Change We Can Eat!

corn_with_dollarsA 64 year old man is living in the back of a grocery store and wants recipes from us so that he can make bread with his hot-plate. Kathleen’s  family of five was plunged into 14 months of unemployment and she, “literally wept when milk reached $3 a gallon.” Will Wilson in Anchorage had to quit his job to take care of his son, and the money his wife makes barely covers the utilities. These are people in America. Their stories are documented here as comments throughout our blog, and they are not isolated cases.

Many of you have posted your tips, ideas, and comments about how to cut food costs, all of which are vital for many people who are trying to make ends meet. However, Wilson is smart to point out that, “the government controls everything.” The great majority of us will do what we can to make the best choices available regarding the economics of food, but the policies of our government play a large role in framing how the food system in our country works.

As someone who is staunchly independent when it comes to political affiliation, and sees the two party system as two strands of the business party, I patiently waited for either of the presidential candidates to talk about food. While concerns about health care, foreign policy, and the economy are essential to our progress as a nation, how we feed people should have played a more significant role in the campaign. Quite simply, everyone has to eat in order to survive, and so, few things could be more important than how we feed ourselves.

Around 700k people have visited our little blog, and if that isn’t evidence that this is a crucial conversation to have, just read some of the stories from people around the country (and the globe).

The current system in the United States, overseen by the Department of Agriculure, is actually subsidizing the foods that are the least healthy for us. As Nicholas Kristoff notes in a recent New York Times piece, “The Agriculture Department — and the agriculture committees in Congress — have traditionally been handed over to industrial farming interests by Democrats and Republicans alike. The farm lobby uses that perch to inflict unhealthy food on American children in school-lunch programs, exacerbating our national crisis with diabetes and obesity.”

And this is just part of the problem with how our food system works in the United States.

Kristoff goes on to challenge Obama to pick a new “Secretary of Food” that will represent the interests of 300 million Americans instead of a system that undermines the health of our citizens and our planet. Knowing that we can’t rely solely on politicians to get things done, we must continue this dialogue about food until we have a system that doesn’t force people to make choices between bread and fresh vegetables.

Which is why I have signed the Food Declaration.  It’s starts off…

We, the undersigned, believe that a healthy food system is necessary to meet the urgent challenges of our time. Behind us stands a half-century of industrial food production, underwritten by cheap fossil fuels, abundant land and water resources, and a drive to maximize the global harvest of cheap calories. Ahead lie rising energy and food costs, a changing climate, declining water supplies, a growing population, and the paradox of widespread hunger and obesity.”

It doesn’t matter where you stand politically, the future of food depends on what we do right now.

– Christopher

P.S. If you have a library card, I also recommend the book “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn, as it provides some interesting ways of looking at the implications of the agricultural revolution.

28 Comments

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28 responses to “Change We Can Eat!

  1. Amber

    Thank you for this post. After I had my daughter I started paying more attention to foods and what is in them. I started looking into milk and how odd it is that we,as humans, drink it and then it hit me! We’ve been TOLD to. “Milk it does a body good”. And this is just one example. The food pyramid has improved since I was a kid, but its all about money. Question everything you think. Thanks again-

  2. I think more an more people are being influenced to eat healthier everyday, I know I am.

  3. Santammy

    I just wanted to say that yesterday I sat and read all of your posts on your adventures. It was so impressive esp as I also have tried to lower our food cost. For about 4 months now I have spent under $100 for groceries for a family of 4 weekly. We try to eat very healthy. I have stopped buying much of the processed junk food. Making a menu plan and grocery list everyweek and sticking to it has made my grocery bill most weeks even under $70. Because of the possibility of my husbands pay being cut, and that is our only income, it has been quite a challenge and thrill to buy only what’s needed and the grocery store the only shopping I do. We are very spoiled in this country. People live with so much less in other countries and yet when we cut out our morning coffee runs we feel deprived. We all need to live with less and if we don’t we will soon be forced to do so anyways. Thanks for taking the time to blog. Gives many lots to think about as well as motivational. I would like to know how I can get some of your bean recipes and burrito ones.

