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Food Stamps


Is it possible to eat a healthy diet on food stamps? The documentary “Food Stamped” raised the question and sought to answer the question by showing just what you can afford on the food stamp budget. In a recent screening in Ukiah, California, the film sponsored by the First Five of Mendocino, VISTAS outreach coordinator Courtney Hotchkiss, the film sponsored a community discussion on the food assistance program across the United States and whether it actually allowed for a healthy sustenance.


“Food Stamped” was created by filmmakers Shira Potash and her husband Yoav. They took the Food Stamp Challenge, living on what food stamp recipients receive, in their case, slightly more than $1 per day. They wanted to determine if they could buy healthy foods on this amount that is allotted to most families across the United States.


The documentary has won several awards and follows the couple through shopping, preparing and eating the meals along with interviews of staff and clients at food banks, schools and farmers markets. Shira Potash is a certified nutrition educator with a Masters of science degree in Community Healthy Education. She used her nutritional expertise to stretch the dollars and find the healthier food options, such as lentils, brown rice, eggs and a can of tuna—which formed the basis of their meals.


The family also availed themselves of free samples at grocery stores, scrounged day old bread from a dumpster and sold bottles at the recycling center to earn an extra 82 cents for a few more vegetables. Cheese and proteins proved to be too expensive on the food stamp diet. Towards the end of the challenge, the couple rationed out spoons of peanut butter and ate half bananas, practicing a rigorous portion control.


The film goes into certain holes in government thinking about the food stamp program. The film discusses the $300 billion in government farm subsidies awarded to farmers of corn, wheat, rice, soy and cotton, rendering those crops far less expensive than farm-fresh produce, encouraging the production of items like high fructose corn syrup, an ingredient that has been seen in every food item on the grocery market shelves, especially in packaged and junk foods.


One in three American children are overweight now, which means that this is also the first generation of Americans predicted to live shorter lives than their parents, according to the filmmakers, because these children have been feeding on these packaged products for most of their lives. The food activists also point out to a study of 40,000 people in West Oakland, California who share one grocery store and equate the largest cause of deaths in the region, which are heart-related, to the inability of community access to fresh food.


The film urges people to look at their communities and find ways to help the hunger problem around them. It’s actually become an epidemic that food stamps really does not provide the type of healthy diet that is necessary for families to sustain, and that it is more likely they can only buy a portion of food to last only part of the month that they receive benefits. Only recently were farmers markets allowed to use food stamps as well, but food here is much higher priced than allowable for most people who use food stamps.


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