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April 20 2015

Gwyneth Paltrow's "Food Stamp Challenge": Bad Math and Even Worse Groceries

Charlotte Allen

Let's tally up all the stupid in Gwyneth Paltrow's "Food Stamp Challenge."

The idea was that Paltrow would use her celebrity status to show how hard it is to survive on $29 a week for food--the amount said to be the averageper-person amount in food stamps that the U.S. Department of Agriculture doles out to the 46 million Americans in that benefits program. Paltrow failed, running out of food after only four days--but that's basically the idea behind the "challenge," isn't it? To show that it's actually impossible, and so to shame taxpayers into ponying up more money for free food for the poor.

Stupid #1: Where did that $29 a week come from? According to the USDA website, the maximum food stamp allotment for a single-person household is $194 a month. That works out to about $48 a week, not $29. (A four-person household receives $649 a month.) If that single person works full-time at a $7.25-an-hour minimum-wage job grossing about $900 a month, the USDA deducts $34.80 from the $194 allotment--or actually less, since the USDA bases its sliding-scale calculations on net (after-tax) income, not gross. So that single person would still be receiving about $40 a week in food stamps, probably more. So if the average food-stamp recipient is getting only $29 a week, that person, while certainly not rich, is earning well above the minimum wage and can afford to spend at least some of his or her own money on food in addition to food stamps.

But if you're a multimillionaire celebrity, who has time to do math?

Stupid #2: The "S" in "SNAP" (the official name for food stamps) stands for "supplemental." (The program's full name is "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.") SNAP was never intended to pay for all the groceries that recipients buy. Indeed, the USDA website spells it out:

"...SNAP households are expected to spend about 30 percent of their resources on food."

Saying you're trying to survive on $29 a day for food is basically a game of Let's Pretend.

Stupid #3: What Paltrow bought with her $29 (you can see her photo of it here). Weentsy one-pound bags of beans and brown rice. An avocado. A yam. A package of 18 tortillas. A head of kale--because kale is so chic these days. Mysteriously, seven limes. Where did she shop--Whole Foods?

Commenters on Ann Althouse's blog had a field day with Paltrow's paltry shopping-bag haul. Kale, seven limes--really? They pointed out a raft of ways in which it really is possible to survive and even eat well on $29 worth of food per week: buying rice and beans in bulk instead of one-pound packages, lemons instead of limes, frozen vegetables (dirt-cheap and also tasty, easy to prepare, and nutritious, thanks to today's flash-freezing right after picking), big sacks of frozen tilapia that go for as little as $7.50, cheap fruits such as apples, $1 jars of dried herbs, making soups out of bones, baking one's own bread, grocery shopping at Walmart and Target instead of Whole Paycheck.

Blogger Dan from Madison did his own $29 challenge:

Vegetables, frozen, are a great deal.  Here also, there was a large spread in the price per ounce.  We cashed in on the spinach, broccoli and beans that were on sale for cheap.  The green beans were the best value at .89/lb. - only 5.6 cents per ounce.  The broccoli and spinach were a bit more expensive.

The chicken thighs were an easy choice for protein.  The frozen ones above were only .47 per pound so we got the six pack and it cost us $2.88.  Fresh thighs were much more expensive.

The mayo cost us $1.59 - but that will help stretch all of that tuna that only cost us .625 per can (there was a deal at 4 for $2.50).  I would plan on tuna fish sandwiches or that PB and J for lunches at my job, and would bring an apple or banana along.  The bread was only .89 for the loaf.  For breakfast I could imagine a fried egg atop toast with a little yogurt and/or fruit on the side.  The cans of chicken noodle soup were an astounding .49 each.  For dinners, I imagined rice (.99 for the bag - and that is a lot of rice), and chicken with vegetables.  As I mentioned before, almost everyone has some dried spices laying around to make it all work.

So the total for all of this food above was $23.99.  I found out (and I think I knew this before) that there is no tax on food here in Wisconsin.

So Dan treated himself to a $4 bottle of hooch:

The above flask of Shellback Spiced rum was $4.19 - but liquor is taxed so the grand total was $4.42, bringing my grand total up to $28.18.  That money for the booze would have gone a long way in a budget like this but I thought it would be a good thing to put it in the experiment.  This wasn't even the cheapest booze delivery system.  They had a giant tub of larger size flasks that were marked "two for $6" but that would have put me over budget and honestly I would at least want to mix this gasoline with diet coke and consume it rather than pouring it down the drain immediately.

Stupid #4: The icky three meals that Paltrow cooked with her $29 worth of food (she's posted the recipes here). I don't know about you, but "brown rice, kale and roasted sweet potato saute with poached eggs" doesn't do it for me at dinnertime. Eeew!

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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