  4. julie

    If you listen carefully, at one time in the campagne, Obama said that the healthcare cannot get undercontrol until people get control of their bad habits. He said this is more than a change in lifestyle, it in change in culture. Behind the scenes, it is already being done. Kids get the vacination (or their cheap health care gets dropped and the parents can be held accountable.) Diabetics will be expected to come to the MDs office every three months and get their A1Cs under control and show that they are implementing the recommnedations of the doctor or their health premimun goes up. Obese and don’t try, your premiums go up. Same with smoking. Accountablilty on the part of the patient.

    The last time I looked, the people elect the president although business funnels money into both sides – Dem and Rep -. So now there is the internet that can tract these individuals and expose then for the scanks they are.

    I think your project is great and teaching Social Justice !! the good parts of the 60 – 70 s can come back. I like that this is grassroots, because I believe that is where the talent is to solve problems.

    Mix Internet with grassroots and hold those we vote for accountable.

  5. Pat

    I haven’t read your entire blog, so I don’t know if you’ve addressed genetically modified foods. The company or companies that produce them have the patent on them, so that it’s illegal to save seeds. This means they control part of our food supply. That in itself should be made illegal. Food belongs to the people, not to the corporations.

  6. Chloe

    “‘many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.’ The effect is to impair language development and memory — and hence the ability to escape poverty — for the rest of the child’s life. ” NYTimes, Poverty is Poison article
    And, our current poverty rate has risen since 1969 from 14 percent to 17.4 percent. This current projection on poverty is also artificially low -as it is defined by the 1960’s standard (an economy not comparable to 2008).

  7. Jen K

    I think it was an admirable goal to try this for a month. I think the foremost thing you proved is that the way you were eating could not be sustainable for more than a short time for your health. Being tired all the time and losing so much weight that quickly are both signs of malnutrition. I would encourage you to read Barbara Kingsolvers book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”. She spends a year eating only local food. If you truly want to change the food system, (which is a great goal), eating local, unprocessed foods is the only way to do it. Know your farmer, purchase half or whole carcasses and freeze them, grow your own or buy at farmers markets all your vegetables and fruits, and eat in season.
    I just made a pork sausage and bean soup, full of vegetables I grew in my small veg garden and pork we bought from a farmer, butchered ourselves, and froze. I started with a broth from leftover bones and veggie scraps, then added all the good stuff. Our family of four each had a large bowl and there is still over half the pot left, and the whole batch cost under 4 dollars. It was spicy, healthy and filling.

    Do I have the market cornered on sustainable living? Nope. I just see a great opportunity for you (and the rest of us) to learn more from your experiment. I would love to see you do this again, this time with some more planning and with the goal to eat WELL on a dollar a day.
    Thanks for doing this.

  8. Cristi Brewer-Allen

    Your project has touched my heart. As a child, I grew up in Section 8 housing. I saw my mother scrape change together to buy the essentials.

    My family is blessed with two incomes. However, I have forgotten my roots. Our food bill (with 4 children) reaches in excess of $1500.00 some months. With school activities, sports, and work…there seems to be less time devoted to home cooked meals. I remember when times were simple and we all sat around the dinner table.

    Your project has provoked me in so many ways. My husband and I are determined to change our ways. Thank you so much for sharing your personal challenge with the world. You’ll never know the amount of people you will touch. I am excited to read about more of your experiences.

  9. trish

    great idea, your execution and implementation needs work … you could have done more nutritional research and skipped the tang and had more vegies like spinach and cabbage to your diet (still staying under the dollar a day) thus having more nutrition and a minimal increase in calories and been healthier. and you could have had a greater variety of food. of course if you’d rather have tang it’s your choice.
    don’t believe me about the cabbage…. check it out.. there is a reason why it was a staple in diets around the world until the modern era…

  10. Val

    Kerri & Christopher,
    If you haven’t read the book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver I highly recommend it! The book includes a great discussion of U.S. food policy.

