Panera CEO Does Food Stamp Challenge — Why Do We Criticize?

by Katy on September 17, 2013 · 22 comments


Panera CEO

Food Stamp challenges are nothing new. Newark, New Jersey mayor Corey Booker did one, former Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski did one, and I’ve done three. And now Panera CEO Ron Shaich is supporting Feeding America’s Hunger Action Month and doing one. With a daily budget of $4.50, and a week penciled out for the project, Shaich is already the recipient of more than 1100 vile and wrathful comments in this Huffington Post piece.

Why Americans choose to be so venomous towards someone who is trying to bring attention to the issues of hunger within our midst is beyond me.

Like the other male politicians who have undertaken previous food stamp challenges, Shaich is someone who normally doesn’t do his own food shopping, which makes it an extra challenge. My food stamp challenges have allotted $101 per person per month, (which is less than his $4.50 per day) however I have years and years of real life experience with meal planing and food shopping. I know how to shop the sales, use coupons to my advantage and create decent meals from the dribs and drabs of refrigerator contents. (Recent successes include a fried rice dish that included half a diced zucchini from a neighbor, leftover rice, two eggs and the contents of two soy sauce packets. Needless to say, It was delicious!) However, my food stamp challenge months are both difficult and seem to never end.

Of course, Shaich’s week-long experiment is nothing compared to a lifetime of food insecurity, but that doesn’t mean that his efforts are without merit. Like it or not, big business owners have a greater voice when it comes to American policy, and Panera is big business. Let him use his significant influence to focus attention on hunger. Good on him.

Congress is soon to vote in whether to cut SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, so directing extra attention towards how hard it already is to eat on $4.50 per day is both timely and important.

Eating cheaply and healthfully is easy for many of us. However, having the time, shopping choices, transportation, physical (and developmental) abilities and knowledge is not.

Click HERE to read Ron Shaich’s Linked In Food Stamp Challenge posts.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Ann in NJ September 17, 2013 at 11:15 am

One of the interesting essays I read about poverty made the point that if you don’t have the cash to stock up on sale (or buy large quantities for a lower unit price), you are trapped buying small quantities at higher unit prices and its hard to break out of that. It really struck me, as you see many negative commenters saying, “just cook from scratch!” Well, you still have to buy the scratch. Flour, eggs, sugar can all be used for more than one week, but the initial cost may be out of reach for someone who is struggling. I commend anyone who undertakes this challenge – compassion for others is never something to make fun of.


Katy September 17, 2013 at 11:43 am

That is very true. My son’s preschool did “Scrip” as their main fundraiser, which were prepaid gift cards to national stores that included Safeway and Fred Meyer. A small percentage of each purchase went back to the school. However, we simply couldn’t afford to prepay for our groceries at the time. (I worked part-time and my husband was both A)running an unprofitable business and B) in school.) No one could conceive that people couldn’t spare an extra couple hundred of extra bucks.

They were clueless.



Joanna September 17, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Agree! Internet trolls just like to put down anything good anyone does. *eyeroll* If big businesses like Panera get behind NOT cutting SNAP benefits, it is very powerful.


Tonya Jenkins September 17, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Thanks for raising awareness (again!) about this important issue, Katy.


Betsey September 17, 2013 at 3:15 pm

I tried it once…gained weight because of all the starch that we used for fillers. The kids liked it with mac and cheese, pasta, potatoes, hot dogs etc. being cheaper alternative foods. We all got sick of tuna, and after two weeks the husband said “Enough!” I think he brought home a prime rib for dinner that evening with all the fixings. I will admit it tasted divine.
Try it yourself. It is no small feat. People also say grow it yourself, garden, go to farmers markets, or the like. If you live in an apartment, chances are these options are not available to you. Have you ever been to a food pantry? I ran one for 2 years and it is difficult to get really healthy food.
I applaud this CEO. It’s a good lesson for all of us!


Elaine in Ark September 18, 2013 at 5:59 am

You bring up some great points, Betsey. People on limited incomes can’t afford to buy enough wholesome, varied food to fill up everyone’s stomach. They have to stretch the food with starchy fillers. I remember my mom stretching the meatloaf with oatmeal (a lot of it!) and cutting up hot dogs and adding them to vegetable soup. A piece of fresh fruit was a rare treat for us, although we can canned fruit and veggies.

It’s so darn easy for the clueless people out there to give advice that isn’t the least bit practical or helpful to many people.


