Social media has been buzzing recently with opinions on Gwenyth Paltrow’s publicized commitment to the Food Stamp Challenge. She claimed that she chose to participate in this Food Bank for New York City Challenge of living off of $29 for a week in order to raise awareness about how difficult it is for people to live off of the support given to them by the government’s financial assistance. Apparently, this was done at the suggestion of her celebrity chef. Food Bank for New York City’s challenge comes as a result of Congress’s plan to slash Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for the third time.
Paltrow posted a picture on Facebook of what she bought at the supermarket for $29 with the caption: “This is what $29 gets you at the grocery store — and this is what families who rely on SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) have to live on for a week. We’re going to walk in their shoes and see how far we get…”
What was pictured? A dozen eggs, green vegetables, limes, tortillas, brown rice, an avocado…
Social media has gone nuts with negative opinions that have generally centered around these two main points:
- Paltrow’s decision does not truly put her in the position of what it must feel like to live off of food stamps because she is rich and has the luxury of returning to her extensive budget after a week. In other words, how can she experience what it is like to live on this budget if the experiment is devoid of the emotional weight of knowing that this will be an on-going life stressor that she cannot easily escape from after one week?
- If she were truly poor and living on $29 per week, she would likely make very different choices at the supermarket. People living off of food stamps would not typically buy seven limes and brown rice, for instance. They would choose food that would stretch and be hearty—though not necessarily being nutritious—because these ultra-nutritious foods would be considered a luxury for most poor families.
While these points are valid, and while there are many other valid points that support the idea that this was not one of Paltrow’s wisest moves, I think it is important to consider the possibility that she may have been coming from a genuine, well-intentioned place when she made the choice to join in on this challenge.
True, Paltrow could have supported this cause by donating money or using her celebrity clout to open doors for the cause through more traditional, yet effective methods. And she could have, before making this move, done a better job of speaking with her publicist and some of the other “wise and intuitive” resources she hopefully has in her life. She would have been wise to consider that her decision to get involved in this challenge could possibly send an insulting message to individuals who are actually forced to collect government support and who do not have millions of dollars to fall back on. There are an infinite number of “should haves” in this situation. The bottom line is, however, that she did not do things as she “should have” done them.
What she did do, however, is actually raise awareness of the cause she sought to support. She did so through the controversy she created. A lot more people now know about the issue due to her faux pas. Maybe she did not do so in a way that made her look good. But, the bottom line is, more people now know about the fact that more than 47 million people in our nation are given only $29 a week as government assistance. More people have taken the time to stop and question whether or not they could live off of such a budget. And I am fairly certain that more people have stopped to think about what they may do to help.
The funny thing about celebrities… they are often either hated or adored. They are often either praised for their actions or chastised for them. The reality is that in the middle of this black and white, there is often grey matter which is easy to ignore. In this case, the grey matter comes in the form of the fact that good intentions sometimes end up being mistakes. And mistakes sometimes have a way of surprising us with at least some unexpected positive results.