Home The Op-Eds Skinny People Shop At Whole Foods: A Poor Kid’s Perspective

Skinny People Shop At Whole Foods: A Poor Kid’s Perspective

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Image: Whole Foods Market in the East Village of New York, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from shankbone's photostream

You know, I spent an entire week writing about shopping at grocery stores and how to get the most bang for your buck.. but it’d be wrong of me to fail to acknowledge that access to those kinds of stores is a privilege. I mean, thinking of all the options and opportunities that I have to get what my daughter and I need.. but it wasn’t always that way.

I can remember being very young – maybe around age 5 – and going to my Grandmother’s house every day as my Mother would go to work. I cling to these memories because she passed away when I was about 10. As my Mother was always working like a dog to care for me, Grandma pretty much raised me during those years.

Grandma, quite frankly, lived in the projects during the majority of the time she spent watching me. I hated fighting the other kids (and hell, let’s be real – my other cousins and Uncles) for the TV, so I was always outside playing or reading when I wasn’t in school. I mean, I was gone, man. Didn’t really love the other kids in the neighborhood – and Grandma knew that – but she wasn’t about to let me grow up “by myself,” so to speak. I guess after raising 7 kids of her own by herself (her husband, my Grandfather, passed away too soon), she knew what she was doing.

For me, my thing was always asking my Uncles for $0.50. Two quarters was all I needed to creep across the street, grab a bag of potato chips and a Big Red pop. That’s all I wanted. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, that served as lunch some days. It wasn’t every day that I had to enjoy the …deliciousness of a Dorito, because one of the houses in the projects was devoted to offering up free lunch.

Ahh, yes. Free lunch. The equivalent of a lunchable with a carton of milk. All the kids in the projects would come running at a quarter to noon because if you were late, you were out of luck! You got your two pieces of bread, your piece of bologna, your packet of mustard, a piece of cheese, two cookies and chocolate milk. I can remember free lunch days being the only days I got chocolate milk. Grandma just… could never keep stuff like that in the house. Everyone would always beat me to it.

I can also remember spending summertime, as a child, in Selma, AL with my great Grandmother. She, who was and is still anti-processed foods, gave me these fantastic memories of playing in her garden and watching her tomatoes, squash and lettuce every day. I even remember her neighbor, Mr. Sandman, who made his own vanilla ice cream – in my mind’s tongue, I can still taste it. Whenever Aunt Sissy (for anyone unfamiliar with proper Southern diction, that “Aunt” is actually pronounced “Ain’t“) didn’t get to me first, he was always stuffing me with something fresh from his stash. A summer of squash, fried green tomatoes, corn pancakes and other dope-yet-somehow-still-not-fattening delicacies was how I… “got by.”

A whole community of folks who were pretty much used to only having each other to “get by,” and used to being reduced to only what they could get access to in order to make it. I mean, keep it real – if you can’t afford to buy a $3 carton of ice cream, you can certainly grab some ice, salt, vanilla extract and milk from your fridge and make your own, right? My Aunt Sissy, who is looking forward to her 100th birthday today… is still tending to her garden and frying the hell out of some green tomatoes, no doubt.

Why the trip down memory lane? This:

In the Seattle area, a region with an average obesity rate of about 20 percent, only about 4 percent of shoppers who filled their carts at Whole Foods Market stores were obese, compared with nearly 40 percent of shoppers at lower-priced Albertsons stores.

That’s likely because people willing to pay $6 for a pound of radicchio are more able to afford healthy diets than people stocking up on $1.88 packs of pizza rolls to feed their kids, the study’s lead author suggested.

“If people wanted a diet to be cheap, they went to one supermarket,” said Adam Drewnowski, a University of Washington epidemiology professor who studies obesity and social class. “If they wanted their diet to be healthy, they went to another supermarket and spent more.”

The findings held true for the three highest-priced grocery stores in the Seattle region, including Whole Foods, where an average market basket of food cost between $370 and $420, and obesity rates went no higher than about 12 percent.

By contrast, at the area’s three lowest-priced stores, including Albertsons, the same basket of food cost between $225 and $280, and obesity rates went no lower than about 22 percent. [found via “Skinny People Shop At Whole Foods“]

I keep thinking of my Grandma who, on her fixed income and the money she made from sitting for children, would’ve had quite the tough time trying to feed us all on the pricier diet. Conversely, my Aunt Sissy wouldn’t have cared. Her stuff was just as good as theirs… maybe even better since it grew by her hand and with her love.

But wait – there’s more:

His research team studied 2,001 shoppers in the Seattle area between December 2008 and March 2009, tracking their choice of supermarkets and comparing it with their education, income and obesity rates. They measured obesity by asking consumers to report their height and weight, then calculating body mass index. People with a BMI higher than 30 were identified as obese.

Drewnowski was quick to note that the study focused only on Seattle, which has an obesity rate much lower than the U.S. average of about 34 percent. He doesn’t claim that the same rates would bear out in other cities.

But, he said, it’s likely that similar patterns might be found elsewhere: Wealthier people who shopped at higher-end stores would be thinner, while poorer people who shopped at cheaper stores would be fatter.

It’s not a matter of availability, Drewnowski said. All of the stores in his study stocked a wide range of nutritious food, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Instead, he contends it’s because healthy, low-calorie foods cost more money and take more effort to prepare than processed, high-calorie foods. In a separate study two years ago, Drewnowski estimated that a calorie-dense diet cost $3.52 a day compared with $36.32 a day for a low-calorie diet.

