Food Stamp Challenges: Are They Admirable?


Have you ever heard of food stamp challenges?

I had never paid much attention to SNAP/Food Stamp challenges before this week, but a recent article in the New York Times about a wealthy South African family who opted to live in the Phomolong squatter camps piqued my interest. The SNAP challenge is very simple–rich people pretend that they’re poor for a week. They live off of $4.50 per day (the average per diem for a person receiving benefits on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) for one week. These challenges are common throughout the U.S., and they receive as much criticism as they do praise. This is where things get sticky, because we can see both sides to the argument. So, we ask you:

Are these challenges admirable?

Are people participating out of a genuine desire to help, or is it just a misguided publicity stunt? From the outside looking in it is easy to say that these challenges are nothing more than a grab for a fifteenth minute of fame in our fleeting, Internet-driven society, but it is also difficult to cast-aside the power of transformative learning. Perhaps learning that it is difficult damn near impossible to buy fresh fruits and veggies on a meager $4.50 per day is worth what might feel like momentary exploitation?

It gives me hope that one of the latest participants in the SNAP social experiment is Panera CEO Ron Schaich; Schaich is a veritable crusader against food insecurity. He was recently profiled by for his commitment to eliminating food insecurity.

One positive example.

Sure, Schaich “put on” poverty for his eight-day challenge, but his company has also opened five non-profit cafes that offer a sliding-scale for food (Panera Cares). Customers can go to any of the five locations and pay as much, or as little, as they can afford for their meal. Schaich explains, “This is not going to cure poverty; it’s not going to stop hunger. What this is about is two things: One, it’s been very effective in giving voice to and raising issues of food insecurity.”

If people take on the SNAP challenge and come out the other end with ideas like Panera Cares, is it really so bad?

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