by Keri Hartman,
Youth Empowerment Intern,
and Alyssa Lang,
Fund Development Intern
“Is it possible to eat healthy on a food stamp budget?” Shira Potash earnestly asks everyone from white, affluent Berkeleyites at their local food co-op to low-income African-Americans at the Watts farmers’ market in Los Angeles in the opening sequence of the film Food Stamped. The film was shown on June 28 at the historic Homestead Pump House as part of the Battle of Homestead Foundation’s summer-long documentary film series.
The answer, we learn from Shira, is a resounding “sort of.” Shira, a filmmaker and food educator, and her husband Yoav go on a quest to prepare healthy meals on the median SNAP* allotment of approximately $1 per person per meal. Shira and Yoav’s supplies last the full week, and the licensed nutritionist to which they submit their meal plans confirms the healthy content of their diets.
However, neither Shira nor Yoav were eating enough food to meet their daily energy needs, a condition that, if continued long-term, would result in significant, unhealthy weight loss for both of them. The most obvious solution, increasing the quantity of their intake of the fruits and vegetables that constituted the main portion of their diet, was not available to them due to the limitations of a food stamp budget. So, instead, like many other low-income Americans, had they continued their project long-term, they would have been forced to consider options that pack a higher number of calories for the same cost: processed foods, one of the main contributors to the obesity epidemic in the United States.
What’s most significant is that Shira and Yoav experienced these challenges despite the clear advantages they held as compared to most food stamp beneficiaries. The couple spends about two hours a day on food preparation—an unrealistic expectation for SNAP participants, who must often balance one or multiple jobs with significant family care responsibilities. What’s more, they do their shopping for the week at a food co-op near their home in Berkeley, CA—a place to which many low-income Americans, because of continuing residential segregation by class and race, would not have access. It is one of the tragedies of income inequality in America that fresh food often costs more, not less, in the discount grocery outlets and liquor stores frequented by the poor.
Locally, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank has sought to resolve this paradox through its Farm Stand Project, which brings farm-fresh produce to low-income neighborhoods and is equipped with the technology to accept the EBT cards upon which food stamp dollars are loaded each month. A full list of area farm stands that accept food stamps was distributed to event attendees.
Still, in Pennsylvania today, even the meager benefits provided by SNAP are under threat. Since May 1, the state’s Department of Public Welfare has barred most families with assets greater than $2,000 from receiving food stamps. This effectively requires the poor to liquidate their savings before getting assistance, increasing the chances that a temporary economic hardship will turn into long-term, intractable poverty, while disincentivizing attempts to save by people who are already poor.
TRCF grantee Just Harvest has a list of steps you can take to protect food security in Pennsylvania. You can also find out whether you might qualify for assistance by checking the PA food stamp eligibility requirements.
Visit Food Stamped’s website here.