13 Apr Dear Gwyneth: This Is What a Real SNAP Grocery Cart Looks Like #TheReal29Challenge
A few days ago I heard that Gwyneth Paltrow was attempting to live off of a low-income SNAP diet of $29/week and I visibly cringed.
It really has nothing to do with Gwyneth; it actually has more to do with celebrities taking these “poverty challenges” and splashing them all over social media to “raise awareness.”
And then, millions of followers look at those social media posts and say, “Oh wow!” and “Isn’t [insert celebrity name] brave and awesome for raising awareness about poverty in our country?”
And then, guess what happens?
It’s the “Oh WOW’ effect — people with large followings tell their audience something and the audience (probably genuinely) says, “Oh WOW!” and then that’s the end. People have a warm fuzzy feeling because they retweeted or shared these posts on Facebook. Then, they forget about it within a day and it’s helped no one.
But, back to Gwyneth and her $29 grocery store purchase…
Gwyneth Paltrow recently posted this photo on Twitter of what she purchased with $29 (out of an allotted $31) like she was living on SNAP/EBT (“food stamps”).
While what she got looks yummy, it’s just not a realistic take on what a mom of a family of four would be shopping for to feed her family for an entire week. (But it does look like Gwyneth picked out some yummy stuff to make a nice Mexican-themed meal.)
If you’re a family relying on “food stamps,” every single thing you put in your grocery cart will be something that can be stretched across multiple meals for the entire family.
Apples aren’t just snacks, they’re also cut up as fillers for oatmeal.
If you buy a roasted chicken (which are EBT approved in our state), that chicken will be used for multiple meals — chicken one night, the picked off leftover chicken added to a sauce and spooned over egg noodles on another night, and the carcass cooked in some water overnight in the crock pot for a soup on another night, with canned vegetables added later.
Hot dogs will be used as regular hot dogs one night and then cut up to use for a pasta or chili dish on another night.
Even though iceberg lettuce has almost no nutritional value, a mom can get a few nights of salad out of two heads of lettuce for $1.96. And, salad is super filling.
You probably won’t see a SNAP mom buying things like limes or garlic or avocado or jalapeno because, while those may seem like relatively inexpensive items (in the scheme of things), when you have a very limited amount to spend, every single penny counts.
What a Real SNAP Grocery Cart Looks Like
So, after the Gwyneth posting, I decided to shop like a mom who has a been designated $29 to feed her family of four for an entire week. I assumed that my two kids were at school during the day, so that was five days of lunches I didn’t have to worry about for them. (They probably get food assistance for lunch at school.)
For $28.71, this is similar to what a SNAP mom might buy:
It’s not beautiful. It’s not fresh. It’s not name brand stuff. It’s not the best nutritional value. It’s reality.
A SNAP mom tries to shop to fill the hungry bellies for the longest amount of time, while stretching the food until the next check. Sure, I wanted to buy some cheese, but to do that I would’ve had to get rid of the apples. So, you’re back to asking which one will combat more hunger and make a kid feel full longer? And, as we’ve talked about before, sometimes milk is the first to get left out because everyone can drink water — which is free.
On those weeks that you need diapers or feminine hygiene products or medicine, it’s going to put a real strain on the family because none of those things are covered by SNAP.
Those are the things that Gwyneth’s picture doesn’t show you.
What to Do with the “Oh Wow” Effect
So, while it’s nice to “raise awareness” (do we still need to tell everyone that there are hungry people in the U.S.?), we need to go beyond the “Oh WOW!” effect. And, the only way to do that is by doing instead of talking.
This week, go to the grocery store with $29 and shop for a family of four — like it’s your family of four. Understand what it feels like to stress over not being able to buy milk or the sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you have to put back a small pack of hamburger — which means less food for your kids — because you need tampons this week.
Experience how long it takes to put just a few items in your cart on $29 because you are trying to be strategic about every single decision. Can the item be stretched into a few meals? Is it filling? Will it keep my kids from waking up at night crying with hunger pangs? Does it have some nutritional value? Will it help my kid concentrate at school?
Then, after you purchase that $29 worth of stuff, take it to your local food bank or food pantry and donate it. Talk to the employees about what you’re doing and why. Ask them how it really is for families who use their services. Ask what the struggles are for the food bank. Get to know how you can help.
After that, commit to helping hungry families regularly. Volunteer at the food bank. Commit to bringing in groceries to a food pantry each month. Or, find an organization that helps feed hungry families and set up a recurring monthly donation — no matter how big or small.
Those things? Those are #TheReal29Challenge, not a few celebrities living off of $29 for a week and tweeting their followers about it.
UPDATE: The $29 (or $1.38/meal) is actually taken from the NY Food Bank Challenge that Paltrow is participating in. Although they don’t make it clear (neither Paltrow nor the food bank), the amount is actually referring to $29/week PER PERSON in the family. (There is some discrepancy on this number being low for actual SNAP amounts.) However, I wrote the post from the viewpoint of the same challenge that the food bank is asking celebs to take and what people are inferring from this challenge.