Oh, SNAP: A Look at Awareness and Celebrity Influence | Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Mom

April 14, 2015

Oh, SNAP: A Look at Awareness and Celebrity Influence

Our controversial celebrity friend, Gwynth Paltrow, is feeling the heat again. This time, it is because she took on Mario Batali's Food Bank challenge, where she lived off of $31/week to help bring awareness to the struggle (and limitations) of those using SNAP

Let me back up and explain SNAP. 

A lot of us don't realize what this program is or what it does or why people haven't their panties in a twist over Gwynnie P's $29 shopping trip.  SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Many of us know it as food stamps. It should be pointed out that SNAP is meant to supplement a family's income - not be the sole source for food. 

There are many limitations to the program, such as the eligibility requirements, that it can only be used to purchase food and it is not available or accepted everywhere. Many families also find it difficult to balance getting enough food and to get healthy food. Also, there is a large population of people who are struggling to make ends meet, but not SO badly that they are eligible for supplemental help.

Fast-forward, and there is now the Food Bank Challenge working to help bring to light these issues with the help of celebrities paying it forward and "tapping" their celebrity friends to take the challenge. Gwyneth got tapped and took up the challenge. 

Then all hell broke loose.

People took to twitter admonishing her for her first shopping trip, which was a reflection of her clean eating lifestyle. It was noted that her choice could not possibly feed a family and also meet the caloric and nutritional requirements needed to be healthy. Others felt it was a slap in the face, as they shared their own real-life stories of struggling on SNAP and other government program.

As this was an important discussion, I asked this question to the topic to the CSHM Facebook Page

"Is Gwynnie P doing a GOOD thing by bringing the struggle of living off food stamps/food banks to light? Or is it degrading to have a celebrity "role play" in this way?"

So where do I stand?

I...think it's complicated.

I used to work for my county's Children Youth and Families before I stayed home with my kids - I was a social worker. Thus, I am super familiar with the SNAP/food stamps program - and very aware of the struggle so many families have to make ends meet - and to feed themselves. It's awful.

Living in the "land of the free, home of the brave," we as a nation CAN and SHOULD be doing better for ALL of our people.

(I know - how socialist of me!)

Above all, I am glad that there is a larger discussion happening around SNAP. I think that whenever we as a people (whether we are lowly bloggers or big wig celebs) have even the slightest bit of influence, it is so important to use it for GOOD. I try to do that on my meager space on social media (for better or worse), and I think it can be powerful when celebs wield their influence for the right causes and reasons. 

Yet, I can also see it from the other side. I can see how people who ARE struggling and using these programs would see it as a slap in the face to have celebs like her "role playing" their lives for a week. I've seen many tweets around this along the lines of "Yeah? Try living it for a MONTH. A YEAR!" from people for whom the struggle is real.

Part of the problem is that Gwyneth already has a target on her - and in many ways people are unfairly focusing on HER (her eating, parenting, "rich and oblivious" lifestyle). Can we agree that in some ways celebrities in general are out of touch with the lower echelons of people in society?  So, of course what she chose to buy comes under fire. It's true: her grocery trip is not indicative of what a family can or should be eating to survive and thrive when using food stamps. Also? I think it's easy for celebs (who most likely don't shop for themselves anyway) to say, "Ok! $30! What can I buy?!" without thinking of the bigger picture.

This issue is a double-edged sword. Is it good for celebrities to help bring awareness to this critical issue? ABSOLUTELY. But it is not perfect. Is it more important that those bringing the issue to light truly understand the plight? Or, for those bringing light to the issue to be using their influence for good?

Perhaps, we accept that celebrity influence is a necessary evil that sometimes works for the greater good? 

Overall, I hope that, despite possibly feeling belittled (particularly those who are living off SNAP), that we can all embrace the greater good that there IS focus on this issue. Focus from big celebrities is LOUD, so *maybe?* it can be a catalyst for change.

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