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Documenting the "Food Stamp Challenge"


As the number of Americans receiving food stamps increases – it has now reached an all time high of more than 21 and a half million households – an ongoing debate over whether the system is working has emerged.

Last fall, over a dozen members of Congress took the “Food Stamp Challenge” to see what it was like to live solely on a food stamp budget for a week. Bay Area representatives Barbara Lee of Oakland and Jackie Speier of San Mateo both participated. Congresswoman Lee had to live on four dollars and fifty cents a day.

So what is it like to be on food stamps, and can you have a healthy, nourishing diet while on them? Shira and Yoav Potash wondered the same, and took action. Shira Potash is a certified nutrition educator and her husband, Yoav is a documentary film maker. They joined forces to produce the film Food Stamped, in which they personally take the Food Stamp challenge and document every step. KALW’s Hana Baba sat down with Potash to talk about the film.

BABA: Were you able to live healthy lives while on the Food Stamp Challenge?

POTASH: It’s sort of a “yes, but.” Yes, we were able to do it, but it took a lot of time. It had a lot of knowledge that I had, I had nutrition knowledge – I know how to plan meals, I know how to cook. A lot of people don’t have that kind of knowledge base. We have a car, we have access to a great grocery store with bulk foods and relatively affordable produce. We don't have children, or the demands of having a family. So for an actual family on food stamps that might not have all of those – or even any of those benefits or advantages that we had – imagine how much harder it is for them.

What we discovered was that yes we were doing a pretty good job of eating balanced meals and getting a lot of nutrients, but we were falling short of the number of calories we should be eating. And I think for a lot of Americans on a low food budget, there’s a trade-off between nutrients and calories, and most people tend to get too many calories and not enough nutrients.

Listen to the full interview above.

Hana Baba is host of Crosscurrents, KALW's weeknight newsmagazine that broadcasts on KALW Public Radio in the San Francisco Bay Area.