Jessica Wolk-Stanley September 17, 2013 at 4:52 pm

My in-laws are thrifty Russians emigrés as are all of their friends in Fairlawn, New Jersey. One of their pals has made gotten to know the manager of the local Panera who gives him all of the baked goods at the end of the day. They don’t sell day-old bread and this is a SUBSTANTIAL amount of bread. This friend shares the bounty will all of his friends in the neighborhood and we have gotten some too. I am glad that this perfectly good food is not going to waste. I am sure this is not corporate policy (I think they are supposed to toss it out).


Rebecca September 18, 2013 at 12:14 pm

A member at my parent’s church works for Panera and she always brings the extra bread from Sat night to church on Sunday! My mom always grabs bread for us when she can!


Diane September 17, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Did you ever hear about Panera’s “Pay as You go” stores? I remember seeing something about it in one of the regular Panera restaurants. I thought it was pretty interesting.


Lilypad September 17, 2013 at 6:13 pm

I also commend Mr. Shaich for bringing attention to this issue, one of the issues I try to educate people about on my Facebook page, regardless of whether or not it irritates my friends. 😉 We are currently renting a place with no garden space and a very small kitchen. It makes it challenging to do all my usual frugal/fun stuff like bake my own bread, and I don’t have a lot of space for stockpiling good deals. But I DO have enough money and TIME that I can easily work around these limitations. I can’t imagine how awful it must be to be a single mother, for example, working full time and trying to feed a family on measly SNAP benefits and getting dissed in the process. My Congress-people know how I feel on this issue. I wish more constituents would take the time to speak up and help those less fortunate.


Jean September 17, 2013 at 6:36 pm

One of our local churches is trying to fill another gap in the “just make homemade” problem–a lot of these families on food stamps do not have an adult household member who knows how to cook! The church runs a food pantry and realized that they were offering food items that the recipients didn’t know how to prepare, so now they have one night a week of cooking lessons–the adults learn how to prepare a home cooked inexpensive but nutritious meal while their children are entertained by other church members, then everybody eats! This has led to donations of basic cookware and utensils that these families lacked and many of us have duplicates of. There is more than one facet to this problem! And while we could probably survive for a month on the stockpile of home canned and sale items in our pantry and freezer, there once was a time when at the end of the week the cupboard was nearly bare and we dreamed of the luxury of a deep freeze. These families aren’t stocking up on much at $4.50 per day.
I applaud the CEO of Panera, along with our local newspaper editor who is also doing the Food Stamp Challenge, for trying to bring more awareness to the hunger issues in this country. I don’t know what their “corporate policy” is, but some of our local Panera stores give their leftovers to a shelter.


Jenny September 18, 2013 at 5:15 pm

I do think lack of cooking knowledge is contributing to the problem. I was very pleased to see our local alternative high school add cooking to their curriculum. Many of the attendees are single moms or teens who have moved out and are living on their own so this is a skill they need. It’s easy for those of us who grew up eating home-cooked food to think that cooking is easy-but many of these kids don’t have that background. If you grew up eating microwaveable soup in a plastic cup, making soup from scratch quite likely seems like rocket science.


Susan September 17, 2013 at 8:40 pm

I agree — good for him! Living within a $4.50 per day budget is hard, especially for someone not used to shopping and cooking. What’s the point in tearing him down when he’s brave enough to try? Phooey on the trolls.


Shelley September 17, 2013 at 11:52 pm

Scary how many ugly, angry people there are; I do my best to ignore them. I’ve never done a food stamp challenge but I do recall trying to feed myself and my Dad on $20 a month back in the 1970s. I didn’t know much about cooking and we lived on macaroni and cheese and hamburger patties. I remember there was some sort of crop failure and I couldn’t afford tomatoes for a healthy salad. At that point I quit college and went back to work full time. I later struggled with the food budget when I got a step son in diapers to raise…those diapers seemed to cost a mint! I could do much better now with either of those situations, knowing more about cooking and a bit about growing veg. I discovered the Tightwad Gazette about a year later and it really did change my life.

I live in Britain now, retired at 51. I still practice my frugality in many ways. A blog that my husband recently pointed out to me is written by a young mother struggling to feed herself and her son. She comes up with some ingenious ideas and puts the cost of each meal along with her recipes.

It’s strange to me that food is such an issue in two of the wealthiest countries in the world. How is that, I wonder?