I just.. I don’t know. Aside from the fact that I have a few questions about some of the numbers this study offers up, this is a bitter pill to swallow. And let’s face it. Considering the locations and resources that a vast majority of the Black community has to cope with, where does that leave us as a collective? Two thirds of us overweight? Dying of wholly preventable diseases?

I look at my Mother now. Successful by her own hand. A beneficiary of her very hard work who, after sticking with that same company for several decades, has access to opportunities and options that are incomparable to what her Mother – or her Mother’s Mother, for that matter.. regardless of whether or not she would’ve made use of them – would’ve had. I imagine my Grandma would be proud of her for having resources she did not, and hope that she was taking advantage of ’em. My Aunt Sissy, though, would probably tell her to save her money and grow her own damn tomatoes, already.

At this point, all I have are questions. Is this the bitter reality of society and, mind you, Capitalism? The more money you have, the more access you have to better opportunities? Or is it a matter of not taking advantage of the community and resources you have and making it work? Or hell.. do we even know whether or not people know they have options and resources to use? If the disparaties are caused by money, how do we make it easier? If the problem is time, how do we make it quicker? If the issue is that it’s too daunting a task, how do we fix that?

‘Cause really, at this rate… without effort, movement, education and progress? We ain’t gon’ make it.

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Elita @ Blacktating June 4, 2010 - 10:14 AM

I recently read that a certain county (wish I could remember which!) was going to stop providing stoves in its government-subsidized section 8 housing and replace them with microwaves. MICROWAVES! You can’t cook in no damn microwave! Talk about short-sighted and racist. I mean, yeah, you’ll save some money but then you’ll spend twice as much via Medicaid on the hospital bills.
This is very infuriating. Historically, poor people always had the healthier practices. Babywearing, breastfeeding, growing your own food, eating brown rice…these used to be seen as things only POOR people do. Now, who do you see using $300 silk wraps to hold their babies, breastfeeding, growing organic vegetables in their own gardens and eating brown rice? For the most part, these things are only readily and easily available to the most wealthy, while poor folks, who would benefit the most from them, can’t afford them. Poor people are feeding their babies formula and raising their kids on a diet of overly processed food. It’s infuriating and goes so much deeper than just what’s going on at the grocery store.

Erika June 4, 2010 - 10:30 AM

You know, Elita, I was doing some reading on your site because I needed insight about breastmilk and milk production in mammals (in a very broad sense)… and the stories that I read about how the poor are pretty much full-force swindled into believing they NEED to spend money on formula… it’s bizarre. It’s seriously the most bizarre thing I’ve ever even remotely tried to understand.

Racialicious also has an article called “Sustainable Food and Privilege” that had AMAZING comments… and there was one in particular that touches heavily upon what you just said:

It reminds me of the “bike to work” movement. That is also portrayed as white, but in my city more than half of the people on bike are not white. I was once talking to a white activist who was photographing “bike commuters” and had only pictures of white people with the occasional “black professional” I asked her why she didn’t photograph the delivery people, construction workers etc. … ie. the black and Hispanic and Asian people… and she mumbled something about trying to “improve the image of biking” then admitted that she didn’t really see them as part of the “green movement” since they “probably have no choice”

I was so mad I wanted to quit working on the project she and I were collaborating on.

So, in the same way when people in a poor neighborhood grow food in their yards … it’s just being poor– but when white people do it they are saving the earth or something.

*throws hands up, dumbfounded* Black taxin’.

Hulagirrrl August 2, 2013 - 3:13 AM

Aloha from sunny Honolulu, where people of all colors, shape and so on live very peacefully amongst each other and Hawaii has more than a fair share of poverty. We have farmers markets and many grow their own.
I love this man, you might enjoy the video


As far as people riding their bikes, I was born and raised in Europe and rode my bike all my life, so to me in the US it always bothered me that the cities and suburbs are designed only with cars in mind. No side walks no bike path anywhere. I think the world is changing, and you ladies are agents of change. If a white lady is telling you why she won’t take pictures of minorities riding their bikes, simply by your question she will think and think differently maybe in future because you raised an awareness.
keep up the good work, Aloha

FreeSpirited1 May 21, 2011 - 8:57 PM

This really resonated with me today as I braced myself for the inevitable sticker shock at the register today as I stocked up on 93/7 beef , chix and turkey breast, veggies, tofu,fat free chips, whole grain bread, 2% cheese, yogurt, dag….It is really a financial struggle.

Elita @ Blacktating June 4, 2010 - 11:03 AM

Erika, that makes me want to bang my head against the wall! And when it comes to breastfeeding, it’s not just that the formula companies agressively market to poor people of color (they do) or that the largest purchaser of formula in the US is the US government (via WIC) but it’s also that even the poor people of color who WANT to breastfeed often can’t because they work blue collar jobs with little or no maternity leave and no place or time to pump.
Thanks for the Racialicious article, that was a great read.

Erika June 4, 2010 - 11:16 AM

Anytime. 🙂

The more I learn about it, the more nauseated I am. WIC has done our community FAR more harm than it has done good. I just… I can’t with this. It’s going to cause me to rant again. LOL

Cap'n Kirk June 4, 2010 - 10:23 AM

I think it might be a combination of everything listed. There’s a serious lack of knowledge in all areas. Some people don’t know how to prepare healthy food. Others may never shop outside of their neighborhood and because the quality of the vegetables may be wack, they don’t buy fresh veggies. Oddly enough, some people may even be intimidated by the thought of shopping at Whole Foods. I just found out recently that you can buy shares in a co-op farm for a reasonable price and have freshly-harvested veggies delivered to your door each month. (I just hope they pick the ripe ones because I still don’t know how to pick ripe veggies).

