Panera Bread founder and CEO Ron Shaich decided that he would live life on the hunger edge and participate in the Hunger Action Month Food Stamp Challenge.  Shaich is eating on $4.50 a day, the average daily benefit per person provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Several lawmakers and random rich people, like Shaich, have embraced the SNAP challenge as a way to demonstrate the difficulty of living with food insecurity.

Food insecurity is the a phrase for “being poor and not being able to buy food”. See how much better “food insecurity” sounds?

Food insecurity is a crisis that will only get worse because of impending cuts to the SNAP program. The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act would reduce SNAP funding by $40 billion over the next decade. In a memo distributed to House Republicans,  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va said the bill “restores the intent of the bipartisan welfare reforms adopted in 1996 by ensuring that work requirements for able-bodied adults without children are enforced—not waived—and eliminates loopholes exploited over the last few years to avoid the program’s income and asset tests.” If these cuts go through about 4 million people will lose full SNAP eligibility.

Living off of $4.50 a day hasn’t been easy for Shaich on his blog he noted:

“[W]hat began as mild sense of uneasiness ahead of the shopping trip, graduated to outright worry once I began shopping,” he wrote. “After just a few minutes walking the aisles of the store, the concern set in that I may not be able to sustain myself for the next seven days. Thirty one dollars and fifty cents, the weekly budget, didn’t feel so insignificant until I actually started filling – and editing – what was ultimately a barren shopping cart.”

But here’s the thing about these SNAP Challenges. Trying something out for a week, is just that. A tryout. People on SNAP benefits have more than food to worry about. Although SNAP benefits are only meant to be supplemental, there are families with only that as their source of food.  Try not having health insurance, piled up bills, disconnect notices, unemployment, sick kids and stress.   Trying eating off of $4.50 a day without electricity or a gas stove. Trivializing a crisis is all good when you can go back to your multi-million dollar salary and eat.

“I don’t mean to trivialize anyone else’s experience or claim mine as an authentic representation of what food insecurity looks like,” Shaich wrote. “Rather, my hope is to inspire other leaders – in business, government and the nonprofit world – to take on the challenge of food insecurity as their own. In the process, I also hope to inspire myself to continue to innovate and find new solutions to the problem of hunger.”

Panera has tackled issues of food insecurity in the past, most notably when it offered a “pay what you want” option at its St. Louis-area locations. At the time, Shaich said he hoped that the experiment would help customers who “say they only have three bucks in their pocket.”

But is it really interesting see someone who makes $3 million a year attempt to live like one of the millions of people on government benefits, some who probably work at Panera?

Maybe a “go broke and lose everything” challenge is more apropos.

Find me the CEO who wants to move out of his mansion, give up his ATM and credit cards, no fancy clothes and no car. Then have that CEO try to find a job at Wal-Mart or maybe Panera Bread. Next up, find housing. If you’re lucky maybe rent a room or attempt to get housing assistance.  Now, try paying bills every month with that Wal-Mart or Panera Bread job, that may just offer you health insurance. But god forbid you actually get sick and need to see a doctor. Then try shopping for food on SNAP benefits. Do this for a year and get back to me.


Could you live survive on $4.50 a day?



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