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Panera CEO "lives off" foodstamps

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A CEO of Panera bread "lives off" SNAP/Foodstamp for a week. 47 million americans are on the SNAP program.

Well, I give this man credit. He really doesn't need to do this. His 2012 compensation was $4.4 million. Panera bread is a corporation with $5.6 Billion market cap (shares trading at $166). And for undergoing a _week_ of discomfort he will very likely raise awareness to the plight the millions of poor Americans. And this is good...

BUT, I really don't think he's being very authentic with this exercise. Sure he moans the cliche response of not being able to "afford" coffee or his usual fare. But the guy most likely drove there in a luxury vehicle, lives in a well appointed multi-story home, and all his utilities are running and paid for. I bet he even has a fancy stainless steel gas range and a matching fridge that could store enough food for weeks.

Sure, I get the pain, but I would have much rather seen him go all the way. Living off Foodstamps isn't just about the food. Has anyone ever thought about how people on Foodstamps or government assistance get to the food? Probably not by a car.

Currently to be eligible for SNAP/Foodstamps:

You must net $931/mos.

Families of FOUR must net $1,921/mos.

This is before rent, transportation, health, and necessities.

Many people on Foodstamps catch public transporation around. Most of the people receiving foodstamps are single mothers and children. I know. When I was a kid I lived off WIC (Women, Infant, Children) and Foodstamps. I also lived in public housing from elementary throughout highschool.

We normally rode the bus everywhere. And where we couldn't ride the bus, we walked. Oh, yes, I never actually went hungry. My mom was resourceful. We'd always buy things on sale. I think I've only ever had name brand cereal as an adult, and if not it was at my middle income grandma's house.

I remember walking home with two heavy bags of food hanging off my fingers. It'd get to the point where they would turn red and then purple. I'd have to do things like switch hands, carry the food in my arms, or most commonly, throw the bags over my shoulder and rest them on my back such that my fingers would be pinned to the top of your shoulder. I'd do this so I could cling on to a bag with minimal effort. My arm would cramp up and I'd reshuffle the bags again.

Eventually my mom got a car. It was an ancient, torpedo shaped, lizard green, clunker from the 70s. It was an old school station wagon where the back seats looked out back towards oncoming the traffic. I don't think the rear seats had seat belts. I also remember it was a gas guzzler. Back in the 90's gas was $1.26. Not too bad by today's standards, but the value of the dollar was stronger then and minimum wage in Hawaii was $3.85! Also, when on Foodstamps if you worked too many hours, saved or made too much money, or tried to acquire assets that could help get you out of poverty and off Foodstamps (like starting a business), then you would get dinged, investigated for fraud, and could possibly lose all benefits. Vicious cycle. We kept that car for several years until it died.

Food shopping was rare, but fun. Sometimes we'd shop at the local bakery. You could by bread and powdered donuts that were about to go stale. In fact, our freezer was almost always full of bread -- it was the only way to really stretch your dollar. Also, Hawaii's humidity makes keeping anything fresh near impossible (even with ziploc bags, or twist ties.) Life wasn't bad, in fact most of my memories of life during this time were positive and happy, but it was not easy.

Catching the bus and walking a lot, riding an ugly car your mom got for free but couldn't keep gassed up, never being able to eat name brand foods, and never telling people you were on Foodstamps. That to me is what being on Foodstamps means. This sad excuse for PR and branding lacking of any serious authenticity pisses me off. A little more realism and undergoing actual pain or suffering could illuminate the real challenges of living in poverty and possibly woken people up.

PS On second thought I could understand one angle that the Panera CEO is trying to accomplish. By showing himself to be struggling to shop for "expensive" food he could leverage the attention on him to lobby the government into providing subsidies or tax breaks to his company to help make his products cheaper and more competitive.

Re-reading this a year later, you're as right now as you were then.

Foodstamps for most people is part of a tough life -- a life of struggle. 

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