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It was a brief but torrid relationship: Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow and a weekly food budget of just $29. It lasted just four days.
Last week, the Goop curator announced she would take up a challenge laid down by chef Mario Batali and the Food Bank For New York City to live on what families on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) would be allowed to spend in a week: $29.
It was not destined to go the distance, however well-intentioned. "We only made it through about four days, when I personally broke and had some chicken and fresh vegetables (and in full transparency, half a bag of black licorice)," Paltrow wrote on Goop. "My perspective has been forever altered by how difficult it was to eat wholesome, nutritious food on that budget, even for just a few days."
She graded herself a C- on the project, but Internet reaction to her efforts was swift and critical early on. For one thing, after shopping at the store on April 9 and spending a little over $24, she tweeted a photo of her purchases:
While her selections of beans and rice might make sense to the average shopper, fresh vegetables and herbs like cilantro are unlikely to be staples of cash-strapped families, who may be forced to purchase cheaper bulk items like cereals and canned foods.
Then on Wednesday, Jon Favreau posted an Instagram of himself with his "Iron Man" co-star at a $80-a-ticket promotional event for Austin Midnight Dinner that would have broken the budget for anyone truly on food stamps (though perhaps Paltrow did not partake in the food).
But maybe the fault wasn't all Paltrow's. She was operating on the low-end of the scale of SNAP funding; according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the average benefit per person is about $125 per month (or $31.25/week). But maximum SNAP benefits in 2015 can go up to $194/person (or $48.50/week). A household of three (Paltrow is a single mom with two children) can receive up to $511/month (or $127.75/week). Those are still far from grand, luxurious sums, but all are higher than $29/week for a single individual.
A representative for Food Bank For NYC explained its $29/week amount in a statement to TODAY.com.
"Because there are so many variables when it comes to determining SNAP allotment, to determine a total 'food budget' for the challenge, Food Bank For New York City took the average monthly benefit per person enrolled in the SNAP program over a six month period," the statement said.
"As we challenge people to live on a SNAP/food stamp budget for one week, this is a way to capture an appropriate number for a broad audience, It is true that SNAP benefits fluctuate based on income, number of children per family, and other factors — but it’s also worth noting that 92 percent of SNAP recipients are either working or aren’t expected to work because they are children, elderly or disabled. Regardless, the challenge has inspired people to think and look at the obstacles SNAP recipients face each day — together, we can work to end hunger."
In the end, it was a good-hearted effort but not necessarily fully thought through. As Paltrow wrote, "I know hunger doesn’t always touch us all directly — but it does touch us all indirectly. After this week, I am even more grateful that I am able to provide high-quality food for my kids. Let’s all do what we can to make this a basic human right and not a privilege."