12/11/2012 04:22 pm ET Updated Feb 10, 2013

Mayor Cory Booker Shines the Light

Mayor Cory Booker of Newark recently gave himself a food stamp challenge, and he's been speaking out about some of the issues that have arisen for him during this time. As I mentioned in my last blog, "The Food Stamp Diet," I have lived a food stamp challenge each and every day for the past couple of years, and so I have few suggestions that might help Mayor Booker with his struggles.

On day four of his venture, Mayor Booker talks about preparing all his food before his day gets started and stretching meals to make them last longer. In my personal experience of using food stamps, food preparation at the beginning of the day is key. My food stamp diet entailed eliminating all processed food, so much of the way I ate had to change. Now, each day I prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for my son and myself. Initially, preparing all of our meals felt arduous and exhausting. It seemed like I spent the entire day in the kitchen cooking or washing dishes, neither of which I loved doing. However, when I started to see the benefits from something as simple as eating seasonal fruits and vegetables and meats that were free of hormones and antibiotics, the sky opened for me. These days, I really enjoy chopping, dicing, roasting, grilling, and baking our meals. Planning ahead, and making real meals out of real food is so much more gratifying and prudent than just grabbing something from the deli in your office building, or even eating processed food from a supermarket.

Mayor Booker is a vegetarian, which means he will save money because he doesn't purchase meat. In a photo Booker posted of his weekly groceries, there were several cans of Goya beans, a few bags of frozen vegetables and several sweet potatoes. Mistake number one is that he purchased canned beans rather than dried ones. I know the temptation of purchasing canned foods however the sodium and preservatives, over the long term, might have an adverse impact on your health. The best choices for health and saving is to prepare a big pot of beans, which can be cooked in a slow cooker overnight or while working during the day. This would have provided him with more food for less money. Purchasing unprepared food is always more cost effective than purchasing canned, frozen, or prepared meals. Why? Fresh foods don't require that you pay for food packaging and processing. This is also true for the frozen vegetables that Mr. Booker added to his weekly food allowance. Though frozen vegetables are convenient, fresh veggies have been handled and processed less.

Near the end of Mayor Booker's short video, he speaks of having headaches from caffeine withdrawal. If he is at all concerned about his addiction, he may want to wean himself off of caffeine slowly. I'm grateful to say that coffee was never my thing -- sugar was my addiction, and I dropped it cold turkey. It took about six months before I was able to experience long periods of freedom from sugar cravings. They're completely gone now, and I have replaced ice cream and cookies with natural fruit in my two years off of processed sugars. Truly, a couple of dates dunked in almond butter are more scrumptious than any processed sugary snack I have ever had.

I know that Mayor Booker did not take on his challenge in order to adopt my version of the food stamp diet. As a food stamp recipient and a concerned American, I am, however, extremely grateful to him for his efforts to shine light on poverty and how difficult life can be for those on assistance. And I'm grateful, on a personal note, that his light has encouraged me to step further and further out of the shadow of shame to share about my food stamp experience. The more we openly speak about the high cost of unhealthy food and how it particularly effects the poor, the more likely it is that our government, and each one of us individually, will do something about it.