On average, people receiving financial help from food stamps get about $4.50 per day in assistance, according to the New York Times. Multiply that amount by seven for a week’s worth of food, and it amounts to $31—far less than the average person spends on food.
With a budget that low, it’s just not possible to get in all of the normal staples of a full diet—coffee, fruit, vegetables, yogurt, or milk often get cut. Unfortunately, being unable to feed oneself is a huge problem—and one that many don’t understand. It simply isn’t possible to understand what it’s like to have to go hungry without ever having been in a situation where food was unaffordable.
Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich may not be in a forced situation of hunger, but he’s trying his very best to understand what it feels like to live in poverty. He spent an entire week living off of $4.50 per day as part of the SNAP Challenge, and his meals included things like cereal without milk, lentils and chickpeas for lunch, and pasta for dinner.
Shaich talked on his blog about how we all have days where we forget to eat or run out of time and fuel because of busy schedules. The effect of not getting enough nutrition often leaves our bodies feeling weak and our minds unmotivated.
“Imagine if this was your reality all the time,” he wrote, “the headaches and lightheadedness brought on by low blood sugar; the inability to concentrate; the cranky change in demeanor; and the overwhelming need to take a nap. For millions of Americans struggling with food insecurity, this is life.”
His post on Monday, September 16th was telling. Barely halfway through the challenge, he admitted that he couldn’t stop thinking about food. “Each night, when I go to bed, I’m engulfed by a sick feeling that comes from eating too many carbs,” he says, relating how the majority of his food during the week was pasta or cereal. “[It leaves] me feeling bloated…yet not really full.”
While on the SNAP Challenge, Shaich has discovered how much frustration comes from being excluded from what more privileged people see as “normal” behaviors—like going out to eat or being able to choose better brands and eat fresh produce. And potentially the worst part is that 16.7 million children who grow up in food insecure homes could end up being mentally and physically underdeveloped from lack of nutrition. Their self-esteem will likely take a hit, and ultimately, the cycle will perpetuate itself.