Would you take the Food Stamp Challenge?

This week, actress Gwyneth Paltrow joined a growing list of celebrities by accepting the “Food Stamp Challenge”. The challenge involves living for a week on food purchased through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP gives low-income individuals approximately $43/week to spend at authorized retailers. As of 2014, the program benefits over 46 million Americans.

Just a few days into the challenge, Paltrow has already sparked controversy. Many have noted that the actress (worth $280 million) can soon return to her ultra-rich lifestyle. Hence, she “cannot come close to the struggles encountered by low-income families week after week and month after month”. Some have even called the challenge “foul” for treating hunger like a short-term game or experiment.

Paltrow’s choice of food has also garnered criticism. The food (a dozen eggs, black beans, brown rice, corn tortillas, and an array of vegetables) reflects a macrobiotic diet of under 1000 calories/day. This may sustain a wealthy movie star trying to stay slim. However, “busy, working people” (31% of SNAP recipients) “have no choice but to be far more active and thus require far more calories”. Also, many SNAP recipients live in food deserts and lack access to fresh produce. In the words of one twitter user, “[not all] families on SNAP have cars to drive to Whole Foods”.

But perhaps these critics should bite their tongues. As the Food Research and Action Center notes, “many anti-hunger advocates encourage and appreciate famous people getting a taste of the food stamp life”. After all, living on food stamps can give people “a new perspective and greater understanding”. It illustrates the difficulty of subsisting on SNAP and how judgmental others can be about food stamp purchases. This, in turn, may lead to donations, lobbying, or partnerships with food banks.

Moreover, by sharing their experience with fans, celebrities shine a bright light on the problem of hunger. Paltrow’s tweet about her SNAP food purchase, for example, reached 2.12 million followers (and was retweeted 2000 times). It also attracted significant media attention, including from the Washington Post and the New York Daily News.

So now that you know about America’s hunger problem, would you take the Food Stamp Challenge? At the very least, please donate to one of our partner food banks: the Oregon Food Bank, the Vermont Food Bank, the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo County, Operation Sack Lunch, and the Friends of Saint Joseph Food Pantry.