  11. gianna

    hi- i am so interested in what you did.
    thank you for blogging.
    did I miss this part–how was our health, how much weight did you both lose? how happy were you?

    pls drop me a note if you can-
    k thanks again for your inspiration to think;)

  12. I started reading your blog just a few days ago when I saw you on yahoo.com. We made it through an extended layoff in my husband’s job, a couple of years ago and are still watching the budget closely. That whole adventure drew my attention to how much we were spending at the grocery store, and especially eating out. Pretty sad!
    Recently I was impressed after reading 3 Cups of Tea, and in praying for our World Vision sponsored child, that I spent a few weeks eating more like I imagine those children must eat and less like the spoiled Oklahoman that I am. It was a valuable experiment.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences with all of us.

  13. Kara Heiter

    Hello to the both of you and thank you so much for allowing the world to experience your journey. You both truely give “food for thought” an entirely new and much more appreciated meaning. I’m amazed at how much the number of visitors to your blog has increased sinse I began reading it back in September. When I read you would be eating on a dollar a day, the original thought I had was that now, I don’t think I could live off of one McDonalds double cheeseburger…without fries and a coke!! And that’s just for one meal! And I’m sure I’m not the only reader who thought that! That goes to show you both how much our society turns to fast food! I do remember thinking how in the heck you two would survive on $1 a day, when I know my family barely made it on the rediculously small allowance we had on my single, unemployed mother’s food card. Sometimes we went to school just so we could take advantage of the free breakfasts and lunches they offerred. I can recall so many other kids who had packed lunches of homemade sandwiches and puddings and bannanas and juices. We were lucky if we had fruits for Christmas sometimes! We got what we could from the local churches and friends. I hated to see my classmates throw away their leftovers, knowing how long a fourth of a sandwich could sustain my appetite IF my mom were able to pack my school lunch! We take for granted these days what we are ABLE to have when there are still so many others who just can’t afford even our leftover scarps of food. Thank you both so much for opening so many eyes, stomachs and hearts to those of us who never thought twice about what we eat and why we spend so much on food. Good luck in your future endeavors.
    P.S. If I’d have had either of you as teachers, it probably would have made my high school experience a much better one! Say Hi to your students for us (your loyal readers).

    Kara

  14. My health has been greatly affected by a change in what I take into my body. After having my second child, I started having allergic reactions to everything I ate. My tongue and throat would swell, my face would start going numb, and I’d have panic attacks.

    After I left every single doctor scratching their heads, and ended up seeing a psychiatrist instead because “it must be all in your head”, I saw a naturopathic doctor who took me off everything artificial & gluten, and I started getting better. I’m not 100%. I still have some problems, but the difference is immeasurable.

    It’s honestly time to stop buying pre-packaged meals in a box or in a can and start taking responsibility for what we put into our bodies. Unfortunately, so many of us have a great deal of difficulty affording food that is good for our bodies, and the desire to keep from starving kicks in and we eat whatever we can get our hands on.

    Like you, I’m appalled by our 2 party system. It’s failed us. Period.

  15. I did a lot of soul-searching after staying up until 1:00 am to read your entire blog; and to note all the other blogs you mentioned to read them at a later time.

    I had first yesterday donated $25.00 to this cause… and after reading your blog…..i felt guilty. This is the first year I am able as a single mom to start affording Organic food for my 12 year old and myself; now the older 2 are finished with college.

    It is more money buying organic; but I get on-line coupons from Fresh Direct; 10% any order if you buy a produce item; the other week 25% off all Dairy products (and they have an organic section)..

    Even with the sale items…..it is still more money. I felt guilty yesterday thinking should i stop eating organic and donate the extra money to good causes each week..

