Eating a nutritious meal often proves to be a huge undertaking for millions of Americans, especially those with an average monthly food stamp budget of just $126. A pathway to a healthy lifestyle, however, may lie in an online cookbook that took social media by storm and inspired a Kickstarter campaign that has generated $145,000 in donations.
The book, touted as Good and Cheap, shows readers how to prepare healthy food on a budget of just $4 per day. Chock-full of colorful, vibrant images, Good and Cheap features meals that anyone can chef up using a host of cheap, natural ingredients including garlic, canned vegetables, dried beans, and butter. In an interview with NPR, Good and Cheap author Leanne Brown said the book allows flexibility in meal preparation, especially since food prices fluctuate during seasonal changes.
“It really bothered me,” said Brown. “The [millions of] people on food stamps — and that’s a big chunk of the population — don’t have the same choices everyone else does.”
Today, more than 47 million Americans purchase food with funds from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which has been in existence since the late 1930s. Since 2004, enrollees have received their monthly SNAP benefits on electronic benefit transfer cards, also known as EBT cards, which they could use in supermarkets, convenience stores, and some farmer’s markets. The amount that each household receives often depends on the size of the household, income, and expenses.
In spite of SNAP’s benefits, many public health experts contend that recipients — many of whom live in areas where few, if any, affordable, healthy food sources exist — aren’t compelled to purchase healthy food products. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that members of that demographic consumed refined grains high in calories, desserts, and sweetened beverages – foods that linked to high incidences of diabetes and obesity – at rates significantly higher than people without SNAP benefits.
A Washington Post feature last year described the struggles of D.C. mother Raphael Richmond to feed her five children on a food stamp budget. According to the article, a monthly SNAP allocation of $246 only guaranteed Richmond two carts of groceries from a supermarket within walking distance of her Southeast D.C. enclave. Food items in those carts often included frozen hamburger patties, noodles, juice, and snacks.
Richmond’s story mirrors that of 14.5 percent of Americans living in areas with high food insecurity. A host of public officials – including Senator Cory Booker (D – N.J.), U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), and Ted Strickland, former governor of Ohio and president of ThinkProgress’ parent organization, the Center for American Progress Action Fund – chose to live on a paltry budget similar to that of many of their constituents for periods lasting up to a week. Last month, Strickland had to walk miles in 90 degree heat to meetings instead of catching a taxi and ate cheap, fast food in lieu of healthy meals as a show of his solidarity with low-income Americans.
“[E]xperiencing just some of the decisions this income requires on a daily basis is enough to understand that we need to do better for these hardworking families,” said Strickland in his Politico Magazine op-ed. “It’s un-American that you can work and work and work and not get out of poverty. The promise of America is that working hard and playing by the rules will help you get ahead, but right now, we’re breaking that promise.”