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Panera CEO Tries Food Stamp Challenge, Eating Off $4.50 a Day

Image: Panera CEO Tries Food Stamp Challenge, Eating Off $4.50 a Day

By David Ogul   |   Tuesday, 17 Sep 2013 07:04 PM

The founder and CEO of Panera Bread Co. earns more than $3 million in total compensation annually, but he is limiting his diet to what he can buy for $4.50 a day to see what it’s like for those relying on the federal food stamp program.

It’s called the SNAP challenge, named after benefits provided to the poor under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. And Panera CEO Ron Shaich, who has been blogging about his weeklong experience, says it isn’t easy.

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“In trading stories with a colleague who is also participating in the Challenge, it struck me that we are both feeling an underlying sense of resentment,” Shaich wrote on his LinkedIn blog. “For me, it was triggered by driving past restaurants I normally frequent. For him, it was triggered by quantifying the price difference between branded and off-brand foods. These are small examples, but there have been instances throughout the week that made us feel like outsiders. Imagine if these feelings were reinforced day after day, month after month. There is no doubt that it would be demoralizing.”

The Los Angeles Times notes that Shaich is taking up the challenge at the same time Congress is set to consider slashing SNAP funding by $40 billion over the next 10 years. The program costs about $80 billion annually, double what it did in 2008.

Up to 6 million Americans would be left ineligible if the bill were to pass, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Wrote Shaich on Day 3 of his effort: “I’m really dragging today. I’ve been having a hard time focusing and sustaining my body on a much slimmer calorie allotment than it’s used to. I made the mistake of creating a meal plan for the week that was heavy on carbohydrates and, as a result, I am feeling bloated and weak.”

The challenge is part of Hunger Action Month, an effort to bring attention to the estimated 49 million Americans on SNAP.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) believes those benefitting from food stamps would be best served through efforts such as job training.

“By encouraging people to engage in job training of workfare we can help those in the program build the skills and gain the experience they need to become self-sufficient in the future,” Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper said in an email, according to The Huffington Post.

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