I don’t know how to interpret Mr.Drewnowski’s study but I think a deeper explanation of why people shop and prepare food the way they do is worth looking in it.

Erika June 4, 2010 - 10:58 AM

Yes! I don’t live in a co-op area, but I do enjoy the farmer’s markets.

I think digging deeper into the Seattle study would be one hell of a psychological study. I’m intrigued… because I have my own guesses, but I’d love to see them bear out in actual results. I guess we’ll have to simply see, huh? 🙂

cjbrownsc June 4, 2010 - 10:58 AM

I was also raised by my grandmother and although she didn’t make a lot of money, we always had fresh vegetables and great food to eat. In her community, if someone didn’t have fresh collards to cook on Sunday, you’d better believe Mr. Eddie, one of our neighbors, had some in his garden that everyone was welcome to get at any time. My grandmother never believed in canned, processed, or foods, and at 90 years old, she still doesn’t.

But alas, by the time I left home and went to college, I became a part of the “everything fast and cheap” movement. Hence canned, processed, and fast foods came into my life. I don’t think I ever ate at McDonald’s until I left home! LOL

I also noticed that along with the canned, processed, and fast foods that I began to eat, I bypassed the ‘Freshman 15’ and gained a whopping ‘Freshman 40’.

You’ve written in previous posts how to eat healthy, fresh foods without breaking the bank, and since reading that post, I am reminded of the wonderful and healthy foods that I ate growing up that always brought me so much joy. Someone was always coming to our house bringing fresh fish that they caught and peas or okra that they picked from their gardens. There was a true sense of community that I experienced in my youth that I don’t think exists very much anymore.

I don’t know if I answered your question, but this post really hit home with me.

Erika June 4, 2010 - 11:07 AM

Not only did you answer my questions, but your story made me smile. I love hearing about our elders and being reminded of how far we’ve come – for the good AND the bad. I feel like the big issue IS the comunity – that “dog eat dog – literally” mentality that we’ve developed… “going for yours at anyone and everyone else’s expense” isn’t what got us the successes we’ve had and shared in history, so why we think it’d work for us TODAY… it’s bizarre. So yes, you definitely answered my question. It takes a village to feed a child.

And girl, I had that “Freshman 40” too, LOL. Talk about ALL BAD. LOLOL!

Ben Hyrman June 4, 2010 - 11:26 AM

The sad fact of the matter is that, when we look at simple math, the most calorie-dense foods also tend to be both the cheapest to buy and the most profitable for the food industry to make.

And, since us humans are generally pretty lousy about determining long-term costs or the true loaded cost of what we’re buying, we make short-term decisions based on immediate economic realities:

1. Our tax dollars make bad foods cheaper
2. We aren’t good at projecting the cost on our health years down the road

In the 1970’s, the farm bill was changed to entice farmers to grow as much as they could. Basically, farmers are rewarded for selling more corn and more soy. In a normal economy, if too much of something is produced, then the price is lowered to remove the surplus and, as a result, the manufacturer loses money. Heck, make too much too often as a manufacturer and you’ll eventually go out of business from having to consistently sell your excess inventory at a loss. When it comes to farming (since the 1970’s with the direct payment program), when a farmer (manufacture) creates too much of a product (say, corn), the price of corn drops to get rid of the surplus but then we (the tax payer) pay the farmer to cover his/her loss. So, the farmer is actually encouraged to grow as much as possible because we’ll always bail them out (or, in the words of Butz, the head of agriculture in the 70’s, “get big or get out”).

In other words, that highly processed food loaded with corn byproducts is cheaper for you to buy precisely because your tax dollars have made it cheaper.

Erika June 4, 2010 - 12:39 PM

Hey… you know, I’ve written about this several times before on this site – and every single time, I come to the same roadblock:

How on EARTH can we convince the government to change this?

Every. Single. Time.

Ty June 4, 2010 - 12:08 PM

I gained alot of weight while I struggled to keep myself from going completely homeless. I was alot thinner when I had my shit together. I think stress might also contribute. Because you don’t know what is to
next. Have you a house or some

Erika June 4, 2010 - 1:02 PM

And that’s another issue – people who simply don’t have the means… it just feels like very privileged conversation to have when there are people who don’t even have enough to work with to get the bare necessities in life. For those who actually care to dig into the conversation deeper, it is extremely humbling. I just wish I knew how to offer help without it seeming so condescending. Sigh.

Ben Hyrman June 4, 2010 - 1:09 PM

Not that it’ll help much (in the short term), but the best we can do is write our politicians and voice our opinion; vote for those willing to enact change; favor locally sourced food over stuff trucked in from other states/countries/hemispheres; shop labels; educate our friends, families and anyone that’ll listen…. still, I can totally sympathize with a parent just trying to get food on the table for their family in between working two jobs. Anything towards changing our consumption is going to be painful for them in the short-term even if it is beneficial in the long-term.

Or, on the other hand, if oil significantly goes up in price, then it’s not going to make as much sense to grow corn and have massive cattle feedlots (fertilizer, trucking costs, farm cost, etc). Possibly a similar end result but the transition is going to be even more painful.

Erika June 4, 2010 - 1:29 PM

I hear you, but you know that the size of the movement isn’t enough to overpower the money…. it’s not immediate enough, you know? This is where I usually start banging my head, lol.

I definitely hear you on doing all the educating you can – I’m a firm believer that an educated individual is much more empowered than an enabled one (which is what our gov’t has insisted on doing all this time..) – and all we can hope for is that the message is well received and doesn’t turn anyone off.


