By Danny Tyree
If you’re a follower of the Huffington Post, you’ve probably read about Panera Bread founder and CEO Ron Shaich and his week-long commitment to spend no more than $4.50 a day on food, thus spotlighting the plight of the 49 million Americans on food stamps.
(Even after years of the use of debit cards, we still talk about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as “food stamps.” It’s like announcing, “I reckon I’ll drive down to the general store in my horseless carriage and get vittles with the food stamps.”)
As part of Hunger Action Month, 26 members of Congress have been taking the SNAP Challenge along with Shaich. Why didn’t more of the 535 members of Congress participate? Responses range from “Busy in my home district” to “Sounds like grandstanding” to “What the people are REALLY hungry for is my reelection campaign announcement!”
Many people have cheered this attempt to see “how the other half lives,” but Shaich has also received criticism from both the left and the right.
Some SNAP recipients find the campaign a too-brief, meaningless gesture. One recipient observed, “Whoa! A whole week living with only necessities? Heck, Mr. CEO, I could do that standing on my head — although my cigarettes and smartphone might fall out of my shirt pocket and the beer might run down my nose…”
Many of the financially secure view Shaich as a bleeding-heart traitor to his class, insisting that they are quietly researching ways to help the poor without giving aid and comfort to the liberals. This is probably totally unrelated to the Google search trend for “Are there no prisons?” and “Are there no workhouses?”
I’m glad people are talking again. In the old days we at least had acknowledgments of “There but by the grace of God go I.” Now that such invocations of religion are verboten, people have relied on, “I think life — and poverty — were caused by comets. I wish I could help the poor, but it might rip a hole in the fabric of space and time…”
Many of us are willing to take an “I gave at the office” approach to hunger and ignore the millions of hungry children. Raising the issue is just so DIVISIVE, although that certainly has nothing to do with the percentage of food stamp recipients who grouse, “Those dirty fatcat one-percenter razzinfrazzins are so JUDGMENTAL!”
Defenders and critics alike want to judge SNAP in its entirety on a pass-fail basis rather than acknowledging individual differences. There’s a difference between “only industry in town abruptly closed” or “crippling disease strikes widowed breadwinner” and “Practices unsafe sex, alienates family, avoids church and routinely tells boss to take this job and shove it.”
Mere dependence on food stamps is not a matter of SHAME. Swelling the ranks of SNAP via a sluggish economy and a snazzy PR campaign is not a matter of PRIDE. Hunger is what it is — and it is an OPPORTUNITY for all of us to roll up our sleeves and find a comprehensive solution through fine-tuning of SNAP eligibility, coordination of food banks, greater job opportunities and REALISTIC (not pie-in-the-sky) progress toward living wages.
$4.50 a day doesn’t leave much room for sharing, but Shaich has given us much to chew on.
Danny welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades”.