I have just spent 6 months writing about macroeconomic poverty. I spent the last 2 of those 6 months telling myself to stop reading and start writing. During this period of time, my favourite elitist celebrity coolhunter Gwyneth Paltrow decided to do something to show that she is not out of touch with reality and that her media product, the online lifestyle guide ‘Goop’, is indeed for every woman and not just aspiring social elites; that there is something there for every taste, every budget and that the only commonality with the brands and products promoted therein are all “Ugh! Just to die for” regardless of price.
So to illustrate this, Gwyneth decided that she was going to very publicly try and live off food stamps for week (or more concisely, the amount of money that a week’s worth of food stamps is set at- US$29.00 at the time of ‘project’ conception. Then using the hashtag #NYFoodBankChallenge, she started tweeting about it.
Fair enough. Actually, it is kind of commendable in a way. I mean, to employ a cliché, walking a mile in another’s shoes can be a great way to build empathy and understanding and provoke a desire to incite change. I did a quick check on XE and noted that $29.00 exchanges at €26.57. I realized that last semester, I would have spent this amount or similar quite regularly per week on groceries and essentials. Because that food budget was no craic for me and not necessarily a choice, I genuinely hoped that she would do it. Poverty, even for a short week is not an easy and fun thing to do.
Pretty soon however, it became apparent that she would not make it. She posted a picture of everything she got for her $29.00 on her Twitter and IG; everything she had planned to eat for the entire week (Important fact to bear in mind: This would not ordinarily cover what an entire family on SNAP in the United States would get per week– food benefits are complicated but are generally regarded as a third of total expenses and are calculated as such). Anywhoo, here’s a picture of what she got:
Healthy? Yes. But there’s three days’ worth of food here at a maximum. Good choice with the dozen eggs. Ditto on the rice, even though that’s a tiny amount for a whole week, and burritos was actually good basic combining. However some big questions such as, why so much salad? Why so much fart food? Does she really need 7 limes? Is she Amy from Little Women? Is she trading those limes in a jostle for social status with Beyoncé and Stella McCartney?
Another issue with her poverty cart is the perishability question. It’s a huge issue for anyone shopping on a budget. You buy veggies and salads as you need them. If you’re a meat eater, you buy it ideally on the day of consumption or the day before. Fresh eggs will last the week, so buy all the eggs. Don’t spend all of your budget straight away in case you need to stock up on a perishable (i.e. bread, milk).
Perhaps if she had projected her children’s dietary needs into the equation, it might have been less of a farcical shop and held more urgency because of a) Levity—rich kids need food too—they don’t get sustenance from simply being named after a foodstuffs. b) Perspective—that’s a crazily small amount of food to be feeding a growing child or indeed a grown woman.
So the result was that she lasted four days before she gave up the challenge and that’s the end of that. No judging. No snark. No shaming (Clickhole did it better than I could here). Just some food for thought on the very basic pre-conceptions of people born into poverty, living in poverty and trapped in poverty. Paltrow actually highlighted where the ignorance truly lies on the issue and the lack of awareness on how difficult it is to rise out of poverty, given the fact that guilt and shame is hoisted upon those among us who are put into a deadlock of dependency while exponentially higher benefits are thrown at people who can afford to influence the ever inflating status quo.
Nobody in Western society wants to live on $30 worth of groceries a week. Gwyneth did however, and if she didn’t have her inherited wealth and social status to fall back on, she would quite simply not have made it. There is a missing ingredient in the poverty tourism shopping cart however, and as with all skewed perspectives on inequality, that missing ingredient is consequence.
The Food Bank Challenge is basically a good idea to try and build compassion in those who I classify as living in the ‘default experience’; to challenge those who have benefited from birth from systems of social inequality to take action and examine the follies of capitalist social constructs.
However, if you fail a challenge such as this and your reaction is ‘Oh ok, well I suck at poverty but it’s ok because I’m rich’, and then just go back to steam-cleaning your vagina then what’s the point?