Coverage on food stamps is on the rise as government officials push for restrictions and reductions. Hollywood's noticing and both Amandla Stenberg and Gwyneth Paltrow found life lessons in the struggle to stay afloat.
Amandla Stenberg’s open dialogue against black culture appropriation splashed across headlines this week. When Billboard attempted to use a school project presentation posted on her Tumblr page to raise headlines, The Hunger Games star simply cut them off at the knees by calling the clickbait headline a simple method perpetuating the problem.
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The 16-year-old posted on Twitter, "The way you are presenting this video is misleading and creates conflict instead of constructive convo!" Adding, "Thanks @billboard, but this is not a petty criticism of Taylor Swift, who, btw, I love. This is about creating a dialogue between races."
But in fact, that’s not all that Stenberg has advocated for.
In 2014, the actress took the Live Below The Line challenge to see how to balance food choices on such a $1.50 a day budget. YouTube viewers watch as she explains that even the cheapest source of beef (brisket) is still almost 50 cents above the entire day’s allotment. And that is per pound with most products well over two or three pounds.
Then the camera pans down the aisle to demonstrate how prices only increase, putting valuable sources of nutrition out of the hands of those living in poverty. In a moment of bemused honest, she says, “So, I guess we can’t buy this.”
Still looking for a form of protein, the teenager walks to the diary aisle and notes that the cheapest source of milk is Alta Dena for 1.19, which leaves 31 cents for the rest of the day. Picking up the milk as an option, she moves to the eggs, where she buys a carton for $2.09 and determines she can eat one egg for the entire day.
The journey continues into the rice department. She picks up a cheap cup of ramen noodles for 69 cents, which means a return of the milk due to cost. “So I’ll just drink water” is a stark reality many people face when looking to add more options, often facing censure for being ‘wasteful.’
After sourcing the other options, she looks at long-term storage items. Assuming yellow rice and dry beans will last and cover several meals, the higher cost is considered beneficial. Same idea applies to the four bananas which are a little over a pound and a half. While bananas will not last as long, diversity in eating means more options.
In the end of the experiment, viewers see a single banana, a big cup of ramen noodles, one egg, and a small, exact portion of rice and beans to sustain someone for the entire day.
At only $45 to $50 dollars a month, the problems are visually represented on the table, especially in the case of children. Of those on food stamps, or the rebranded Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP), almost 16 million are children under 18. And the impact can be staggering.
“It’s pretty tough to live below the line.”
Stenberg very calmly points out the problems facing a young student. “I’m pretty worried I’m going to be hungry tomorrow and I have a math test.” And data backs up the claim.
According to Michigan State University Extension, supplemental food programs allow children to increase productivity. Citing pediatrics professor Dr. Howard Taras from the University of California in San Diego, “food insufficiency was associated with significantly poorer cognitive functioning, decreased school attendance, or diminished academic achievement” in 2 out of 3 studies. And society cannot grow if minds are not nurtured and inspired through mental exercise.
Food scarcity is a very real problem and the young actress schools viewers on what happens when poverty and nutritional deficiency are politicized and reprimanded.
Comparatively, the exercise is very different from when Gwyneth Paltrow attempted the $29 A Week Challenge. In a Twitter post, the Iron Man actress showed what many families may eat on such tight resources. However, the actress failed to realize many families cannot afford the organic products. Most living on such tight budgets comparison shop and look for the best deals to make a budget last for around 21 meals a week.
In fact, Paltrow quit the challenge after only four days. An option many families can’t afford. Hunger is an ongoing problem when surviving on a barely manageable budget, as Stenberg openly noted. Having access to any food is not the same thing as having nutritional, healthy food to help a person’s body function. Food deserts, high profit prices, and lack of competition means many families and individuals are unable to purchase necessary products.
Writing up the experience in a blog post, Patrow also spoke against the unequality towards working mothers who receive, at most 77 cents to the dollar in comparison to a working father.
“I’m not suggesting everyone eat organic food from some high horse in the sky. I’m saying everyone should be able to afford fresh, real food. And if women were paid an equal wage, families might have more of a choice in the grocery aisles, not to mention in the rest of their lives.”
In the end, both Stenberg and Paltrow acknowledge the need for better options, even if taking vastly different takes on the two challenges. That “more of a choice in the grocery aisles” is exactly what both women want for their communities.
Paltrow points out that the challenge was initiated by the Food Bank For New York City to show how over 1.5 million people rely on food kitchens and pantries for meals in the five boroughs. And the food bank provides over 63 million free meals to those in need a year.
Grateful that her background and career offer high-quality food choices for her children, she asks the public to “do what we can to make this a basic human right and not a privilege.”
Last year, Dragon Con broke charity records when $100,000 went to the Atlanta Community Food Bank. The bank provides $9.21 worth of food to families for every dollar donated. So Gwyneth's failure is not a true breakdown if more people offer support.
Many people face down times, or set backs. Food stamps help to bridge and close the monetary gap, saving family funds for necessities like utilities, which can be exhaustively high depending on region and season. Paltrow also donated money before beginning the challenge, as did those in her office, to help pay it forward no matter what happened. If the challenge raises awareness, her lack of week-long commitment isn't the takeaway lesson.
As government leaders push for cuts in the SNAP program, more and more people will rely on food pantries to maintain some semblance of nutrition. However, if people are unable to donate, millions will be directly affected by the decisions of government officials who already benefit from national programs.
If people with money and power cannot survive on such a frugal diet, how are the millions underemployed and underpaid expected to succeed?
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Sources: Goop.com, Michigan State University Extension, Twitter, YouTube