Dave June 4, 2010 - 3:42 PM

I was led to your blog by a Facebook link. It’s so good I bookmarked it, and I’ll be back! As a white guy, a child of privilege no less (fallen), I have learned the hard way that networking and taking care of each other is the only answer to today’s chaos. I think that black folks have many advantages due to their background of family ties. Your thoughts are profound, and those who don’t learn will perish. It is so very possible to be healthy on a tiny budget…ask me how I know.

Erika June 4, 2010 - 4:25 PM

You know, there was an article on NPR a while back that talked about the connections that Black families have in comparison to whites… and I was a little taken aback by that, but I’m still wondering where the real resources are and why we don’t make use of one another – regardless of race, really – to make sure that we all do better? We don’t need the intervention of any gov’t to do any of that. We let the gov’t intervene before (FDA, USDA, WIC). That didn’t work out.

It IS possible to be healthy on a tiny budget, but that requires lots of knowledge and time to develop that knowledge and most of all.. will and EFFORT. This society isn’t very keen on things that require will and effort. LOL

Hulagirrrl July 28, 2013 - 6:51 PM

I think the family connection faded a bit when mobility increased. I did not grow up in America but am American now, and my children are American but we don’t have family other than the ex..family. So, when I was married we went and visited for Thanksgiving and all of the cousins and nephews and what have you would come, but even that now is slowing down from what I hear in my small world. Simply because of the commute, the lack of time with this ever so busy world and our kids having to move to all corners of the world to where the jobs are. I do however fondly remember the family gatherings and the foods and the love that was cooked into the food. No, it wasn’t always healthy but it was good. We live in Hawaii now where race is not such a topic as it may be on the mainland, and we eat much healthier food here as well. Luckily we have great farmers markets and some farms are delivering a box of greens weekly to your home. Also learning to do a lot with little is something one learns here in Hawaii where prices for food are steep, but people grow their own and live simple. I think it is a learning process and if a person is ready to learn the teacher will come around… at least that’s how it always worked for me. Aloha

Rita June 4, 2010 - 7:53 PM

I take issue with the stats used in this article however I will say I remember my first trip to whole foods and being intimidated by the price. That being said I’ve passed one for years and wrote it off as “the place I’ll shop when I grow up and have real money”. As a college grad learning to make her own way in the world it never crossed my mind to healthier or nutritious foods much less exepensive items that I’d never looked at before assuming they were out of budget. So I can understand the basis for this article as I’m sure I probably fit many of the statistics. However I agree with Ericka and another poster that said educating the individual is the first step. Now it stands the more I learn, the more I practice informed shopping and clean living, I become that much more disgusted at our government (FDA, USDA, etc.) for not encouraging the public properly in the ways of healthy eating. The madness must stop! (Oh and I love to treat myself with a trip to Whole Foods now, lol)

Erika June 5, 2010 - 1:29 PM

LOL Rita, don’t feel bad – I don’t have grown up money, but I don’t buy boxed or canned or whatever items… all I hit up WF for is their bulk section and occasionally their cheeses. Produce? Farmer’s Market. I rarely buy meat anymore. Trust me… I’m not financially equipped to spend upwards of $300 a month on groceries.

Even if I WAS financially equipped to spend that much… I wouldn’t. Not now that I know my cooking is that much better than everyone else’s. LOLOL

Rita June 5, 2010 - 1:48 PM

lol@ Ericka,
You’re so right! If I had grown up money I still wouldn’t be spending 300 plus in whole foods. Oh and yes ma’am, I’m a new fan of the bulk section.

I’d also like to point that since beginning clean eating lifestyle, I save money when I grocery shop and thanks to my new lifestyle I no longer spend money eat fast food everyday either. Now yes I do go have dinner once per week with my girls but I find choosing the vegetarian option on the mneu not only saves calories but it also saves money.

I say all of that to say again, its the power of knowledge. If educate yourself, you can eat better and SAVE money. Thereby improving your economic standing.

Erika June 5, 2010 - 1:50 PM

I love to hear ALL of this. Seriously. ALL of it! 🙂

Naturally Single Mom June 5, 2010 - 7:01 PM

Found your blog via another blog…hope you don’t mind me commenting. 🙂 I’m a poor, white, single mom with two kids. No child support.

As someone who gets an insane amount of food stamps for one adult and two kids under 5 (plus WIC benefits), I have to tell you how much fun I’ve had spending my food stamps at our local version of Whole Foods (which actually just got bought out by Whole Foods), and this year, the farmer’s market started accepting food stamps. (I’m another one that just can’t bring herself to shop for normal stuff at Whole Foods. Only stuff that I can’t find at the regular grocery store. Mostly bulk bins, and some of the international items.)

That being said, a study was done recently in my area, where it showed that it didn’t matter that these two places accepted food stamps, because in the poorer neighborhoods, where there are more food stamp families, there are no grocery stores! Only convenience stores…and you know nobody’s buying fresh produce there! (I’ll have to dig it up, but I know an article was written by the local paper about it.)

I think it’s sad that I can buy gum and chips and candy and soda with my food stamps, but I can’t buy a rotisserie chicken, because it’s a hot food, and food stamps can’t buy hot foods.

Nobody from the government told me that my food stamps would buy seeds and plants, as long as they grew into a food…it was just randomly that I happened upon that information. And I turned my food stamps into a vegetable garden. But not everybody has the land to do that, and I would venture a guess that most people don’t even know that food stamps can buy those things.

Nobody from the government teaches you how to buy on sale, how to go dumpster diving for coupons and use them with sales, so you can stretch your food stamp dollars. (Which, I guess, doesn’t really matter, if a good percentage of the people who get food stamps in my area can’t even get to a grocery store without taking a bus….if they have the money for a bus ticket.) Nobody from WIC teaches you what to make with the buttermilk that we’re now given, or how to cook all of those dried beans, or gives you recipes. Nobody teaches you to have one or two (or, like us, all) of your meals a vegetarian one, to save money and calories.

