The luxury of choice

I had the opportunity to participate with my daughter’s school at a local social service agency on Friday. My job was put together food boxes for the clients coming to the center. We were given information about family size and any of their dietary or special issues. Food included meat, bread, a bag of fresh produce, canned goods and diapers and baby food if needed.  

I was struck by many things, one of which was that this particular program operated through the support of more than 40 volunteers per day. The second was more around a stark realization about my own resources and the things I take for granted. Things like the ability to get fresh fruits and vegetables any time I wish; the ability to go into a grocery store and make decisions about the food I am interested in purchasing — are all choices I get to make. I am not hungry, and I never have to give up something in order to feed my child.

The realities of the many people who are visiting this food pantry are that most of them are working but are not making enough to feed themselves or their families. These are families making hard decisions each and every day. These are families who are losing choices.

In an effort to bring attention to the challenges faced by families who live on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — also known SNAP, or food stamps many celebrities and community leaders have accepted a challenge to live only on the food you can buy for less than $29 a week.

Recently actress/celebrity/lifestyle blogger Gwyneth Paltrow accepted this challenged and posted a photo of what she purchased with $29 for her week. There has been tremendous backlash and negative comments. Ms. Paltrow is already a much maligned public figure, so this is not a surprise. And to be honest, her food choices for a week did raise some eyebrows. (I found her purchase of six limes particularly perplexing.)

But the adage of any publicity being good publicity seems to be working here, as we are having conversations that can go beyond our judgment of a celebrity’s choices. We can think to ourselves about what food we would buy if we knew that was it for the week. The sad reality is that $29 for me often is only a couple of items I forgot when I shopped earlier. 

What would you buy with $29?