who called it a “publicity stunt,” and who also chastized “poor people” for not being more thrifty. Whatever. (They’re assuming, of course, that the “poor people” they envision have kitchens and freezers with which to prepare and store food and aren’t living in a cheap motel or someone’s garage or a car.)

    The newspaper had three other people who took up the same challenge to see if they could do even better than the governor. One woman had been on food stamps before and went back to her “food stamp diet” — packaged mac and cheese, bologna sandwiches on cheap white bread, plain oatmeal. Another fellow, whose hobby was cooking, made absolutely fabulous Tex-Mex meals with lots of beans and rice, flavored with cilantro and such, recipes you’d see gracing the best cooking magazines.

    The outcome of this little experiment seems to be that how well one does on such restrictions depends on how well one knows food and cooking. You can live well on $3 a day IF you plan well AND really know how to cook AND aren’t working two minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet, or you can eat cheap, bulky fillers that are easy to prepare. If you’ve been raised on cheap, bulky fillers, that’s what you’ll probably turn to yourself in times of need: “I’m almost out of money. I guess it’s Ramen and Mac ‘n Cheeze for the rest of the month.”

  3. wouldn’t it be nice if we could be more accepting of the lack of “good habits” without sniping? it is unnerving to see people piping up from the back “oh, well see they’re just not planning ahead…” when in all likelihood, the poorest of the poor are living in ways that preclude that level of organization. living in one’s car is just one example. i would like to see more books/programs catering to a realistic set of tools that one might manage to cart around. a microwave and hot plate are a good place to start, and i do see some recipes structured so, but they seem to be aimed at college students rather than the uh, more authentically impoverished. it is sort of ludicrous to hear people speaking about poverty and incorporating major appliances into their plans.

  4. Ed, I’m tired of earnest Hollywood stars, even when I agree with their message.

    I’ve seen your blog, and it’s clear that you have a passion for this sort of thing. I think it’s a damned shame that instead of finding someone who has been in the trenches, the spotlight goes to a pretty face.

    Sometimes the pretty face does a good job of turning the spotlight towards people who should be getting our attention, but more often than not, the culture of celebrity insists that people will only pay attention to those who wear the mantle of fame.

    I think that celebrity worship is one of the problems in this culture. I could probably come up with a soundbite that reflects what I’m thinking. Try this:

    Did you know that kids can indentify 1,000 celebrities, but can’t name 10 people working for tangible improvements to their own communities?

  5. By the way, here’s a story from my town about introducing kids to gardening and conservation:

    Not sure that the link will work. Here are the opening lines:

    Every spring for 13 years, Meng Xiong has watched storm water form a large puddle alongside his home on St. Paul’s East Side. So, when the opportunity came this year to build a rain garden to soak up excess water, the Central High sophomore jumped at the chance.

    During a visit last week, I found Meng Xiong and his friend Houa Lor digging the side-yard garden with three Ramsey County Master Gardeners – Betsy McNulty, Linda Neilson and Rochelle Robideau. Meng Xiong says his parents, brothers and a cousin have helped dig, too.

    The rain garden is 34 feet long and curves between 6 and 10 feet wide. It will catch runoff from parts of the roof, sloping front lawn and a neighboring property. Instead of flooding the grass or spilling into an alley, water will infiltrate the rain garden, helped by about 300 native plants.

    What led to the rain garden opportunity was Meng Xiong’s participation in the East Side Youth Conservation Corps of the Community Design Center. Students in the corps were invited by the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District to volunteer to build rain gardens in their yards. Meng Xiong and two others were chosen and attended classes in design and construction this spring along with Master Gardeners and other community volunteers. Ryan Johnson of the Ramsey Conservation District and Shawn Tracy of the Association of Metropolitan Soil and Water Conservation Districts are providing technical assistance.

    Teams are building five demonstration gardens – two in St. Paul and one each in Maplewood, North St. Paul and Woodbury.

  6. Excuse me, but this thread needs a BIG reality check. I struggled for several years after a divorce working, going to college full time, taking care of two kids and maintaining a household by myself. We were on food stamps (not welfare, too rich for that with a monthly income of $650).

    I would leave at 8-9 in the morning and return 12 hours later at least 4 days a week.

    THATS who is on food stamps—the working poor.

    Do you think they have time to plan a meal? Do you think they live somewhere there is a patch of nice earth to put in a garden? Where do you think gardening tools, seed packs, fertilizer and soil ammendments would rank on the to buy list when you can’t afford gas to get to work?

    The truth is–fruits and veggies are NOT subsidized. Therefore they are expensive. However, CORN and wheat and other ingredients of ‘junk’ food IS subsidized…tah-dah–its very cheap.

  7. Go Carolyn!

    Yeah, the bad foods are subsidized so that ConAgra and Monsanto can remain very, very rich.

    As to the blog post, I worry about that Quaker! No Greens. I mean, that’s where we get our sex appeal — rosie cheeks. I am low income, and salad is A-No.1.

  8. Peter H: I would be totally nonplussed to learn that Leonardo DiCaprio even HAS a backyard.

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