Friday, December 30, 2011

A response to "Food Stamped"

We took an interesting documentary DVD out from the library this week - "Food Stamped" - it was written / directed / edited by a couple named Shira and Yoav Potash.   

Shira Potash is a nutritionist, employed directly or indirectly by the food stamp program to teach kids in the public schools about healthy nutrition.     In the documentary this young couple sets out to live for a week, in terms of groceries, on the $50 which is a higher-than-average allotment for a two adult household.   

She did this following the example of a few congressmen and congresswomen who also followed the same challenge for a week.

Points on which I agree with Mrs. Potash's theories:

1)  We have an obesity problem AND a malnutrition problem in this country, especially among the poor.

2) Access to healthy food is difficult for the poorest citizens of our country, especially those without cars in urban environments with only corner stores.

3) A lack of education is one of the biggest problems.

4) Basing a lot of their meals on the cheap and nutritious proteins of beans and eggs was a good starting point.

BUT I also take issue with some of what she demonstrated and said:

1)  She set up some straw men arguments .... the choice is not between living on ramen noodles or buying $5 bottles of organic, gourmet salad dressing.      In trying to still eat not only organic but FRESH organic, she didn't do much to demonstrate the "least of the evils" choices she could have made.    

2) Eating salad and eating out of season produce every day is a new phenomenon, and one that started as almost a parlor trick for the wealthy to show off at their dinner parties.     It is NOT necessary nutritionally.        

3)  Whole Foods and similar gourmet grocery stores are just that - gourmet!    Of course they aren't going to be the source of daily sustenance for anyone who is on a tight enough budget to have only the money provided by food stamps.     Food stamps is a last resort type of thing - and I'm glad it's there for those who really have no other options - but if it DID allow daily consumption of $5/jar coconut oil, it probably would be a bit too generous ...

4)  There was no individual highlighted in the documentary who was doing well in making those dollars stretch.    I certainly agree without a game plan and careful thought it would be hard to feed your family for $1.10/person/day.    But they couldn't find one single person who was doing it pretty well?

5) There was no acknowledgement that her husband might need more food than her - the quantities served seemed to be about equal.    

6) I don't know how you would do this on the challenge, but another factor is that when you're cooking from scratch, you replace different ingredients each week.     This week I might need to buy whole wheat flour and a can of rolled oats, but I'll have enough olive oil and vinegar left from last week to dress my salads ....

So what would I have liked to see her do differently, and what would I like to see her more realistically teaching her students?

1) She slammed canned veggies as less nutritious, but didn't focus on frozen at all ... frozen green beans are likely just as high in nutrients as fresh green beans bought anywhere but a farmers market because of the transportation time .... but are frequently available for $1 for a pound bag.      Same with frozen spinach, frozen corn, frozen peas ....

2)  She indicated she couldn't have peppers and showed a $8.99/pound fresh red organic pepper!   Ummmm ... who would EVER pay that?    I get frozen sliced bell peppers, tri color, for 1.99/pound.    And it's ALL useable ... no seeds/core/stem to throw out, which makes the effective price per pound higher.

3) Skip the expensive bread (either pull out your bread machine or get a normal store brand whole wheat), and instead spend money on a frozen bag of chicken tenderloins.      I think I pay about $8 for a 2.5 pound bag.    Easily enough for a few meals.    In fact one bag of frozen chicken tenderloins and a couple pounds of 80/20 ground beef would allow at least some meat for every dinner.   Or our local Trader Joes has chicken drumsticks, antibiotic free and organic, for about 1.29/pound. 

4) If you're really tight on funds, serve EVERY meal with a generous portion of some type of whole grain carb ... for one dinner she had a beans and greens that they said was tasty, but didn't seem to be enough quantity for her husband.     Especially when you are that tight on portions, grits, whole grain penne, cornbread, whole wheat toast, etc ... all can help fill you up.   

I guess my major issue, especially with someone employed by tax dollars to teach poor kids, is that she wasn't offering PRACTICAL solutions within the realities of poor families.   Whining that they can't afford the most gourmet choices won't help them do a bit better with what they DO have available.