Hunger Gets the Spotlight

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It may not be the most controversial tweet this year, but for Americans affected by food insecurity, this one from celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow is raising some eyebrows.  In order to raise awareness for the #foodbankNYCchallenge, Paltrow attempted to purchase a week’s worth of food for $29, the amount provided by  SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to low-income individuals.

Here’s the image she tweeted to show how she spent the meager sum:

Ms. Paltrow is catching a LOT of flack for what folks are calling an unrealistic and out-of-touch approach to this challenge, and there’s no denying it would be really difficult to eat for a week on that amount of food…but isn’t that the point?

Maybe the purchase of 7 limes is a bit whimsical, but what is mostly apparent here is that she was attempting to buy nutritious food, and $29 doesn’t buy a whole lot of that. While kale and the other selections are vitamin rich, this would leave a major calorie deficit in a week. For most of us, that looks like ONE healthy, vegetarian dinner for a small family. And THAT, folks, is exactly what we need to know about food insecurity.

Whether the statement was intentional or not, this post has triggered a meaningful discussion about the choices that more than 1 in 7 Americans face on a daily basis: Nutrition, or sustenance? Eat cheap, or eat “healthy” and go to bed hungry? Fresh fruits and veggies and healthy sources of protein are expensive, and a wealth of nutritional knowledge doesn’t take twenty-nine bucks any further.

Anyone who has tried to stretch a dollar this far is bound to notice the absence of a few high-calorie staples, like peanut butter, potatoes, and bread. Ask most people receiving SNAP benefits, and they’ll tell you that peanut-butter sandwiches are a go-to hunger fix, and potatoes are filling and cheap. Ramen, the much-maligned but ubiquitous “meal” is less than a dollar per serving. Kale may be a nutritional superstar, but with almost no calories and a jaw-dropping price tag, it’s just not a realistic purchase.

Why wouldn’t a multimillionaire be out of touch with the reality of this type of budget? There may be some actors who starved their way through paying their Hollywood dues, but this naive mindset affects far more people than the top 1% of earners, inside or outside of the entertainment industry, and one thing is for sure: it’s got America talking.

SNAP is, by definition, only intended to be supplemental, but for many, it is the only resource available for purchasing food. Local food banks and food pantries bridge the gap for many Americans, but the same cost issues that affect the public hit the non-profit industry too. Cheap, shelf-stable foods are easier to get, to keep, and to give away. Many non-profits are working to find innovative ways to distribute healthier, fresher foods to look a little more like the picture Gwyneth posted, without abandoning the real needs and important staples, and maybe this moment in social media will shed light on our plight.

We don’t have to be good at doing good. If we learn anything from this, let it be that we can be “out-of-touch”, “naive” or privileged, and STILL make a difference. Let’s hope this conversation enables those of us with the real solutions to reach more people in our communities in need.

There are many ways you can help. One is to give. If you’d like to do that, you can click that donate button in the top corner, or find a food pantry in your community that is making a local impact.  In the meantime, maybe we should thank a certain movie star for sharing a bit of her spotlight with this cause.

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