I’ll just start with this: I am not Gwyneth Paltrow’s biggest fan – Don’t love her, don’t hate her, don’t read her blog. But she was recently challenged by Mario Batali to participate in the Food Bank New York Challenge to walk a week in someone else’s shoes and only eat $29 worth of groceries in a week, an estimate of what people on food stamps (now it’s called SNAP) live on in a week. Below is her photo of what she bought:
The photo now has hundreds of comments and thousands of shares. Many of which are negative. And, surprise, surprise, I have a few things to say about it:
1. A Poor Vacation
Articles have been written about her taking a “poor vacation” and slamming her for insulting the poor by choosing to live on a $29 grocery budget for just a week when poor people don’t have a choice. Why can’t we praise her (or ANYONE participating in this challenge) for attempting to bring awareness to a pressing worldwide issue? She literally can’t win – if she ignored the Challenge, she’s a terrible person who doesn’t care. She does the Challenge, and now she’s insulting the poor by making the choice. Maybe her week of $29 living will make her a better person. And is she not using her celebrity status for good by making a donation and encouraging others to do so? We tell children all the time to “put themselves in someone else’s shoes” and yet when someone chooses to, it’s an insult because it’s a “poverty vacation.” So instead she should forego this experience and pretend hunger doesn’t exist because it doesn’t exist to her?
2. Only $29
Are there people that get more than $29 in SNAP assistance a week? Of course there is. Are there people that only get $29 or less a week? Of course there is. It’s determined by state and the margins are wide in this area. I fail to see the problem in her attempting to replicate the weekly food budget on the lower end of the spectrum. It exists. *It should also be noted Gwyneth Paltrow didn’t choose that figure – the Food Bank New York City Challenge did because Congress has cut food stamp budgets twice since 2013 and food pantry and soup kitchen traffic immediately increased.
3. Food Choices
The comments advise her to “buy Ramen noodles” and “don’t buy so many limes.” Who cares if she bought food that is fresh or nutritious? That’s how she actually eats and we fault her for not buying additive-laden snack foods because that’s not realistic to how a poor person might spend their money? The point being most cheap food is junk food. The irony should not be lost on us that there is BOTH a hunger problem AND an obesity problem in America. I have no idea why she likes kale. I have no idea why she needs seven limes. Maybe her child won’t drink water without lime in it and she wants him to stay hydrated. Who. Cares. The bottom line: She went grocery shopping and only spent $29. She bought things she likes and eats. Of course Ramen Noodles are cheaper. So now we’re mad that a person that has never had to eat like a poor person doesn’t know how to eat like a poor person?
4. Get a job!
The overwhelming sentiment in the comments section of this photo is that most people on welfare or food assistance are lazy or taking advantage of the system so this Challenge is worthless. The people milking the system? They’re outliers. You hear about them because the story is there. The media isn’t going to report on the 97.33% (that’s a real number – fraud was only found in 2.67% of welfare recipients in a three year study of numbers, on average) of welfare recipients who are just trying to get by and feed their children. You’re not going to see a meme or read an inflammatory forward about a mom that works two jobs and needs the extra assistance to put food on the table for her three children. And this thought, that welfare recipients are living it up on lobster and champagne is pervasive (and yet, no proof) and results in a punishment of those in need. In general, I am all for welfare reform to continue to tweak the system so those who abuse it can no longer do so. I am specifically bothered by unnecessarily making it harder for a child to be a child. For example, Kansas has drafted up a new bill prohibiting welfare recipients from using their EBT cards on movie theaters or swimming pools, as well as limiting them to $25 a day withdrawals. If this isn’t an example of rich people not understanding what it’s like to be poor, I don’t know what is. How should they pay for their child’s field trip if they already used the $25 from that day for the electric bill? And get hit with a mandatory $1 transaction fee every withdrawal, in addition to any additional ATM fees? A huge inconvenience and takes money out of their pockets. Why are they making it harder to be poor? It’s already hard. And children shouldn’t get to enjoy the rare luxury of swimming in a pool or seeing a movie? They’ve been punished enough – they’re POOR. And trust me, they know.
5. Something to Chew On
- 805 million people on this planet combat hunger every single day.
- In 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households.
- 2.6 million children die of hunger-related causes every year.
Facts: www.worldhunger.org and www.feedingamerica.org
Learn more about the Food Bank New York City Challenge. I’ll be making a donation to our local food pantry this week, and I challenge you all to do so as well.
Is walking in someone else’s shoes not an excellent tool for awareness? Is deepening your understanding of millions of your fellow humans’ plight ever a bad thing? Knowledge is power.
I, for one, applaud her reality check.*
What do you think about the Food Bank Challenge? How would you spend your $29?
*But I still wouldn’t buy 7 limes.