It’s like we’re given the screws, but not the screwdriver.

Erika June 5, 2010 - 7:18 PM

Wow… given the screws, indeed.

You’re touching on another issue that I cannot wrap my mind around for the life of me… and that’s the issue of food deserts. If you live in an area where the grocery store is over a mile’s walk away and there’s no sidewalks… you’re kind of screwed. Especially if you have multiple children and no one to help you get to where you need to go.

I would LOVE to understand how you’re able to make the best out of your food stamps, because that’s something that I REALLY think should be featured on this website. Any resources or information that you can provide me, I’d GREATLY appreciate. For crying out loud, if I can talk about Whole Foods, I can for damn sure talk about food stamps and cover both ends of the spectrum.

Aisha February 4, 2012 - 8:26 PM

The bike comment is so interesting. It only counts if white people do it. This is about to be real non-sequitor…

I was thinking about what being “green” meant to my family growing up. In the 80’s in South Central Los Angeles my Father added solar power when we got an addition on to our house. We also had a water purifier from a Black owned company. He made this investment on an a two post office worker salary.

The reason he did this was because he studied Black Nationalism. He didn’t want to be dependent on the white man’s energy and you can’t trust the white man’s water. So it had nothing to do with the “green” movement we see today. Everyone thought he and his friends were crazy. They were way ahead of their time.

Naturally Single Mom June 5, 2010 - 9:04 PM

Would love to help out with the food stamps topic.

I wish there was a one-stop place where I could direct you to information about the program, but alas, there isn’t. 🙁

Here is the article I referenced when talking about lack of grocery stores – http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2009/aug/03/urban-food-deserts-cut-healthy-choices/?print Realize that it is specific to the Chattanooga area, but I can’t imagine that we are completely unique.

We ARE one of the few (if I understand this correctly) places that allows you to use food stamps at the farmer’s market. Here, they charge your EBT card in increments of $10, and give you tokens that you use as cash at the individual vendors. (I’m actually going to do a blog post specifically about this program, hopefully in the next couple of weeks, with pictures and the whole shebang.) Here is an old link to stats about farmer’s markets that participate with SNAP/EBT/Food Stamps – http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/ebt/ebt_farmers_markstatus.htm

Whole Foods – I’m not sure if it is company-wide or not – does accept food stamps. I’ve never seen the EBT sticker on the door of any Whole Foods, or our local health food store that was just bought out by Whole Foods (Greenlife Grocery, referenced in the above mentioned article)…I guess they don’t want the rich folks to know that us poor people are shopping there?

I live in an area with enough grocery competition that I can stretch my food stamps – I shop buy one get one free sales, and stock up on stuff like cereal (the healthy stuff DOES go on sale from time to time), salad dressing (because if you have enough salad dressing, you’ll eat salad more often, right?), yogurt, bagged salad stuff (which sometimes makes it cheaper than buying actual lettuce and cutting it up, but is definitely not a “stock up” kind of thing), frozen veggies, stuff like that. (Yogurt freezes well, and I use the frozen stuff for smoothies.)

I also buy fruit when it’s in season and on sale and make my own applesauce and apple butter, or flash freeze berries, peaches, and other fruits for smoothies in the winter.

I use websites like Southern Savers and Hot Coupon World (which has a coupon database, so you can find printable coupons online.) I never knew that you could use TWO coupons when you buy one and get one free, until I found those websites.

I go to the recycling center once a week. (Ours is only open three days a week.) They don’t care if I go digging through the newspaper dumpster and take out the coupons that other people discard. I usually walk away with 30 or 40 full coupon inserts in about 20 minutes of digging. I don’t even buy the newspaper anymore (since all I bought it for was the coupons anyway!)

The best part about food stamps, for me, was being able to buy seeds and plants with it. I have a HUGE strawberry patch ($3 for 10 strawberry plants at Wal-mart, have more than paid for themselves, and they’ll come back year after year), blueberry bushes, even an apple tree, all paid for by food stamps. (The caveat here is that you have to buy them at a store that accepts food stamps. Home Depot and Lowes and any garden place that I’ve ever seen does not.) I have a garden in my front yard growing zucchini, crookneck squash, cucumbers, lettuces of all types, spinach, tomatoes, pumpkin, and watermelon. As long as it is going to grow into a food, any packet of seeds or plant is covered by food stamps.

Here’s your rundown of what can and can’t be bought with food stamps – http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/retailers/eligible.htm

I try to use natural fertilizers – banana peels provide potassium to the soil, crushed egg shells provide calcium. Both of which can be bought with food stamps.

Like I said, I find it horribly sad that because a rotisserie chicken is hot, it’s a no-go. If it is a cooked rotisserie chicken that has been refrigerated, then it is allowed. Because I guess poor people don’t deserve hot food? I can buy freshly prepared sushi, fancy Perrier water, or pork rinds, but not a hot chicken. It’s very strange.

