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My $29 Food Stamp Challenge—and the Recipes (& Brouhaha) That Ensued

Last week, chef (and great man) Mario Batali challenged me to raise awareness and money for the Food Bank For New York City by trying to live on $29 dollars for the week (what low income families on SNAP are trying to survive on). Dubious that I could complete the week, I donated to the Food Bank at the outset, and all of us at the goop office began the challenge. Our basket looked like this:

food bank basket

It cost $24.40 (plus a little olive oil and salt)—things like avocados and limes are cheap in Southern California.

As I suspected, we only made it through about four days, when I personally broke and had some chicken and fresh vegetables (and in full transparency, half a bag of black licorice). My perspective has been forever altered by how difficult it was to eat wholesome, nutritious food on that budget, even for just a few days—a challenge that 47 million Americans face every day, week, and year. A few takeaways from the week were that vegetarian staples liked dried beans and rice go a long way—and we were able to come up with a few recipes on a super tight budget.

After trying to complete this challenge (I would give myself a C-), I am even more outraged that there is still not equal pay in the workplace. Sorry to go on a tangent, but many hardworking mothers are being asked to do the impossible: Feed their families on a budget which can only support food businesses that provide low-quality food. The food system in our beautiful country needs to be subjected to a heavy revision—it is a cyclical problem, with repercussions that we all feel. I’m not suggesting everyone eat organic food from some high horse in the sky. I’m saying everyone should be able to afford fresh, real food. And if women were paid an equal wage, families might have more of a choice in the grocery aisles, not to mention in the rest of their lives.

According to White House statistics, “Full-time women workers earnings are only about 77 percent of their male counterparts earnings. The pay gap is even greater for African-American and Latina women, with African-American women earning 64 cents and Latina women earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by a Caucasian man.” This isn’t just unacceptable, this is reprehensible, and it is incumbent on all of us (hats off to Patricia Arquette) to do something about it. And that means making it an issue that we all talk about. (Think you might not be receiving equal pay for equal work? Here are some resources for addressing it.) The Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings initiative is fighting for equality on a global level, while Moms Rising is another great organization that focuses on family issues, like equal pay, maternity and paternity leave, and affordable childcare. They are currently rallying awareness and action around the Paycheck Fairness Act, something we all need to get behind.

And please don’t forget the organization that kicked this whole thing off: The Food Bank For New York City, which provides more than 63 million free meals per year to New Yorkers in need. According to their site, “approximately 1.4 million people—mainly women, children, seniors, the working poor and people with disabilities—rely on soup kitchens and food pantries” throughout the five boroughs. Please donate here.

I know hunger doesn’t always touch us all directly—but it does touch us all indirectly. After this week, I am even more grateful that I am able to provide high-quality food for my kids. Let’s all do what we can to make this a basic human right and not a privilege.

love, gp

Below, three of the delicious, budget-conscious recipes we made for the challenge.

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