Panera Bread CEO Living Off $4.50 a Day for Hunger Awareness

The month-long challenge, previously undertaken by Newark mayor Cory Booker, aims to raise awareness of the 17.6 million U.S. households considered "food insecure"

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Ron Shaich, Panera Bread CEO
Suzanne Kreiter / Boston Globe / Getty Images

Ron Shaich, Panera Bread CEO

What’s it like to live on just $4.50 a day, the rough cost of a Burger King Whopper Jr. meal? Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich, who makes $3 million a year, is finding out himself and telling the world about it.

Through participation in the SNAP challenge, a program in which he will live for a month on the average daily benefit provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (better known to those who are compelled to live on it as food stamps), Shaich says he will experience what it is like to do without.

“Despite everything I have learned about hunger and the various efforts I’ve undertaken to try to make a dent in the problem, I have never actually experienced hunger firsthand,” said Shaich, who was inspired by an article in The New York Times, and is recording his experience through posts on his Linked In page. “I’m not talking about the hunger that comes after skipping a meal. I’m talking about not knowing when or where my next meal will come from on a regular basis.”

The whole effort is part of Hunger Action Month in which people undertake the challenge of living on so little for so long. Incidentally, the House of Representatives is considering legislation that would cut SNAP funding by nearly $40 billion over the next decade.

So far, Shaich, has shopped on a $31.50 weekly allotment, which may seem like he was forced to live on a lean and mean budget and make healthier food choices, but actually means he had to make decisions on what he could and couldn’t shop for. According to his second Linked In entry:

The fact is, I was forced to choose foods that were filling – items that my Italian mother-in-law would have said will “stick to my ribs.” But it isn’t lost on me that I wasn’t able to afford the fruits, vegetables and meats that most would say belong in a balanced diet.

Many who live on SNAP supplements involuntarily do not have the options of going back to a privileged lifestyle at the end of a month. As of 2012, nearly 18 million households were considered “food insecure” according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey, meaning they do not have reliable access to healthy foods.

But the SNAP Challenge is not without its critics. One Washington Post article suggests that the supplements, while meager, were never meant to be a person’s sole means of food. It notes that 75% of SNAP recipients use their own money to suplement the subsidies. Other critics say the challenges may raise awareness, but they do little to actually help the poor.

Shaich isn’t the first person of note to undergo the SNAP challenge. Last year, Newark mayor and U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker took the challenge, living on about $28 a week. Morning talk show host and NFL great Michael Strahan also took the challenge took the challenge, living off of about $30 a week.

6 comments
babybird722a
babybird722a

Sometimes... information is presented to raise awareness about the realities that other people living here in America deal with. Yes, some poor person in this country could do many things to supplement their food stamp allowance. BUT MANY CANNOT!

What some of you fail to comprehend is that MANY of our poor are disabled. Some have profound mental and psychiatric disabilities. They cannot take your advice. Some of our poor are elderly or are not physically capable of doing ANY of the things you recommend. 

I spend my days trying to help those who are poor and disabled to learn basic living skills. WE MUST FEED THEM. They cannot fish. 

Many of our poor ARE FISHING. Some of them work more hours than you work. They are simply not catching enough income to feed themselves. The last time I read it, the Bill of Rights was not conditional on a college degree. If they do not pay their rent, you think them shiftless because they are homeless. If they do not pay their utilities, you feel they are not credit worthy.They can't win.

It is quite interesting how many in this country pre-judge situations and assume they can live someone else's life better than that person can live it. I admire Ron Shaich because he did not sit in front of his computer and type a sermon about something he knows absolutely nothing about. He put himself in the shoes of those who are poor and who have no resources other than food stamps to purchase food. If you did not do what he did, you are not an expert. Be quiet and listen to what it is that he is telling you. If someone out there in Fantasyland has a solution that will promote fairness and equality for everyone who lives in this country, regardless of age, race, sex, disability… bring it on. We desperately need your input.