I hope that helps! If you have any specific questions after mucking through all of that, I’ll be happy to answer what I can. 🙂

Elita @ Blacktating June 5, 2010 - 10:36 PM

As a breastfeeding advocate, I know a lot of women who work with WIC as breastfeeding peer counselors or lactation consultants. On a listserv for lactation professionals that I subscribe to, we were discussing the new WIC food packages for breastfeeding mothers and the history of WIC in the US. One of the things that came up is what Single Mom is discussing. That women on WIC aren’t given the tools to make the best use of their food stamp money and that often, many of them didn’t know how to cook, how to use the dried beans, etc. Many of the breastfeeding peer counselors started cooking classes for the mothers and they created recipe binders for them, with simple and tasty meals that were also healthy. If there is anyone in WIC who would be receptive to working on the things Single Mom is talking about, I think it will be the breastfeeding counselors. Of course I’m biased, but in this case I think I’m right. 🙂

Naturally Single Mom June 6, 2010 - 8:19 AM

Elita –

It sounds like you had a good group of breastfeeding counselors! What a great thing to do! Would you share what area/office it is, so I can pass that along to our (admittedly apathetic) local WIC office?

I have been on WIC in three different states, in a total of five different offices, and have breastfed all of my kids, and only one that I know of actually had a breastfeeding counselor. 🙁 In fact, in the office that we go to now, I was breastfeeding my 3 month old in the waiting room (under a blanket, for the record), and I was asked to use the breastfeeding room (to make ME more comfortable, they said), which was a supply closet that had a rocking chair in it. I wasn’t any more comfortable there, and my 2 year old certainly wasn’t either. Oh, and when they called our name, we couldn’t hear them, and nobody bothered to come get us from the supply closet.

The nutritionist in our current office has given me some horrible advice. (Case in point, my 2 year old is in the 10th percentile for both weight and height. He has been for over a year. Every time we go to the WIC office, the nurses write a nasty gram (ha – that’s what I call them!) to our pediatrician, who we then have to make an appointment for, so that he can write in his report back that SOMEONE has to be in the 10th percentile, and the kid is perfectly happy and healthy. In the meantime, because he turned 2, the WIC program will only allow him to get reduced fat or skim milk, instead of whole milk. The nutritionist tells me it’s because there’s an obesity epidemic. Well, then stop telling me to slather everything my kid eats in butter to make him gain weight! Makes no sense.)

Also, just like with food stamps, I do my best to use my WIC benefits to the extreme (when WIC-approved cereal is buy one get one free, the two boxes of cereal we are allotted become 4.) After I had been doing that at two of our local stores for over a year, one store manager at Publix told me that it wasn’t allowed. I told him to go look up the state’s rules, that said that I was entitled to take advantage of sales just like every other customer. The area health department (that runs WIC for this region) backed him up, and called me to try to explain their reasoning. I called the USDA’s national office (who runs the WIC program) to set them straight, which they did. (And I won’t ever buy anything from Publix that isn’t buy one get one from now on, because it made me so angry.) If the regional office doesn’t know that you can use your WIC benefits to your advantage, just like many store cashiers don’t know you can buy seeds and plants with your food stamps, then we’re two steps back before we ever start walking. And if you try to argue with any of them, they treat you like you’re stupid, because you’re on WIC/food stamps/whatever, and that means you must be lazy and dumb.

(Sorry to go off on a tangent, but being on public assistance for the past six months, and WIC for five years, has really opened my eyes.)

Shelly September 10, 2012 - 8:24 PM

Loving all the information I’m getting from you guys!!

Liyah June 16, 2010 - 6:46 PM

Unfortunately it’s a combination of those things. No matter where you are in the world, the more money you have the more opportunities you will have access to. The flipside is in poorer areas some people choose to not go after opportunities while others know opportunities exist yet when you have to add in the factors of discrimination and profiling those opportunities don’t seem to be as available as they would be to those who are considered financially wealthy by societies terms.

We have options but people have to take the initiative to move forward. I didn’t grow up in the best area nor was it the worst area of the MD/DC metropolitan area but when I realized my well-off friends were doing things I only wished about, I made the decision to make my wishes part of my existence. I also had parents and was surrounded by parental figures who didn’t necessarily ask if I wanted to go to a play, they just said you’re going. They made sure we received the same opportunities as the more wealthy children.

For years I’ve been trying to get community co-ops and weekend farmers markets w/in the area I grew up, yet the city claims there’s no room for it. Amazing enough there’s room to build another fast food place or liquor store but you don’t have space for something that can actually have a positive effect on the community. Go figure. To date I can still go to the more privileged areas and sure enough visit community co-ops and farmers markets anytime during the week. So they will continue to hear from me until I see those same opportunities being extended to the folks in my former neighborhood.

Liz July 10, 2010 - 10:57 PM

@Ben Hyrman. Have you been watching King Corn? Lol.

Erika July 11, 2010 - 1:24 PM

LOL There are a ton of flicks about it out there – I’ve even written about this silly stuff before: https://blackgirlsguidetoweightloss.com/health-news/dear-politician-taxing-soda-is-crap-and-you-know-it/

Rooo August 26, 2010 - 5:17 AM

@Ty –

Stress does contribute. Cortisol, a stress-generated hormone, has been proven to contribute to excess belly fat.

The things they don’t tell you in high school health class.

Rooo August 26, 2010 - 1:00 PM

“How on EARTH can we convince the government to change this?”

That’s … a looong conversation complicated by the big ag lobbies.
(I’m not sure even the mighty First Lady and her PR machine can get by those, which is why her efforts, though sincere, might seem somewhat cosmetic or patchwork.)

Some of the permutations of those complications have already been detailed in comments. I’m not sure how many more we have to list, though.

Erika February 4, 2012 - 11:50 PM

You never lied@Rooo

“How on EARTH can we convince the government to change this?”

It’s extremely hard. Especially when USDA is in bed (and vice versa) with most of the huge meat and corn producers in the US. I saw this food documentary that really opened my eyes. They showed how big meat/corn CEOs were becoming big wigs in the USDA. Talk about a huge conflict of interest. And the poor farmers, who can’t even swap their own seeds because of a money hungry company. Eating healthy is basically a revolt against government.

