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.