Food Stamped: Can you eat healthy on $1/meal?

Is the food system setting up low income individuals and families for failure? Is poverty linked to obesity?

Food Stamped
Courtesy of the Mill Valley Film Festival.
Food Stamped
Food Stamped. Courtesy of the Mill Valley Film Festival.

As of March 2011, the Food Stamp Plan – now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – serves 44.5 million people (that’s 1 in 7 Americans). The program started in 1939, ended 1943, restarted as Pilot in 1961, and became law in 1964.

Shira Potash, a nutrition educator who teaches children in low-income elementary school about healthy eating in the Bay Area, notes that while the price of junk food has decreased by 2% over the years, during the same period, nutritious foods such as vegetables and fruits have increased by 20%. Is the food system setting up low income individuals and families for failure? Is poverty linked to obesity?

In this informative and engaging documentary, Shira tries to find answers to the question by personally trying to live an entire week on the average food stamp budget of about $1/meal with spouse and fellow film maker, Yoav Potash. Along the way, they visit social service agencies, food banks, farmer’s markets and even a garbage dump at a bakery.

What I enjoyed most about this film was that it dealt with a complex issue in a simple manner. In fact, the film’s description of how the farm bill indirectly subsidies junk food containing ingredients made from corn, wheat and soybeans instead of directing subsidies to lower the price of healthy foods is one of the simplest explanations I’ve encountered.

Shira and Yoav are also a very likable couple that make the experience of relying on food stamps a human condition, instead of just an academic pursuit. I could relate to the discussions they have, trying to choose between coffee or salad at the supermarket and accompanying an actual food stamp recipient on one of their shopping trips.

This documentary even goes so far as to explore the food system in our schools and the challenges someone on food stamps has in trying to scrounge up enough money in a week to invite friends over for a special meal.

While probing, the film is not judgmental or preachy. Instead it lays out the facts and opinions simply for the viewer to arrive at their own opinion. Although the film gets pretty bleak, in the end, Shira and Yoav offer hope through the community efforts fostered to help Americans eat healthier.

Clint says:

It’s always a shocking reminder: America is fat. And it’s only getting worse. According to the film-makers, the US Government isn’t exactly helping either. Subsidies aid crops such as corn and wheat which results in low priced fast food; meanwhile healthy alternatives are more expensive. The poor make the obvious choice. I’m guessing we all pay the price in terms of healthcare costs. I’m over-simplifying here, but this is serious stuff.

Regarding the technical aspects of the film you can tell it’s low budget. But the editing and music are so well done, you’re quickly consumed by the story. It helps that both Shira and Yoav are likable. Well done.

Food Stamped

US, 2010, 60 mins.
Directed By Shira and Yoav Potash
FOCUS: THE BODY IN BALANCE • It’s no secret that obesity, an American epidemic, is directly linked to poverty: Our current food industry is rigged so that the cheapest, most readily available foods are pre-made and packaged, calorically hefty yet devoid of nutrition. Is it even possible for someone on food stamps to eat well enough to stay healthy? In the spirit of Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, Bay Area nutrition educator Shira Potash gave herself that one-week challenge. She and her wryly suffering husband unravel America’s food politics and highlight those fighting to get vegetables back into kids’ diets.
World Premiere
—Jeff Campbell


Mill Valley Film Festival

Tue. Oct 12, 2010 @ 6:00 PM
Smith Rafael Film Center – San Rafael

Sat. Oct 9, 2010 @ 1:00 PM
Sequoia Theatre – Mill Valley

More information and tickets

Explore. Create. Live. Follow Stark Insider on Twitter and Facebook. Join our 9,000 subscribers who read SI on tablets and smartphones on Google Newsstand. Prefer video? Subscribe to 
Stark Insider on YouTube, the largest arts & travel channel in San Francisco.