This one has been going around for a while, so you may have heard about it. It's that thing where people try to bring awareness to the problem of hunger and food stamps (or SNAP benefits as they are now known) and then write about their experiences. And now, celebrities are joining in, by challenging themselves and one another to live on the amount of money afforded under the program—$29 a week.
Unfortunately, the awareness program seems to have jumped the shark.
With the addition of celebrities, the awareness program seems to have devolved into a sideshow about how little food $29 actually buys. And the latest celeb to jump on the bandwagon (or be invited onto it, more accurately) is Gwyneth Paltrow.
Now I should pause here to clarify; I've let my opinions about she of the GOOP life before, and let's be clear—I'm not so much a fan as I'm not a fan. With her $29, Paltrow's purchases included a single avocado, a bunch of cilantro and a half-dozen limes. Also included were an ear of corn, a single tomato and a small bag of brown rice. A dozen eggs and a small bag of black beans for protein.
At the time I'm writing this, there are over 3.5 million Google hits on the term "Gwyneth Paltrow food stamp challenge," so clearly, the interwebs took notice. And took offense. But in this case, I have to stand up for her.
Stay with me for a second; did she buy enough food to make 21 meals? I think not. But isn't that the whole damn point? I mean, whether she makes the point well or not, or whether she made it purposely—if you are vegetarian or vegan, good freaking luck trying to live on a budget. Want to eat unprocessed foods and not have your diet be a detriment to your health? You better be able to afford it, because it's easy to go over $29 when you're buying food for an entire week.
Fact is, food stamp benefits probably aren't enough to feed a person healthy food in a reasonable manner. Yes, you can get lots of empty calories with your benefit, but healthy, nutritious whole foods? Maybe not. It's even a topic that the SNAP program is investigating (study info here). And that's what I'm taking away from Paltrow's challenge—yeah, it's not food that pretty much anyone in the rest of the free world considers realistic, but that's her diet. She bought food true to what she would eat.
Science and common sense tell us that healthy eating can turn around health problems. But on $29 a week, how easy is it to make good food choices? Even in the best-case scenario, allowing for coupons and sales—a person on SNAP benefits is likely not a person likely able to travel to multiple grocery stores to purchase food and try to get the best deal. Supplemental programs such as the Regional Food Bank are designed to help, providing staples that help to stretch the SNAP benefits through home deliveries, food resource centers and backpack programs for kids.
Hunger is real. According to the website, there are over 46 million people receiving SNAP benefits. Almost half are children (2/3 of those living in single-parent households), 16% disabled and 9% senior citizens. I don't know what the answer is. Raising benefits? Raising minimum wage? Donating and volunteering when you can? Exposure to the cause?
Want to get involved? Learn more about the SNAP Challenge or The Regional Food Bank, just one of so many programs designed to help those who need it.