Although our country is technically “out” of the recession, many Americans have found themselves jobless for long periods of time, requiring food stamps to help meet their dietary needs. Increased attention has fallen upon on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)—formerly known as food stamps—as a record 46 million Americans find themselves using the program. A number this high has political ramifications, as highlighted during the Republican primary when presidential candidate Newt Gingrich referred to Barack Obama as the “food stamp president,” which seemed to disparage millions of voters on food assistance. 

“This backlash is perception-oriented,” Shawn DeCarlo, Metro Services Manager for the Oregon Food Bank, explains. “There are news stories of millionaires receiving unemployment, so people call for means testing [recipients before they] receive public assistance—passing a drug test, can’t own a mobile phone or a laptop. These efforts target the ‘most visible’ low-income people who make poor financial decisions, yet ignore the home-bound kids or the shut-in elderly suffering from hunger.” 

In 2010, there was a monthly average of 137,000 SNAP users, or 68 percent of low-income residents that are eligible for food assistance, in Multnomah County, according to the Oregon Food Bank.

Husband-and-wife, filmmaking duo Yoav and Shira Potash decided to explore the challenges that many Portlanders face while producing their new documentary Food Stamped, which screens on Monday, Feb. 20 at the Bagdad Theater.

“I was teaching low-income elementary school kids how to cook,” explains Shira Potash, a Bay-area nutritionist. “I realized: ‘How can they afford this?’ Members of Congress were taking the ‘food stamp challenge’ and so Yoav and I decided to try it and see whether we could afford healthy meals on food stamps.”

Yoav Potash is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and what was intended to be a 20-minute YouTube video became something much more. Yoav Potash says, “People asked, ‘What about school food?’ ‘What about organizations working on this issue?’ ‘What about people who rely solely on food stamps to survive?’” The production of the film included some new experiences for the couple. “We even dumpster dove,” Yoav Potash reflects. “But we are only pretending to be on SNAP—if this was real, we’d probably have a kid waiting in the car while we dumpster dove.” 

Watch the official trailer for Food Stamped:

FOOD STAMPED official trailer from Yoav Potash on Vimeo.

Featured speaker Congressman Earl Blumenauer will introduce the film, and although he represents a largely urban district, Blumenauer has taken a leading role in Farm Bill reform, recently releasing “Growing Opportunities: Family Farm Values for Reforming the Farm Bill.”

Blumenauer explained in an email: “As someone who has been advocating for Farm Bill reform for nearly a decade, I am pleased to introduce Food Stamped. This award-winning film about the difficulties of getting good nutrition on a food stamp budget calls much-needed attention to damaging federal policies that emphasize the production of commodities over American families’ nutritional needs.”

Despite the high number of Americans relying on this program, funding for SNAP may be cut in the next Farm Bill. Yoav Potash hopes his film will “make ordinary people think about SNAP differently.”

To see if they succeed, come watch Food Stamped and find out if it’s possible to eat healthy on a food stamp budget.

Food Stamped, Feb. 20, 7 p.m., Bagdad Theater, 3702 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503.249.7474 ext. 1, free admission with donation to the Oregon Food Bank, all ages. 

Do you think it's possible to eat healthy on a food stamp budget?