You either join the healthy food revolution for your life or die with heart congestion believing in what special interest groups want you to eat to pad their pockets. (And heart congestion just pad the nice pharmaceutical companies pockets… just a horrible cycle I tell you).

Ebonie B January 20, 2011 - 12:05 AM

In some instances, I can relate to this dilema. I was born and raised in New York City, Harlem to be exact. Growing up here in Harlem, we never had the best stores that offered the freshest food, so we had to go out of our way to get decent food. My only memeory of having half-way decent fruit was the watermelon truck that parked at 125th during the summer. I do thank God that I did have a family member who had a small farm in Upstate New York and that was pretty much our only resource to fresh produce.

As you can imagine, this city is one of the most expensive citys in the country to live in. Harlem has gone through a total transformation from being an undesirable section on Manhattan to the “chic” and “happeneing” place to live. I am happy for upward mobilty, but it comes at a price for those of us who have been here for years. There are more stores now that offer fresh produce and healthier selections but it is still out of reach for most that still live here. Many that still live here are on fixed incomes and are living either at the poverty line or well below, which makes it almost impossible to take advantage of what’s offered. Being a single woman with no children, I still find it a bit hard to afford the healthy stuff, even though I do make some sacrifices to get them. The point of my comment is, while the opportunites are presenting themselves in “up and coming” neighborhoods that others thought of as undesirable, the ability to take advantage of it, for it’s residents that have been there is almost impossible.

I do feel, however that there are ways around this, through educating ourselves. I grew up poor and still am skating on that line, but my mother was one who can stretch a dollar. I was raised the rustic way, if it comes in a box, it doesn;t come through her door. I can count on m y hand the times my mother bought my brother and I Lunchables, or even took us to McDonalds. Sugary cereals was a rare treat as well as any sort of junk food. Processed foods was a big no-no in my house, which made it easy for us not to gain weight, but then puberty hit and that’s when it went down hill. I do thank God that my mother gave me the basic tools that will pay off now that I am grown. I too, am not a fan of boxed meals and sugary and processed foods. Little did I know that the low-fat milk my mother bought or the less sugary cereals kept us from becoming obese as children. Those little changes made a world of difference. Her strictness was catalyst to make weight loss a little less painful.

Lorrie February 11, 2011 - 2:26 PM

Yes I agree, I happen to live in an area that is predominately white and hence I have access to Trader Joes, Lassens, Whole Foods, Fresh & Easy, Farmers Markets and several mom and pop grocers. Even the .99 Cent Only Stores here carry many of the staple vegetables and fruit for only a dollar. But in food deserts these stores do not exist.

Linda May 17, 2011 - 9:03 AM

And when you talk about whole foods stores, please don’t underestimate how important it is for us white folk to see and be seen in all the right markets.

For example: in my Michigan town, we have two Meijer stores that are probably four miles apart. Both are really nice—recently remodeled, lots of fresh options, perky sales staff. The one I shop at is in my (integrated) neighborhood about a half a mile away from my house.

This Meijer is referred to by many of my people who live in my neighborhood—my fellow middle-class, college-educated friends, neighbors and church-goers—as the “international” (and yeah, sometimes the “ghetto”) Meijer because the clientele are mainly “everybody not like us”: latinos, vietnamese, sudanese, laotian, serbs, jordanians, lebanese, etc, along with plenty of moms-on-food-stamps—and the occasional white senior citizen (me) who’s shopped there for donkey’s years and would be damned to drive the hell out four miles to the “real” Meijer (yup, they call it the real one), which is JUST LIKE the closer Meijer…except without the all-white sales staff or shoppers who are just. like us….


PS. I am sick. and. tired of this: “Instead, he contends it’s because healthy, low-calorie foods cost more money and take more effort to prepare than processed, high-calorie foods..”

Eating healthy, low calorie foods DOES NOT COST MORE MONEY. Does not, does not DOES NOT. Eating *organically* probably would, but eating healthily does not. I spend an average of dollar-fifty per meal (and if I would remember my coupons and stop buy dried cherries I could cut if further) and I eat lots great food (light on the meat, though, I admit).

Even the time/effort is a great deal less than you think. Ten minutes in the morning (that will give you plenty of time to make breakfast and pack a lunch); twenty minutes in the evening for a quick supper.

Cheap, quick and good. I just don’t understand why more people don’t get it….

Linda May 17, 2011 - 9:05 AM

“Others may never shop outside of their neighborhood and because the quality of the vegetables may be wack, they don’t buy fresh veggies.”

Frozen veggies, frozen veggies, frozen veggies!


Kitty June 7, 2011 - 12:32 AM

I shop at a supermarket called Price Rite and it is a Godsend! They are a discount grocery store with great affordable whole foods and packaged foods. People of all sizes and incomes come to the store to buy their food.

I’m glad to say that people on food stamps come to the store and often load up on veggies and fruits along with their not so healthy foods. Some folks still load up on junk, but I don’t see too much of it. I know I go and grab all the great whole foods I can get on a budget there. They go really fast!

So thankfully more quality discount grocery stores (including this chain) are opening up giving low income people (and people who just want to save $$$) the opportunity to buy good food.

I’ve also noticed that these stores are opening up in and near inner city areas. I live between 2 of these types of supermarkets. They get more crowded than a Stop and Shop or a Whole Foods!

Kitty June 7, 2011 - 12:35 AM

I forgot to mention that here in CT certain farmer’s markets now accept food stamps and WIC. So good on CT for helping people afford and have access to healthy food. YAY!

