Could you feed your family of four on $22.26 a day? It’s a reality that over half a million SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) recipients in LA County face when thinking about how to put food on the table, and it’s an issue we wanted to spotlight on the Good Food Stage last week at the Celebrate LA block party in Grand Park, an event that drew an estimated 8,000 attendees.
Studies show time and again that SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is one of the most effective tools used to fight hunger and lift people out of poverty. Over half of food stamp recipients are children, and many food stamp households participate for a few months before getting back on their feet. And the benefits of SNAP extend beyond well-nourished families and into communities: according to the USDA, each SNAP dollar has a multiplier effect and generates $1.84 in economic activity.
This crucial program is facing cuts in current negotiations around this year’s Farm Bill, where the House has proposed reducing the budget allocated to the program by over $20.5 billion, which would amount to one of the biggest cuts to food stamps in a generation. (See below for action alert.)
To stress the value of this important social program and call attention to its uncertain fate in Congress, we invited four local chefs to participate at the Celebrate LA event at Grand Park on June 7, 2013 to demonstrate how to make healthy and affordable meat-free recipes that adhered to a $22.26 food stamps budget (for a family of four). All of their produce was sourced from three sustainable local farms: McGrath Family Farm, Weiser Family Farms, and Pedro’s Avocado Ranch. The event’s emcees, LA Food Policy Council Members Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s Good Food radio show, and Rudy Espinoza, Executive Director of LURN Network, were also on stage engage with the chefs and sometimes when called upon- even lent the chefs a hand!
Our first chef, Roxana Jullapat of Cooks County, highlighted bright summer flavors in her three dishes: an arugula and stone fruit salad, savory pancakes topped with corn and avocado salad, and strawberry cups, topped with pistachios and almonds and served with yogurt and honey. While prepping her ingredients, Roxana noted that buying fruits and vegetables in season is a great budget-friendly strategy: produce is usually cheaper and riper when purchased in season. Evan Kleiman drove the message home by reminding the audience that food stamp recipients can now use their EBT card to shop for locally-grown and fresh produce at most farmers’ markets in LA.
As the sun dipped behind the downtown skyline, Loteria Grill chef and proprietor Jimmy Shaw joined us onstage for a creative Mexican-inspired menu that used a central ingredient throughout his dishes to save time and money. He started off by cooking up a huge pot of black beans, an ingredient he then featured in all of three of his dishes: pureed in his spinach and panela cheese enfrijoladas, refried in his tostadas, and whole in his frijoles de la olla, which was served alongside a plate of huevos a la Mexicana. In total, Jimmy spent as little as $6 for his three hearty meals.
Our third chef, Neal Fraser of BLD, showcased his culinary prowess with an elegant yet simple menu of braised kale and roasted fingerling potatoes served atop a bed of yellow carrot puree. During his demo, Neal explained the importance of food stamps for hungry Americans and urged the audience to support keeping the food stamps budget intact.
Roy Choi of the Kogi BBQ fame, topped off the night by creating a colorful frittata dish with an avocado and fruit salsa. He engaged the audience with his jokes and made everyone feel at-ease with his down-to-earth persona. Along with his recipes, Roy shared his vision for making food accessible for everyone, and especially empathized with the current campaign to legalize street-food vending in Los Angeles. Before a packed crowd (not an empty chair in sight!), Roy ended the night with some shopping tips: don’t shop when hungry, and buy less than you think you need to avoid food waste.
All of the chefs brought their energy and dynamic personalities to the Good Food stage and provided audience members with creative recipes and sensible tips to maximize food dollars by using simple and local ingredients available at most Southern California farmers’ markets. Recipes will be available on the Los Angeles Food Policy Council’s website http://goodfoodla.org. Below is a list of ingredients that each chef used during their demonstrations:
Arugula and stone fruit salad – Stone fruit, arugula, shallot or small red onion, lemon, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper
Savory pancake with corn and avocado salad – All purpose flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, corn, carrots, onion, green garlic, spinach, avocada
Strawberry cups – strawberries, orange, pistachios or almonds, yogurt, honey
Breakfast: Huevos a la Mexicana, Frijoles de la Olla – roma tomatoes, white onion, fresh chile Serrano, eggs, black beans, garlic, epazote, corn tortillas, salt
Lunch: Tostadas: tortillas, mushrooms, Mexican squash or zucchini, tomatillo, cilantro, Iceberg lettuce, table cream
Dinner: Spinach and Panela Cheese Enfrijoladas – Tortillas, spinach, avocado, Panela cheese, white rice
Braised kale, roasted fingerling potatoes, carrot emulsion – kale, carrot, potatoes, green garlic, onions, butter
Frittata and avocado fruit salsa – strawberries, arugula, dandelion, potatoes, garlic, shell peas, avocado, oranges, and lemon
We are so grateful for the opportunity to work with our amazing chefs and emcees. We’d also like to thank Phil McGrath, Alex Weiser, and Pedro’s Avocado Ranch for allowing us to feature their wonderful produce.
There are over 50 LA County Farmers’ Markets that accept EBT/CalFresh. See the full list of participating farmers’ markets here: http://dpss.lacounty.gov/dpss/calfresh/pdf/FarmersMarketsListing.pdf
ACTION ALERT: On Monday, June 19, local organizations, including Hunger Action LA and California Food Policy Advocates are organizing an Emergency Day of Action to sound the alarm against House cuts to SNAP funding. Food stamp supporters will be rallying outside Rep. Henry Waxman’s office and meet with his staff, with a press conference and letter drop to follow. For more information about how you can participate, see here:
Written by Anisha Hingorani, Photos by Rudy Espinoza