    I could save 75.00 a month .. going back to non-organic… but I read (hope this is correct) that only 1 to 2% eat organic…

    And I thought………that if I keep eating Organic and others that can afford to do so do….it will be a good example; and encourage more to grow organic and prices will go down (competitiveness.. .. supply & demand theory).

    So I’ve been eating organic for about a month (80 to 90 percent of my food each day); and I’m going to keep doing so……….

    The stuff they put into food; is bad for the environment too..etc…

    And I do believe as I mentioned in Supply & Demand will bring the prices down and more and more can eat healthier……

    I don’t want to sound like a MOTHER HEN……but I will anyway……..I’m proud of the YOUNG PEOPLE making these differences………….. really proud..

    ………….and if you can afford to eat organic……..it is a good thing and not something to feel guilty over……. food should be tampered so much that it is unhealthy and loaded with so many unpronounceable words.

  16. I did a lot of soul-searching after staying up until 1:00 am to read your entire blog; and to note all the other blogs you mentioned to read them at a later time.

    I had first yesterday donated $25.00 to this cause… and after reading your blog…..i felt guilty. This is the first year I am able as a single mom to start affording Organic food for my 12 year old and myself; now the older 2 are finished with college.

    It is more money buying organic; but I get on-line coupons from Fresh Direct; 10% any order if you buy a produce item; the other week 25% off all Dairy products (and they have an organic section)..

    Even with the sale items…..it is still more money. I felt guilty yesterday thinking should i stop eating organic and donate the extra money to good causes each week..

    I could save 75.00 a month .. going back to non-organic… but I read (hope this is correct) that only 1 to 2% eat organic…

    And I thought………that if I keep eating Organic and others that can afford to do so do….it will be a good example; and encourage more to grow organic and prices will go down (competitiveness.. .. supply & demand theory).

    So I’ve been eating organic for about a month (80 to 90 percent of my food each day); and I’m going to keep doing so……….

    The stuff they put into food; is bad for the environment too..etc…

    And I do believe as I mentioned in Supply & Demand will bring the prices down and more and more can eat healthier……

    I don’t want to sound like a MOTHER HEN……but I will anyway……..I’m proud of the YOUNG PEOPLE making these differences………….. really proud..

    ………….and if you can afford to eat organic……..it is a good thing and not something to feel guilty over……. food should NOT be tampered so much that it is unhealthy and loaded with so many unpronounceable words.

  17. J.

    I had to put my son on the lunch program at school. I thought this would be great, because this is one less meal that I need to find the funds for. I was wrong. When going through the line, because his lunch is free, he only gets his portion of the entree and a chocolate milk. Because he does not pay like the other children his fruits and vegetables are removed from his tray. Because he doesn’t pay.

    How is this fair?

  18. A few years ago in a town where I lived the electric company gave the mental health society two acres they thought were useless. On those two acres they set up a program that involved a community garden but also a place where people with various mental disabilities and illnesses could work. They were able to work on schedules they could maintain. Many fresh vegitables were grown, that were sold to restaurants and at farmers markets. Seedlings were started and sold. Small plots were leased out to the public and others could volunteer to work. I have often thought that if communities would use this style of garden model we could reduce food stamps. If instead of giving food stamps there was some effort involved in growing food people would be more in touch with where food comes from and have a much healthier diet.
    There was a farm given to residents of Watts years ago. They developed it into something wonderful, an oasis filled with food and enterprise. It was just recently taken back to appease developers. A sad commentary on our society.
    I wish we could have many community gardens in every community where food stamp recipients would be required to work for some of their food.

