On Monday, Newark Mayor Cory Booker began a one-week food-stamp challenge that required him to live for the week on a food budget equal to that of a New Jersey resident of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The challenge stems from a Twitter exchange in which a follower argued with the mayor that nutrition is not the responsibility of the government. As a result, Mayor Booker challenged himself and the follower to live on a SNAP-equivalent budget for one week to document the experience, raise awareness of food insecurity issues and elevate food policy discussions.
Eating healthy is hard on any budget. We all know we need to do it, but so many factors impact our ability to eat well. Finances, stress, time, willpower and a host of other factors play a role in determining what we put in our mouths. But when you are on $30 per week budget, the challenge seems impossible. The average consumer has difficulty understanding what is healthy. Food labels are confusing. In fact, according to a recent study by the International Food Information Council, almost half of Americans think it is easier to do their own taxes than to figure out how to eat healthfully.
And many perceive that healthy eating is costly. A survey conducted for Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters in 2011 shows that even though 85% of respondents say that eating healthy dinners is important to their families, one-quarter of families skip healthy purchases because they feel they cannot afford them.
But healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive. Dr. Mehmet Oz recently argued in Time that we have many often-overlooked, affordable options in our supermarkets, such as frozen vegetables, canned salmon and tuna and peanut butter. Mayor Booker must have taken note. He bought several canned products and a few bags of frozen vegetables for the week.
But the mayor has already acknowledged that he made some mistakes. If he were to do it over again, he would have clipped coupons. But the challenge is that many of the coupons available are for unhealthy food. So what do you do – clip coupons for unhealthy food or pay full price for healthy options? There are better options. A new website called Everyday Healthy Values aggregates coupons for healthier product options. A collaboration between Coupons.com and Cigna, the health insurer, the site offers coupons for products that meet minimum nutritional guidelines aligned to federal standards for reducing fat, sodium and sugar levels.
We have become a culture of food snobs, focusing on labels such as organic and all-natural. But the reality is that our food supply provides healthy options for many budgets. If we can figure out how to purchase and cook healthier versions of the foods we love, we can make huge strides in the health and wellness of this nation. Everyday Healthy Values and Mayor Booker are both helping us all take that first step.