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‘Food Stamps Cookbook’ empowers food justice

In an intimate celebration yet with roaring support, Rachel Bolden-Kramer celebrated the launch of her new book in downtown San Francisco Thursday night.  

Hosted by Umpqua Bank as part of its “Local Spotlight” — an initiative to showcase and raise awareness for local organizations or businesses in the community — the celebration morphed into a show of support and empowerment.

Rachel Bolden-Kramer, the author of “My Food Stamps Cookbook,” speaks to readers during the Local Spotlight Party held by Umpqua Bank in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, October 18, 2018. Ching Wong/SFBay

In the spotlight, Bolden-Kramer’s book, “My Food Stamps Cookbook: EBT-Priced Radical Nutrition,” explains how to have a nutritious diet on a limited income.

Bolden-Kramer told SFBay in an interview:

The longer a person receives food stamps, the worse their health outcome. So on a trajectory of time and food stamps, you’re declining. So, I wanted to say — ‘no, that doesn’t have to be like that. ‘Let’s interrupt that, let’s say that this is not true. I was on food stamps and it healed my life.’”

To many, Bolden-Kramer is also known as the “food justice warrior.” Her motto:

“Poverty doesn’t have to kill you!”

Jewel Buchanan-Boone, a doula, speaks with SFBay during the Local Spotlight Party held by Umpqua Bank in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, October 18, 2018. Ching Wong/SFBay

Jewel Buchanan-Boone, a doula and friend of Bolden-Kramer, also attended the event. She told SFBay:

“This event is absolutely amazing and so vital and necessary, especially in places like San Francisco, where on the daily, on the hourly, people of color, in particular, are displaced from housing or are having great deals of food insecurity.”

Buchanan-Boone applauded Bolden-Kramer for her resilience and “breaking through so many barriers”:  

“Food assistance and EBT is [loaded] in stigma, which I don’t understand — people need to eat, people are being fed, but there is a great deal of shame when people, especially in the lense of capitalism, have to ask for help. And so when she’s is breaking through multiple barriers — yes, it’s okay to be a woman of color and a single parent and on assistance and also eating well.”

Bolden-Kramer first used food stamps in her later years at Harvard University and upon graduation. She suffered from what she described as a personal injury and suffered PTSD. In her book, she writes that she had to rely on her “studies in yoga, mindfulness and nutritional healing,” to heal.

During that time, she had to rely on disability and food stamps. Yet, she was still able to eat the most nutritious foods possible. She also learned how to navigate the welfare system and “referenced her strategies for survival at the margins in her workshops on radical healing commissioned by the New York City Housing Authority.”

There, she taught residents to be “sort of” health coaches themselves for the community; she brought them recipes, presented demos and did yoga with them. This also reaffirmed to her that she needed to compile all of her information and lessons.  

When Bolden-Kramer originally toyed with the idea of a food justice book, she shopped the idea to a few literary agents. One of them, she said, told her that although her idea is good, “people on food stamps don’t buy books” and thus she had no market.

In May of last year, she was able to raise $27,000 on Kickstarter to publish her book. She said:

“Making different policies and the policies around food … there are some voices that are left out of that conversation. And so, what my food stamps cookbook does is … it imagines what would it be like if our voices, marginalized voices, actually had an opportunity to shape the conversation about climate justice and food justice because that’s all linked to our food system.”

Mark Hilton-Plummer, a Umpqua Bank client, nominated Bolden-Kramer for the banks’s “Local Spotlight.”

Hilton-Plummer told SFBay:

“How we manage our hunger, mentally, physically, spiritually, is part of a conversation that can really unify the community, the world. And I think that Rachel’s book is full of a lot of love and wisdom and that is the primary reason why I nominated her for the local spotlight. She was doing the work of the book before the book was published, and she will definitely continue to do so.”  

Hilton-Plummer continued:

“We all know that the demographics of San Francisco has changed. It’s only [about five] percent African Americans, and so it is very important that those of us who are still here, who are committed to living in the Bay Area and serving in the Bay Area have the opportunity to be in the spotlight for the work we do.”  

For the remainder of the night, people sipped wine, ate food and listened to music.

Bolden-Kramer said:  

“I want people to use the book to engage in their local food economy and eat really good stuff and be happy and healthy and powerful. Let’s use food stamps as a scholarship for healing.”

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