Marion@affectionforfitness June 10, 2011 - 6:20 PM

I keep my food budget low and my veggie/fruits high by shopping different stores for different items. I live in Milwaukee and found a fruit/veg store that sells produce for 3 times as cheap as the more popular supermarket. For example, I’ve gotten 13 peppers of different colors for only $3 for all of them. I go to another store that has milk and cottage cheese for about $1 less for each than the popular supermarket.

Because I shop 3 different stores, I get the very best prices and I’m able to feed my family as many fruits/vegetables as they can handle. Before shopping like this, I used to have to ration the produce.

I would suggest eating more eggs as a protein source for people who are trying to save bucks. Even actresses and athletes eat hard-boiled eggs. I love them with the yolk taken out. They’re yummy, satisfying, good for muscle building, low in calories, and cheap.

🙂 Marion

Dawn February 20, 2012 - 3:20 AM

I didn’t know and love the fact that you can buy seeds with food stamps. That. Is. Awesome.
I have been blessed to never have to use food stamps, but I will be passing that tip along.

I have to agree with the comment about eating better does NOT have to cost more. In fact, since I started eating clean I actually spend WAY less at the grocery store. I splurge on fruits and veggies and cheese from a high end store (sort of like Whole Foods meets the Farmer’s Market.) And I shop at the local Woodsman for everything else.

The crazy thing is, I waited until I had grownup money to do this. I was always under the impression that I couldn’t afford to eat healthy before. I became very obese and with that obesity came health problems and depression.

I finally got my dream job and thought to myself I can now afford to eat in a way that supports the new lifestyle I want to live. Imagine my surprise when I started doing the shopping and found that it was cheaper. More work, yes. But decidedly less expensive. Some of the reason for that is portion sizing seems to happen slightly more automatic for me with healthy food.

My husband always says, a bag of apples costs less per serving than a bag of chips. He is right. Mostly because I used to sit down and eat a bag of chips. 4.00/one serving. But I never sit down and eat a whole bag of apples.

I am rambling now….I guess my point simply is, the myth that eating healthy is expensive is a REALLY dangerous one.

sabina March 26, 2012 - 8:02 PM

this study made me angry. So the skinny shops at whole foods?? no way!! I love that place and I see all types of folks in there. I go to pike place market when I want veggies and the local qfc on Broadway has a great selection of healthy options, and there are farmers like fullcircle.com that will deliver a box of organic certified fruits and veggies to your home CHEAP and delivery is free. I know a ton of people who are by tax dollar definition poor, who grow their own food as well.

Lo June 9, 2012 - 5:56 PM

I remember telling someone i loved shopping at Trader Joe’s…and them telling me its a “white people” store…I tell you…when you say education is an issue in this country….I cannot imagine the many social problems we will solve if people where all educated…and given the easy access to internet…on phones..free public libraries…and etc…am still sometimes very shocked by how uneducated/uninformed some people are about practical things..like nutrition or the name of your vice president or that Africa is not a continent…Good ol america 🙂

Anna September 10, 2012 - 8:20 PM

I kind of have to laugh at some of these comments about it only meaning something if white ppl do it cuz my white mom always complained while I was growing up about how recycling and gardening and the ‘green’ movement was stupid cuz poor people always did stuff like that cuz they had to.

So I think while race is a factor there are poor people everywhere suffering. And elderly of all races.

Erika Nicole Kendall September 11, 2012 - 12:21 PM


Hulagirrrl July 28, 2013 - 6:40 PM

I really enjoy reading your posts, and when I read this particular post this article came to my mind. I like to share it with you if you have not seen it yet.



Erika Nicole Kendall July 29, 2013 - 9:25 AM

I totally wrote that. ROFL!

Hulagirrrl July 30, 2013 - 4:04 AM

My apology for not paying better attention to the author’s name, I should have seen it. Anyway, great writing and your blog as well, I love it. My pet peeve is plastic and how everything is packaged in plastic that contains BPA and other additives like BHA and BHT. Numerous studies suggest that our weight issues could also be “environmental” and I personally believe that some of the weight issues are related to BPA. European research is now conducted to find why the testicle in boys are shrinking and are taking a close look at BPA. So, anyway your blog is touching so many issues and good conversation. Again, my apology for overlooking your name and not making the connection. I look forward to reading more from you. Aloha

Erika Nicole Kendall August 1, 2013 - 4:42 PM

No need for an apology! If anything, this all lets me know that I’m “on message” LOL

Cam December 1, 2014 - 4:42 AM

Hi, I stumbled across this post after reading various articles about Whole Foods. I have to say, I agree with everything in this entire post. I am someone who grew up in a wealthy white family, where eating well, exercising, and having access to wholesome foods was automatic. I never thought about how money played a role in our diets until I watched the documentary “Food Inc” which I imagine you’ve watched haha (its on netflix/youtube if you haven’t). It got me thinking how a bag of potato chips and a soda is cheaper than a head of broccoli. It is depressing. I went to whole foods the other day to do some grocery shopping and I didn’t see a single person in there that wasn’t fit and had money. There also was enough people in minority groups to count on my hand. Everyone should have access to good wholesome foods regardless of income. I have been working with my local farmers market to allow food stamps, which has been a wonderful success, but the stigma that places like Whole Foods and healthy eating are reserved for only the wealthy needs to change. Most of these families that I have seen, didn’t realize that they had access to healthy food at a bargain price at the farmers market. It makes me incredibly happy to see those who didn’t grow up with privilege, still find a way to eat wholesome. I hope you continue to inspire others to do the same and best of luck to you!

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