Food stamps aren’t a game to be played

Percentage of the population by state that relies on food stamps in 2013. (Tribune News Service)
Percentage of the population by state that relies on food stamps in 2013. (Tribune News Service)
TNS
Percentage of the population by state that relies on food stamps in 2013. (Tribune News Service)
Percentage of the population by state that relies on food stamps in 2013. (Tribune News Service)

The minimum meal plan for first-year DePaul students living in residence halls costs $1,175 per quarter. That’s roughly $98 per week, or $13 per day. This is over three times as much as low-income Americans using solely food stamps to pay for food: they’re given only $29 per week. This is a little more than one dollar per meal,  less than most of us spend on a snack.

A seemingly constant effort to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) budget has made many Americans question whether the amount these low-income Americans are given is enough.

This controversy initiated the Food Stamp Challenge. Largely directed at politicians and celebrities, the Food Stamp Challenge dares Americans who are fiscally comfortable to try and eat on a Food Stamp budget for one week.

Mario Batali, praised chef and star of the ABC TV show “The Chew,” took on the challenge “to raise awareness about potential cuts to the food stamp program, which helps feed 46 million Americans,” according to ABC News.

Even for such a successful chef, Batali found that the challenge was no piece of cake.

“I created a menu that I thought would make it, and then we looked at the coupons and the Dollar Store,” he said. “And I thought the chicken was (going to be) $6 but it was $14.” So he had to “roll with it” and buy a different protein that day, saving chicken for later.

Batali’s thoughtful planning led to a generally successful Food Stamp Challenge, raising awareness and arguing how difficult it can be to get by on such a tight budget.

Gwyneth Paltrow, on the other hand, infamously demonstrated her inability to work with such a low budget. The Academy Award-winning actress is considered a “foodie” on social media, advocating for healthy eating habits.

Upon accepting the challenge, Paltrow didn’t shop as carefully as Batali had. According to the Chicago Tribune, she bought some “smart choices like eggs, rice and black beans;” however, she also purchased luxury items like “an avocado and romaine lettuce.” She also bought limes, and nobody’s sure why.

Not surprisingly, Paltrow didn’t complete the challenge. A CNBC article reported that she “personally broke” just four days into the challenge, eating “some chicken and fresh vegetables” and “half a bag of black licorice.”

Paltrow added “she would give herself a ‘C-’ for her effort.”

It appears Paltrow has missed the point entirely. The Chicago Tribune commented that the Food Stamp Challenge “shouldn’t ask famous people to buy kale and quinoa with only a few bucks; the challenge should show SNAP recipients how to eat on a                limited budget.”

It’s crucial that the Food Stamp Challenge isn’t seen as a game. Maybe Gwyneth Paltrow had fun spending $29 at Whole Foods and giving up halfway through, but Americans living on the poverty line aren’t allowed to “break” and eat chicken and licorice. And there’s still a big fight to lower the amount of money they’re given.

It’s time that we stop playing games with poverty in America. 46 million people rely on food stamps for their basic nutrition, and $4 every day isn’t nearly enough.

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