Food Stamp Diet

Monday, April 23, 2007

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and his wife, Mary Oberst begin their one week adventure today of living on $3 a day, the infamous Food Stamp Diet.

Will this diet include fresh fruits and vegetables? Will they rely on staples like beans and rice? Will this be an opportunity for more homecooked meals fit into a busy life that traditionally excludes them?

I wish they were keeping a food blog during this event.

Governor’s Office Press Release: Governor Kulongoski Challenges Oregonians to “Food Stamp Challenge”
Register Guard Newspaper: Governor Prepares To Take The Food Stamp Challenge


posted April 23rd, 2007 at 10:38 am

Will they take advantage of the school breakfast program? In my suburban Dallas school district, breakfast at any school is $1.25 for adults and guests. (It’s $1 for elementary students or 30c on the reduced meal price program. Lunch is approximately twice those rates at regular prices but has a broader food selection — my six-year-old is able to successfully eat a mostly-vegetarian diet by planning her school lunches for the week from the free menus provided by the district.)

I wonder what other little tricks of budget menu planning they’ll use. When my family was eligible for federal aid programs, neighbors and coworkers’ offers to take me along to Sam’s Club as their guest kept us in cheap produce and bulk staples, I kept a price notebook to get the best price on almost every product we bought, and we used reconstituted condensed milk instead of buying fresh milk for my then-husband to drink. (I made soy milk from scratch for my lactose-intolerant toddler and drank that myself since it’s a scant 25c a gallon to make.)

Since my food budget had become more flexible, we use the Menu Mailer service from There’s a free weekly sample for all of the Menu Mailer varieties on the site, including the Frugal Menu Mailer that’s great for the home cook on a tight budget.

These are great tips -thanks!
I don’t know any details about their strategies. I wrote to the Governor’s Office asking for more details.

Amazing how your homemade soy milk numbers come out.


posted April 23rd, 2007 at 4:54 pm

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posted April 23rd, 2007 at 4:58 pm

Whoops, I am trying to give you a Thinking Blogger award, a meme started by Ilker Yoldas. It may be something you have already received, I would think so. But I wanted to link to your wonderful site. As a former newspaper food editor (and occasional free-lance reviewer)I think your blog is as good as they get!

thanks Susie!


posted April 24th, 2007 at 10:24 am

Now try doing that AND eating local! I will be very interested to see how he does.

Yes, thought this could be a nice tie in to the penny wise challenge of this month’s eat local challenge.

Seems like raising a garden and tending ones own chickens could make it work, with the time and know-how.


- Amy
posted April 25th, 2007 at 6:55 am

Before food stamps there was government surplus food. When I was a kid, our family would go down to the community center weekly – or maybe every other week – and get a couple of boxes with our name on them filled with powdered milk, powdered eggs (not as gross as they sound, scrambled with lots of ketchup), the infamous “government cheese” – just like Velveeta, and cans of Pork, Chicken and Beef “in juices” – these were nasty and only identifiable by the Pig, Chicken or Cow on the the can – no labels, just black printing on cans – like generic food, bags of pinto beans – these started to pile up, as my mom had no idea what to do with them – she was not a very good cook – we ended up using them with my Brownie troop to make bean bags. Seems instant potatoes were in there too, as that was what the canned meat was usually served on. Anyway, we didn’t starve. Later we got food stamps and my mom was very savvy with them – making practical choices and shopping sales, however, this isn’t always how it is.
Food stamps are easy for people to abuse. Believe me, I have seen it first hand – recipients of food stamps often sell them below face value for drug money. There are very few restrictions on what can be bought with food stamps and I am not sure that they should be allowed to be used for expensive prepared food or other “luxury” food items.
I say, bring back government surplus food – it may not be the tastiest, but it probably won’t be sold for drug money either. . .
Anybody else remember this government food? I still have 2 cans of the Pork that I will probably never open – though my mom insists they make a wonderful chop suey – yuck – I remember this chop suey from my childhood – it was disgusting. I’ve used the cans to prop things up and as bookends in the past – right now they are in the cupboard – alongside $5.00 cans of lump crab meat – a reminder of how very far I’ve come.

- nancy
posted April 25th, 2007 at 7:04 am

Oh yeah, I got the “free hot lunch” card at school too – it was a different color than the other lunch cards and really embarrassing – I rarely used it, skipping lunch instead – kind of sad. We didn’t have vending machines in my school (grammar or high). I always wanted to bring a bag lunch, but never got to – too expensive according to my mom.

- nancy
posted April 27th, 2007 at 9:33 pm

Hi Nancy,

Your comment pushed a button for me. When I was a teen, I remember storing my baseball cards in government cheese boxes. I don’t remember their providence, and suspect it wasn’t actually my own kitchen, but it reminds me of my own youth.

I am no longer ashamed to admit that my mother is a Welfare success story, too. She has been the sun and stars to me, and I can’t begin to express how grateful I am to have been given the love and support that has helped me achieve the privilege I experience now.

But all gushing aside, not only does the government surplus program still exist in some form (consider WIC for instance), but I can agree that they need to provide instructions with those dry beans.

I don’t know what your experience is, but prepared foods are already ineligible. And while I know that some abuse will happen, there are a number of deliver mechanisms at the state level meant to curb that pattern. There are cheaters in any system (and I can think of worse crimes than abuse of food stamps), but the good done by our programs can’t be denied.

I remember one holiday season during my teens when, under particularly unfortunate circumstances, my family dinner was provided by a food bank. It is humbling. And it doesn’t seem all that long ago.

Later, when I was a very poor (and deeply in debt) college student, I befriended one of my math GTFs (Graduate Teaching Fellows: which roughly translates as graduate student slave teaching labor). After my coursework with him had completed we spent more time hanging out. One day he shared with me a piece of advice: “don’t file for bankruptcy if you ever want to go to grad school.” To back up his argument, complete with a suitably depressing tale of woe, he gave me a few bags of dry beans and some other assorted dry goods which came from the government surplus food program to which he was dependent. He wasn’t competent to prepare those beans himself, confessing he could barely boil water.

I carried them with me for several years, and I eventually ate them all. McAuliflower remembers them, I believe.

I’m afraid that the topic is too personal to cogently discuss, but this issue–kids in the wealthiest corner of the first world going hungry–is really frustrating to me. We do no favors for ourselves when our neighbor’s kids, the ones who will be holding up society when we are in our decline, are too distracted by a rumbling tummy to learn their multiplication tables.

Thanks again for your comment.

posted May 3rd, 2007 at 2:28 am

My wife and I are trying the diet for a week. Follow us at;

Excellent Paul.
Our budget accommodations for a our move to Portland will likely force some diet experimentation myself.


- Paul
posted June 24th, 2007 at 9:57 am

It is important that we heighten awareness on this issue. For many the Food Stamp Challenge has become an adventure of sorts in order to experience the other side. However, growing up at or below poverty level has given me a different perspective on this issue.

Not only can the food stamp diet be done, it can be done in a healthy way while avoiding a menu of Roman Noodles void of nutrition. We have begun journaling our experience in an attempt to shed light on this important subject.

posted October 18th, 2011 at 3:38 am

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