    You could have improved your diet by sprouting seeds. I often sprout lentils, they are spicy and easy, growing in 2 -3 days. Soak overnight then in a collander put them in a bowl in a dark cupboard. Rinse with water twice a day. Alfalfa sprouts, sunflower sprouts and many more are very nutritional and little trouble. In an earlier post someone mentioned cabbage. It is so easy to shred and put on taco’s, burrito’s in fried rice and other foods. It is an inexpensive food and keeps well.
    I have an old web page, I’ll have to look it up. This New Zealand fellow put himself on a diet of bread, ( whole grain ) marmot ( a type of high protein spread), peanuts, carrots, and cabbage. He was living on$1500 a year to make a statement much as you did, only he did it for years with no ill effect.

  19. I am another new reader and I’m so impressed with the way you have brought this issue to light. I look forward to continued reading, and drawing inspiration and motivation from your posts.

    Thanks!

  20. I just wanted to drop by and say how interesting I found your blog and work. I was inspired to do something similar (although much MUCH less challenging) after reading the $25/week challenge. I’m just finishing one single week of eating for $25 and feel that there was more to learn from the experience than I originally suspected. (I’m at http://www.foodfor25.blogspot.com.) Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  21. an excellent blog about the world food crisis done by graduate students at the University of Houston. It is “aimed at breaking down the use of corn as fuel, instead of food, so that EVERYONE can understand the issue.”
    http://gcswworldhunger.blogspot.com/

  22. Stephanie

    I love your experiment – and your blog it’s super facinating and i look foreward to your future experiments. I think it’s important to realize that the food issue in america is kind of a double edge sword and where as government movements shape a lot of it – there are varying reasons behind what is done – not all malicious. It is a great mystery how top romen is cheaper than lettuce… The govm’t could do thins to push people towards healthier foods but how? by upping the prices of processed foods? – Then you risk people living on that $1 or less not being able to afford food at all. And they could push to lower the cost of healthy food (i.e. produce), but to what extent? To where it’s no longer financially reasonable for farmers to grow it? And unfortunately in this american market – we the people are partially responsible for these prices. How many of us chose to get our produce at BigBoxes that can buy in bulk then from local farmers who are closer and could offer it for cheaper if they only had the people to sell it too… so tricky. Just thought I’d throw that out there – yes it’s a tragedy that 1 in 10 are on food stamps but it’s a blessing that we even have food stamps to offer and that we don’t just have to resort to rice and have reasonable access to clean water in which some countries can’t even offer… it could be worse :o) I think the economy as a whole would be a big step that would ultimately help this situation as well. Keep up the great work!!!

  23. Cool, im gonna cut down on buying food at restaurants, if I don’t eat out I know I eat around 3.85 a day /26.95 a week without eating out (oatmeal for breakfast and raisin bread, either hotdog or frozen hamburger (cheese included with chips and kool aid for linner (yes around 430pm, and around about 9pm I have a some ramen noodles or left over hamburger helper or something like that.

    IF I do eat out just once its usually about $6.50 on average just for one sub with a drink, or chinese food, plus maybe 1 or 2 other at home meals, bringing me around to about $10 a day $70/week, and sometimes I eat out twice a day yikes! $16.50/day or $115.50 a week.

    Wanna save money in the recession, Be a very economical grocery store shopper and DO NOT PURCHASE FOOD OUT- this post is totally for myself

  24. It’s amazing the difference in my kids behavior after we started eating made from scratch meals instead of quick meals. They are calmer and better behaved overall. It really doesn’t take any more time either, like I th0ught it would. Plus, our food bill went down so we can afford more fresh produce. It makes me wonder how many kids with ADD/ADHD could be cured with additive free diets instead of medication.

  25. autiger23

    I’d also like to point out as a couple people have above that eating locally raised food (which often includes organic food) is better than buying organic food far from home. Other than the book mentioned above, check out this article from Time magazine:

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1595245,00.html

    A couple quotes:

    “Big Organic” firms now use the same industrial-size farming and long-distance-shipping methods as conventional agribusiness.

