Berkeley Couple Takes on Food Stamp Challenge



For one week, Yoav and Shira Potash spent no more than a dollar per meal. And their meals were all whole-grain, seasonal, and organic.

The Berkeley couple completed what is known as the food stamp challenge: Eat meals that cost a dollar or less for an entire seven-day period. Shira, a certified nutrition educator who teaches in Hayward, brought the idea to her husband after she first learned of the challenge at a nutrition conference. She had seen local Congresswoman Barbara Lee take on a similar low-budget diet plan for a week. Shira, however, wanted to add her own twist. Instead of the ramen noodles, large jars of peanut butter, and white bread that typically make up a dollar meal, she wanted to eat with the high health standards she preaches to her primarily low-income students.

So Yoav and Shira spent a week eating as cheaply and as healthily as possible - which meant a lot of lentils, and sometimes a can of tuna. They also stormed Andronico's and Berkeley Bowl for some free - and, of course, organic - samples. The couple even went Dumpster diving for a loaf of whole wheat bread.

They completed their challenge in 2008, and since then have been shooting and editing a film about their experience, called Food Stamped, which will screen this Sunday at the JCC East Bay Theater.

Both agreed that the most difficult and surprising part of the whole experience was the amount of time and planning they had to devote to the week. "Everything had to be planned out," said Shira. "We couldn't have our normal social life. It was like taking a week out of our lives."

"We worked our butts off," Yoav added. "We did a good job." Part of the film includes a trip to a registered dietician for a kind of report card assessment, which concluded that their meals were in fact balanced and that they certainly made the most of their dollar, though the dietician also determined that both of them were not getting quite enough calories on the whole. Their diet - which pretty much cut out all meat options and mostly consisted of protein from dried beans - also lacked Vitamin D.

Yoav, a filmmaker, said he was at first skeptical to take on the challenge. "I was like, food stamp what?" He said it sounded to him more like the south central diet. But after Shira roped him into filming the whole experience, he dived in alongside his wife, and as Shira said, it was a really nice way to meld their two careers together.

They both agreed that they learned a lot from it. "It really gave me the idea of how difficult it is to eat on a budget," Shira said, adding that she is now more cost-conscious at the grocery store.

Yoav said that the film also includes some of their larger political beliefs. "It is really hard to eat healthy. And our current government policies subsidize a system that relies on cheap and junky starches," he said. "That's how McDonalds can offer a Big Mac for a buck."

Food Stamped screens on Sunday, June 28, 7:00 pm at the JCC East Bay Theater. Tickets: $10.