Elaine in Ark September 18, 2013 at 6:08 am

It’s been a “hidden” problem for a long time. I live in an area considered “affluent” because there used to be such low unemployment. People didn’t realize how many poor families there still were in this are. That number has increased since the last recession, and even though it’s been publicized like crazy and food pantries are everywhere, there are still a lot of people here who don’t (or won’t) acknowledge this problem.

When we see our tax dollars being spent frivolously we often don’t realize how many helpful tax supported programs are cut.

It’s a shame before God that anyone on this planet goes hungry. There *is* enough food for all, it just doesn’t get to everyone.


kris September 18, 2013 at 7:12 am

IA Elaine there is enough food to go around. One thing I’ve always said is that with public assistance should come education. Lets educate folks on how to coupon, how to shop sales, give basic, frugal cooking lessons, and teach people how to make those dollars stretch (esp. when there aren’t a lot of dollars to stretch). People can’t change their situations if they don’t know HOW to change them. Let’s help our fellow citizens in our community by enpowering them with knowledge! For whatever reason, basic life skills are not being taught to the younger generation and sadly, they will suffer because of it.


Wanda September 18, 2013 at 7:23 am

I tried to read some of the comments and after about the third negative one I had to stop. I have lived on food stamps many times over the years and have been thankful that Aldi was around. I was able to eat decently and keep to the budget of money I was allotted each month.

I applaud him for trying to raise awareness on the subject and sincerely hope all those hater types never have to live on food stamps.


Rubymay1029 September 19, 2013 at 4:08 am

I write a weekly newspaper column for a very small paper and a few weeks ago I decided to find out about SNAP and how much my family of five would receive if we qualified. It turns out that (though I am a full-time outside the home working mom) I am able to feed my family farm raised meat, fresh fruits and veggies and pack lunches for $18 a week more than I would get on SNAP. But, and here is the key, if there is a stock up sale on ingredients that I use, I am lucky enough to be able to have money to get them. That luxury makes a huge difference.
After reading the other comments, I am going to contact our local church that does a weekly meal and see if they have any interest in providing ingredients and cooking lessons. That is a great idea!


Katy September 19, 2013 at 6:59 am

That is a great idea, I hope your church can help to set this up.

And I agree about having the money to stock up. I am a total cheddar cheese snob, and only buy Tillamook cheese. However, what I do is to stock up biannually when Fred Meyer has it on sale for $3.99 per 2-lb loaf. I stick them in the back of the refrigerator and am careful to open them only one at a time. I also buy in bulk from Costco, (yeast, chicken stock, olive oil, etc.) which requires a greater initial outlay of money, not to mention the cost of a Costco membership to begin with! I have been in the situation before where I simply couldn’t afford these money saving tactics.



MW September 19, 2013 at 7:18 am

Thank you for the idea about the cheese! Our family also prefers Tillamook , but due to recent lay-off I wasn’t sure how to continue this habit. Of course, I’ll have to write a note that says “HANDS OFF!”.


alison September 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm

This post makes me so sad. I just saw the headline that Congress has decided to cut SNAP benefits. I didn’t read the negative comments but I applaud CEOs and politicians who believe in a social contract for our country and I hope others will come to see things that way too.


Kelly September 20, 2013 at 10:11 am

From what I’ve seen with these ceo’s doing these food stamp challanges is what really angers people is when they report back that it was super easy and then the pictures of them in the paper are of them grabbing a $6 hot dog and a soda.

I get mad too, when I see some of the CEOs and politicians who after only a week are still a bit disconected. I often feel as though they are only 50% invested and getting only a 50% picture of the struggle. I would love to see one of these guys go live with a struggling family for a month (compinsating the family of course) and see what hungry looks like in the eyes of a 3 year old at bed time and what happens when the ends don’t meet no matter how hard you work. Remember these guys don’t usually cook there own meals and have a stocked pantry of the basics. I remember moving out of my sisters house with a one year old into an apartment with an empty pantry. Thank God my Mom is a practical gift giver, even still I had one small bottle of vegitable oil and my spices started and stopped with salt and pepper. The rest of her “house warming gift” was some basic food items like a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread and a dozen eggs. After incuring unexpected moving expenses I had to wait till my next paycheck to buy groceries. It wasn’t all that long ago I skipped meals for my child to be able to eat. I’m fortunate that I have found a good job and that isn’t my reality anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, any time they can bring attention to these issues are a good thing but I can’t help but think it isn’t as real of an experiance as those who are still trying to figure out what to eat tonight.


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