Gwyneth Paltrow is usually annoying in her lack of reality for normal people, particularly the prices of things on her GOOP site. However, she deserves kudos for doing something few people have done – Gwyneth Paltrow got people talking about the difficulty someone who must live on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program(SNAP or, formerly, food stamps) faces trying to buy nutritious food for less than $29 each and every week. The actress may have failed in her attempt to make $29 in groceries last, but she has others thinking about the issue.
Last week, Paltrow accepted a challenge from her friend chef Mario Batali to try to life on the SNAP food budget. She then proudly posted her subsequent grocery purchase, which totaled less than $25. Not surprisingly, the multimillionaire Oscar winner received considerable criticism for what people called a stunt, and that was before she gave up four days in.
She readily acknowledges that she has the ability and money to not have to worry about her grocery bills. However, for people trying to live on minimum wage or less, for those on unemployment or trying to exist on Social Security, and others fiscally challenged to stretch every dollar at the supermarket, worry about grocery bills is a constant struggle. As Paltrow noted on GOOP, finding out how difficult it was to eat nutritious, wholesome food on the SNAP budget, even for a short time—a challenge that 47 million Americans face every day—altered her perspective forever.
One thing that was not clear was if her groceries were solely for herself. In her personal write up online, Paltrow said , “We only made it through about four days.” Still Paltrow deserves some credit (kudos) for drawing attention to the difficulty of adequate nutrition on a SNAP or food stamp budget.
Her choice of groceries was pretty limited and noticeably healthier than many people eat. (Paltrow bought a carton of eggs, lettuce, frozen green peas, black beans, tortillas, brown rice, one ear of corn, fresh cilantro, limes, yellow and green onions, an avocado, some kale, a tomato, garlic, a hot pepper and a sweet potato.) There was a lot of fresh produce; there was no meat or dairy, or things people use worldwide to stretch their food budget like white rice, pasta, couscous or other grains. She also shopped at either Vons or Safeway, according to the packaging, and it is not clear if she judiciously chose things on sale or lower priced options (versus a bigger size to last longer). To her credit, there was no junk food, but it seems unlikely someone struggling to get by would get fresh cilantro or buy the limes.
While it is still difficult to make ends meet and consistently purchase nutritional food, it should be noted that the $29 amount is the typical weekly amount ($4.50 per day) for one person on the program; Paltrow and her two children would probably receive at least three times that. According to the Washington Post, a family of four can receive up to $668 a month for food (almost $42 per person per week).
As Paltrow notes, the federal government reports that SNAP recipients are now about 47 million. That reportedly represents an almost 70 percent jump since 2008.
People no longer receive paper stamps to buy their food (hence the name change). Instead, those on SNAP receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which is essentially a debit card that is refilled monthly. Restaurants and stores that accept the cards (notice all the fast food places with “we accept EBT” signs) must sell “nutritional” foods (again, notice the fast food!). Additionally, the cards cannot be used for any liquor or tobacco; soft drinks are fine.
Another misconception is that the program is intended to be the sole food money source. It was intended to augment the family food budget. The Washington Post reports that only 20 percent of program participants have no other income. Households with kids collect more than 70 percent of the SNAP money currently.
The SNAP Challenge, which others have undertaken too, may seem like a publicity stunt. The actress has often seemed clueless about how people without millions live. But, ultimately, if the actress was looking to spark a debate about SNAP, she succeeded. Gwyneth Paltrow deserves kudos for pointing out the difficulty of living on and getting good nutrition on the food stamp/SNAP program for someone who has a choice. As she noted, “After this week, I am even more grateful that I am able to provide high-quality food for my kids.” Others should be grateful that more people in the U.S. are now paying attention to the issue.
By Dyanne Weiss