Is a Healthy Diet on Food Stamps Possible?

food stamps

The aftermath of the now infamous Twitter battle involving Newark Mayor Corey Booker and @MWadeNC prompted the politician to challenge himself to buy food using a budget equal to the weekly food stamp allowance in his home state of New Jersey – 30 dollars, or just $4.32 a day. Through his blog and Twitter updates, Booker admitted that the food stamp challenge proved to be a struggle—reporting hunger pains and caffeine withdrawal on day three.

Mayor Booker put the issues of nutrition, welfare, and other social services in the spotlight. But how does the Mayor’s challenge stack up against the experiences of those who regularly rely on food stamps in neighboring New York City—the most expensive city in the nation?

According to New York City’s Department of Social Services, a single person making less than $14,160 per year–or $1,180 per month–is entitled to the maximum food stamp allowance of $200 per month. About 1 in 7 Americans, or 46 million people nationally, need the assistance of food stamps as a primary means of feeding themselves. Half of these people are children and another 8% are elderly.

To learn about how New Yorkers cope with this budget while maintaining a healthy diet, I spent some time in Harlem–which traditionally has one of the largest African American populations in the city at close to 80% in 2000. Pioneer Supermarket, located near Harlem’s 125th Street commercial district, provided the location of my miniature food stamp experiment. In accordance with the USDA recommendation that Americans consume at least 35 servings of fruits and vegetables per week, I wanted to know if it is possible to meet the suggested fruit and vegetable intake on a food stamp budget of $50 per week.

A week’s worth of vegetables (about 18 servings) including lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, carrots and peppers comes to a total of $23.67. A week’s worth of fruit (about 17 servings), consisting of strawberries, mango, kiwi, tangerines, and grapefruit, comes to a total cost of $12.03. Together, the fruits and vegetables would cost about $36 per week, or more than 70% of the weekly food stamp allowance—leaving only $14 each week for all other groceries. This exploration of food, diet and economics was a great way for me to gain awareness about the reality of many New York City residents. You can challenge yourself and take the SNAP challenge to learn more about how people in your neighborhood are eating.

by Lauren Silver

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  2. Samantha Erskine

     /  May 2, 2013

    With all of this pressure to eat organically & to buy chicken that is “air-chilled,” raised without antibiotics, animal byproducts, or growth hormones, among other pressures to eat healthy, it is a wonder how people who rely on food stamps manage to maintain a healthy diet. It’s easy to eat cheap food in NYC – it’s everywhere, unfortunately (I don’t have a decent supermarket within walking distance, so I order online at Fresh Direct) – but it seems impossible for one to meet the suggested fruit and vegetable intake and purchase other grocery needs on a food stamp budget of $50 per week. It’s no surprise that people in low-income neighborhoods battle chronic heath issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and obesity. It’s cheaper to eat unhealthy. I love Cory. Hopefully his efforts to put himself in his constituents’ shoes will call attention to the bigger issue re: income and health disparities…and actually affect change.


  3. Ariana

     /  September 7, 2015

    Addressing the bigger issue of why the use of growth hormones and GMOs is even allowed by law will not only begin to shed light on how our food system is unjust, but will show that it is a product of capitalism. The correlation between socioeconomic status and health is blatant in our country (and others): you need the money to buy the high-quality food, if you can’t afford it you get the low-quality stuff (the use of the word stuff to describe food is intentional).
    If we make good food accessible to all, not only by location but financially as well, I believe we will begin to see a major change in our country’s obesity epidemic (including all the health complications associated) and food insecurity issues. How can this happen? Ban the use of growth hormones, GMOs and mega-farming, provide subsidies to small scale organic farmers, and educate/encourage people to grow their own food if they have the land to do so (4×4 feet is a great size to work with).



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