Healthy eating… with a dash of social justice

Alumna Leanne Brown was determined to create nutritious and delicious meal options for those on government assistance

Justin Bell - 9 July 2015

It started as a small idea: how can people on a limited budget ensure they are eating both nutritious and tasty food?

Leanne Brown ('07 BA, Religious Studies/Classics) needed an idea for her thesis project at New York University. An interest in social justice drew her to the Food Studies program, and would guide her thesis project. Brown came up with the idea of developing a cost-effective cookbook, showing people living on government assistance how they can eat healthy food that's nutritious, cost-effective and still good to eat.

The result was Good and Cheap, a cookbook devoted to eating on $4 per day, which is the generally accepted rule of thumb for the United States' Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps in the U.S.

"My approach was always not just how to get the maximum amount of food for cheap as possible, which has been what quite a lot of guides out there try to do," said Brown. "The food has to be satisfying. Emotionally satisfying and satisfying to your palette."

What she didn't expect was how popular Good and Cheap was to become. Brown brought the book to various non-profits in New York, but didn't get much attention. So she posted the book online to download for free and suddenly interest took off; after someone posted a link on Reddit, it was downloaded 50,000 times in one night, breaking Brown's website.

"People started to write me and tell me they appreciated it, and it was something they wanted to see more of. The first step was just putting it out there," said Brown.

The next step was to publish the book. When she couldn't find a publisher, she decided to do it herself with the help of crowdfunding, asking for $10,000 on Kickstarter for the first printing. Orders quickly skyrocketed and she finished the project with $144,000.

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Brown developed an interest in social justice during her time at the University of Alberta.

"I studied religion and classics partially because I could never choose my favourite of the liberal arts," she said. "Studying religion was a way of studying the organizing principles of society. Religion is a reflection of what the values of society are."

After graduating, she became involved in now-mayor Don Iveson's first city council campaign, and went to work with him at City Hall. It was there that she became interested in food policy and knew she wanted to pursue that in some way.

"I never wanted to be a chef. When I left to pursue other things, I wanted to do something in the world of food policy."

That interest led her to the Food Studies graduate program at NYU, and to Good and Cheap.

With the success of the first edition, Brown was able to line up a publisher for a new printing, this time including 40 new recipes. She is working with Workman Publishing, making the book available to a wider audience in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

On top of preparing for the second edition of Good and Cheap and the accompanying book tour, Brown is also working on a cookbook featuring Edmonton restaurants, called Edmonton Cooks. The book features recipes from well-known restaurants in the capital city. Edmonton Cooks is expected to hit retailers in September 2016.

Good and Cheap will be available July 14 at bookstores and online. You can also download a free copy through Brown's website at