Joan Walsh wrote in her book, “What is the matter with white people?” that we have “enabled Americans to live in a dream world where their rise was entirely their own making; Real Americans don’t get government help.” It is a myth. Everyone who is doing well in this country is doing so because of the benevolence of the government in one form or another… perhaps it was not food stamps, but you benefited from government policy at least once in your life. You did not hit a triple either. Be grateful for your blessings and don't kick people when they are down.

keystonekirk
keystonekirk

this guy is a joke...a  rich guy saying how bad these poor people have it... he had never meet one most likely.. well. I own a small grocery store in the country and have work to two major chain store for over thirty years... I see it everyday.. buying candy bars, chips. bug juice, silm jims.. t - bones steaks... the cold starbucks coffee drinks @ 2.99 each.. chewing gum.. mt dews..lobster, crabs and even hot foods that companies like 7-11 get around by selling it to you cold then cooking it for you.. what a joke...it would hurt my business but we need limits on what they can buy,  no more junk food, no crabs etc, basic stuff like hamburger, chicken etc.. no candy , no cavier, no gum no coffee.. if they want these then buy them.. the program is to keep you from going hungry, it is not to give you a lifestyle.. that is what  a job does,,, I have owned by store for 14 years.. and some of the same people are still on it...as they call it " the card" and laugh.... ask a grocery store manager or owning or a cashier at a store they can tell you how it really is....

godsbounty
godsbounty

I hear comments all the time about "paying employees more money", increasing the amt. of food stamp benefits, etc. When will people learn to take care of themselves instead of expecting others to provide for them? Plant a garden. Learn to preserve your harvest. You can plant a tomato plant in a container. You can make your own tomato sauce, tomato juice, stewed tomatos, etc with your harvest and can them so you have them throughout the year. There are fruit trees, nut trees, avocado, etc. that grow wild and the fruit lays on the ground below rotting. Pick these and can them. Make your own jellies, jams, pie fillings, spiced fruit. Inter cities should have a community garden in every neighborhood. How many parks have been neglected and run over by gangs? How many empty run down bldgs exsit in the inter city neighborhoods? Tear them down and create a community garden. Every family that is able should have chickens. They can free range. They provide eggs daily and when they no longer produce eggs, butcher them & put them in the freezer. Instead of buying pasta at the store, buy a bag of flour and make your own! Do you realize how many noodles can be made from one bag of flour? Enough for a years supply. Instead of children coming home from school and spending their evenings on the computer, teach them to weed, water and harvest  foods that are ready. Teach them that food is everywhere, you just need to take on your own responsibilities of providing it for yourselves and families. You might not always be able to eat whatever you want, but you will always have the food in season to eat. So much info is available everywhere that will teach people how to grow and provide their own food. This is also true for herbs, spices, & medicinal plants. Take an active part in providing food for yourselves & stop the dependence on the government and others to provide for you. No matter how poor you are, you can learn to improve and sustain your food supply. Every County extension office provides classes on preservation of food. Offer these free to the poor, provide them with seeds, containers, canners, jars. Like the old saying goes "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime".

TerryWisdom
TerryWisdom

Mr. CEO, what part of "supplemental"  and "assistance" do you not understand in the words Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program?  SNAP (aka food stamps) is supposed to help supplement poor peoples diet, by assisting them with buying groceries.  Try paying your workers more money and they won't need to get SNAP benefits, you hypocrite.

Darwin9
Darwin9

While I applaud his effort to bring this issue into the light, I agree with Carlene's comment regarding Panera's low pay structure.  In fact, I made my first ever trip to a food bank yesterday (I am 61).  It was not a highlight of my life, to be sure, but  necessary.  The very nice young lady in line behind me works at Panera (NOT making this up) and she was picking up food at the pantry because her low pay does not allow her to feed her family.  I wonder if this point is clear to the CEO who spent a week in his life experiencing 'food insecurity', while no doubt still sleeping in his mansion on silk sheets.  I won't believe that he truly cares about hunger until he pays his employees a living wage. 

CarleneClarkAltom
CarleneClarkAltom

Shaich, Panera Bread's CEO pay's his team from $6.00 to $10.00 with $8.10 per hour as their average, so  his words hold no value. I have NO clue as to why he is speaking out unless he plans to start the change himself.  If you look at HIS employee reviews, number one complaint was LOTS of work for LITTLE pay. Strikes have been going on all summer because food workers are not paid a living wages.