Panera CEO goes hungry on food stamps
The bakery chain's founder takes the SNAP Challenge and says lack of nourishment is making him grumpy and full of resentment.
Panera Bread (PNRA) founder and chief executive Ron Shaich has built a fortune selling pumpkin muffins and croissants to America's middle class.
But this week, he's trying out the SNAP Challenge in an effort to find out how the other half lives by limiting grocery purchases to the average benefit amount shelled out by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It's not much. A typical food stamp recipient receives just $4.50 per day in food aid, according to Feeding America.
On his LinkedIn (LNKD) blog, Shaich writes that the effort has led to some eye-opening revelations. "Over the last few days, my thoughts have been consumed by food. When is my next meal? How much food is left in my cabinet? Will it get me through the week? What should I spend my remaining few dollars on? What would I eat if I had no budget at all?" he writes.
On top of the anxiety about food is actual hunger. Shaich notes that he opted to spend his budget on cereal and pasta, which has left him "feeling bloated . . . yet not really full."
Shaich, who earned $4.4 million in compensation last year, says the feelings of anxiety and hunger led to another sensation: "an underlying sense of resentment." For him, it was sparked by driving past restaurants he usually frequents. For a colleague trying the same challenge, resentment was triggered by "the price difference between branded and off-brand foods."
Still, while Shaich's effort to raise awareness of hunger in the U.S. is admirable, he may be missing the point of the food stamp program.
While the average monthly benefit for one person is just $133.44 (or about $4.50 a day), the program is designed to supplement participants' own grocery money. Indeed, about 75% of SNAP beneficiaries also tap their own funds to stock their pantries.
At the same time, Shaich's efforts couldn't be more timely, given that Republicans are once again seeking to cut food stamp spending, this time by $4 billion a year. With one in seven Americans now relying on the program, it has come under criticism for being too lenient and open to fraud.
Still, many Americans' wages have actually declined since the the start of the recession, so the program may be more needed than ever. And while some conservatives condemn food stamp recipients as loafers, Shaich has a different take on the issue.
"Hunger is not synonymous with unemployed or homeless," he writes. "The inability to put food on the table is not equivalent to lazy."
Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.
If you aren't happy eating on $4.50/day - GOOD, you shouldn't be happy or content, that's the whole friggin point - sustain yourself long enough to find a way to support yourself and buy your own food. The idea is to get off the program as fast as possible, not milk it for as long as possible and then whine and moan about what you are getting for free.
Let me give an example on how the system really works. On Aug. 22, 1991, I walked in to a small grocery store that to my surprise was being robbed. As I entered, the gunman spun around and shot me in the chest and head. I lost my right lung and a small area of my left of my brain. To make this short and sweet - my wife at the time divorced me. She did not want to deal with medical issues. I had a good job, but now I was disabled. It is true that I receive $1,013 per month in SSDI, which I would need to collect until I am 97 years old to break even with the amount I put into the system. Because I actually worked, and put money into the system, I was granted a total of $31 in food assistance per month.
I was put in to my particular situation through no fault of my own. The person who shot me was out of prison before I was able to take care of myself. He served a total of 6 months.
The last I heard the person who shot me is receiving more government aid than I am, actually almost twice as much. The system is design to punish those who have worked and reward those who have not. Only in America.
Geez, where to start?
Firstly, he felt resentment whenever he passed restaurants. If I was unfortunate enough to need assistance, I would feel extremely grateful for it.
Secondly, my wife and I typically spend less than that on food and I feel far from deprived. We are just careful about what we buy and where we buy it from.
Finally, I should point out that you cannot buy breakfast at Panera for less than $4.50. No wonder the CEO has difficulty in the whole concept.
Food Stamps are one of the most abused and wasteful social program this country has ever developed. A family of four receives more money monthly then my family of five spends a month on food. The amount paid out each month should be cut by at least one third. Purchases by food stamps should be (if not already) restricted to the following: Fresh/frozen non prepared meats & fish, fresh/frozen non prepared vegetables, deli meats/cheeses, canned goods, breads, non sweetened dairy, and non sweetened juices. The following should always be banned, and processes need to be in place where not already, to restrict: Soda, bottled water, power and energy drinks, sweetened juices, coffee, tea, ice cream, candy, energy bars, any pre-prepared meals or sandwiches, snacks/junk food, or any food that is mail ordered or shipped anywhere. If these rules would be followed, and recipients would learn how to shop and properly eat, no one would be hungry and we the taxpayers would save billions.
Tobacco and alcohol should be banned from purchase by welfare funds. No cash should be allowed to be pulled off of any assistance cards except at banks and should be limited to a very low percentage of funds.
You can feed 4 people with $20.00, much easier than you can feed 1 person for $5.00. Also, SNAP is not meant to feed you three meals a day. It is not meant to take care of all your nutritional needs. This country has become spoiled.
Also, I know for a fact that in NJ they give more money to a family of 4 than my family of 5 spend a month for food.
The whole SNAP program is a joke. The retail grocery industry promotes SNAP because they are the direct beneficiaries of the program in sales dollars.
Go into any retail grocery store and see the SNAP people picking up national brand junk food soda chips, the best steak etc...3
I work and my wife works (have three kids - one in College which we help out) so we have to buy Sam Choice products and the yellow stickered reduced meat at Walmart, while I watch some fat lazy SNAP recipients pick up the best meat and loads of junk.
Give me a break- go back and let the salvation army or locals hand out government surplus food.
As has become standard in these articles, the top half is a useless example, and the bottom half is reserved for the talking points of the day.
I live on $100 a month easy. and I make 60k/year
50lb bag of rice $17 will last a whole year
25lb bag of beans $20 will last a whole year
buy some chicken on sale, frozen veg, eggs, chicken stock and other flavoring and some skim milk(besides water at work, I only drink milk, went cold turkey off diet dew)
It's so easy make a variety of crock pot chicken and rice dish, half feeds me EASILY, I freeze the rest and make another with different flavor(chicken rice salsa and cream cheese is my favorite)
a side bonus is you cook about only once a week only, I also chose to live near work so I can drive home everyday to eat.
What would these SNAP recipients do if the taxpayer wasn't there to feed, clothe, and house them? The dems just keep growing dependency to grow their base. If they were that hungry , I would think they would be motivated to make a few life changes.
That's funny because here in Florida the food stampers drive Cadillac's and custom low riders.
Sunday night on the news, they interviewed a man outside a grocery store. He was commenting on how he needed to get some groceries before the Florida EBT/SNAP system went down for software upgrades. All I could do is stare at the enormous gold necklace he had on....
the govt will give me close to 140 bucks a month to help me buy food? i'll take it. thats 140 extra dollars i can use to buy alcohol and cigarettes or a big screen tv or the latest smartphone.
where do i sign up to get this SUPPLEMENT aimee?
if i pay 300 a month for food, that about 10 dollars a day.
if snap is going to give me 4.50 a day as a SUPPLEMENT, then i will be spending less than $6 a day.
i can save close to $150 a month with snap. i'll take that challenge. sign me up aimee
As a fellow SNAP reciepient, I must disagree with some of the comments written. I recieve less than $50.00 a month in food stamps and I shop accordingly. I found that living on permanent disibility does not entitle me to any special priviledges, so when next you decided to comment on the use of services available to the needy be sure to remember that some of us are not taking advantage of the system. Thank you
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