Gwyneth Paltrow announced last week she would take up the challenge laid down by her friend chef Mario Batali and the NYC Food Bank to live on what families on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) would be allowed to spend in a week: $29. Paltrow wrote on her website Goop:
“We only made it through about four days, when I personally broke and had some chicken and fresh vegetables (and in full transparency, half a bag of black licorice). My perspective has been forever altered by how difficult it was to eat wholesome, nutritious food on that budget, even for just a few days.”
She graded herself a C- on the project, but Internet reaction to her efforts was swift and critical early on. While her selections of beans and rice might make sense to the average shopper, fresh vegetables and herbs like cilantro are unlikely to be staples of cash-strapped families, who may be forced to purchase cheaper bulk items like cereals and canned foods. Maybe the fault wasn’t all Paltrow’s as she was operating on the low-end of the scale of SNAP funding; according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the average benefit per person is about $125 per month (or $31.25/week). But maximum SNAP benefits in 2015 can go up to $194/person (or $48.50/week). A household of three (Paltrow is a single mom with two children) can receive up to $511/month (or $127.75/week). Those are still far from big bucks (we went out to dinner last night and it was $120 a person) but all are higher than $29/week for a single individual. A representative for Food Bank For NYC explained its $29/week amount in a statement:
“Because there are so many variables when it comes to determining SNAP allotment, to determine a total ‘food budget’ for the challenge, Food Bank For New York City took the average monthly benefit per person enrolled in the SNAP program over a six month period.
As we challenge people to live on a SNAP/food stamp budget for one week, this is a way to capture an appropriate number for a broad audience, It is true that SNAP benefits fluctuate based on income, number of children per family, and other factors — but it’s also worth noting that 92 percent of SNAP recipients are either working or aren’t expected to work because they are children, elderly or disabled. Regardless, the challenge has inspired people to think and look at the obstacles SNAP recipients face each day — together, we can work to end hunger.”
In the end, it was a good-hearted (but doomed) effort to eat for a week on so little $$. As Paltrow wrote,
“I know hunger doesn’t always touch us all directly — but it does touch us all indirectly. After this week, I am even more grateful that I am able to provide high-quality food for my kids. Let’s all do what we can to make this a basic human right and not a privilege.”
I agree, but that won’t stop the haters from screaming about this. There ARE worse things in the world than Gwyneth Paltrow calling attention to hunger in America. But as some of you snarkily commented “calling attention” is not enough. Well, then find out where your local food banks are here and donate, if you feel so strongly. Or don’t.