    ‘ “If you send it halfway around the world before it is eaten,” he mused, “an organic food still may be ‘good’ for the consumer, but is it ‘good’ for the food system?”‘

    We grew and preserved our own vegetables, fruits, jams, etc and bought a whole cow from a neighbor which we had butchered locally, put in a chest freezer in our garage and that (along with all our veggies) fed a family of six for a year. And this was in the 80s and 90s not the 50s.

    Our food was organic though no one had heard of the term yet. We did it because we were too poor to afford to buy those vegetables, but seed only costs about a $1 a packet and will produce rows of carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, etc. How many people with back yards in the suburbs could grow enough of their own organic vegetables to last at least 6 months? There are many community gardens in urban areas if you just do the research.

    I have a small apartment, but I have a chest freezer in my closet with locally caught fish and when I join a local CSA next summer, I’ll be able to stock it with local (and organic) vegetables.

    I like the awareness you are raising, but wanted to share some other thoughts as well.

  26. StrictNon-Conformist

    In regards to making bread using a hotplate: it’s entirely feasible, and no harder than making bread the typical oven-baked way, if you have a suitable pan. The great thing is this: a “suitable pan” is one with a lid, and lots of thermal mass: in other words, one of the best types of pans to do it in are the cheapest, the old-fashioned iron skillet!

    However, with that shape, it may not be entirely the most ideal shape for bread for sandwiches: the shape lends itself well to the flatter, thinner bread types, like … pizza!

    There are a couple things to remember:

    1. You need to have some sort of fat/oil in the bread dough, and a bit of corn meal on the bottom to make it release easier is good.

    2. THIS IS VITALLY IMPORTANT! Use low, and I mean *very low* heat! I haven’t yet tried it on top of an electric hotplate to verify the differences as to how to calibrate it, but when I say very low, I mean, for a gas burner, so low, you’re afraid you’re going to blow it out by mistake!

    3. Ok, a couple + 1… you must have a good, tight-fitting lid: if you have something with insulation, all the better. Oh, and don’t keep lifting the lid to check🙂

    Doing this, and doing a rather thick crust whole-wheat flour pizza dough in a 10″ skillet, with a thin layer of sauce and toppings (a small amount of cheese and pepperoni: if you add other things, better pre-cook them) it takes 15 minutes of cooking time at *very low heat* to cook a pizza on top of a gas stove (and will work on electric if properly calibrated). In the case mentioned above, I used about half the recipe (don’t have it at hand, sorry) in the 10″ skillet (I used an anodized aluminum one in the process, but cast iron will also work as my older brother proved once when our oven died, and I’ve got even nicer pans now that are stainless steel that also have other layers for thermal mass and conductivity) and the other half I used for bread sticks. Starting with a bread machine to mix it, and fresh ingredients and clean dishes, and leaving the salt out of the pizza dough (salt stops yeast from growing too much, and also adds flavor) and using a bit of heat of the pan for a bit to get the dough rising, setting a bit while taking care of other things, I was able to get my process down to 1 hour flat from start to eating pizza.

    Oh, while it had just a tiny amount of burnt bottom layer (less than paper-thin) I found this also works for a whole batch of a single pan-sized chocolate chip cookies, using 45 minutes of cook time🙂

    Here’s the really great thing about cooking this way: it uses far less energy than using an oven while the burner is on, while at the same time being faster, because there is NO preheating!

    I would imagine if you have a large enough, deep enough dutch oven or something similar with lots of mass, you could put a bread pan inside, and cover with a standard lid, and use that for a poor person’s oven, too. After all, I managed to make egg-fried rice using pork sausage over a camp fire using aluminum foil in the fire, so that should work even more easily in practice🙂

  27. DPirate

    Flour, sugar and water. This is how I fry/bake bread in the woods. Sometimes add oatmeal, or whatever. Use to cook this on the top of the woodstove. Easy-peasy and tastes however you may like it to.

  28. Haney Armstrong

    Thanks so much for including the link to Food Declaration – looks like we got 175 visitors from here.

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