Last Thursday, Gwyneth Paltrow made waves on the Internet. No, she wasn't singing the praises of vaginal steaming, she wasn't coining new phrases for divorce, and she wasn't encouraging women to soak their almonds in water before eating them (it's a Goop thing, apparently). The actress and organic, grass-fed force behind Goop was taking on social issues. She agreed to take on the NYC Food Bank Challenge. She would subsist for a week on simply $29 worth of food in the ultimate task of empathy — to see what it's like to survive on the same budget as one with food stamps does. She tweeted her commitment to the challenge while also nominating a friend to take the challenge along with her.
Naturally, some folks were doubtful (this author included!) that Paltrow — a woman known for eating particularly well and who even wrote a cookbook advocating her gastronomical tastes — could succeed at this challenge. Her Pinterest-perfect looking $29 food basket probably didn't help much; it merely glamorized a challenge meant to emulate a struggle.
This is what $29 gets you at the grocery store—what families on SNAP (i.e. food stamps) have to live on for a week. pic.twitter.com/OZMPA3nxij— Gwyneth Paltrow (@GwynethPaltrow) April 9, 2015
But surprisingly enough, Gwyneth herself was just as doubtful she could succeed at living off of $29 worth of food as her critics were. In fact, she's now opened up on Goop about her experience and near-failure with the challenge ("I would give myself a C-," she wrote). Yes, her naysayers were already on her tail, as E! Online reported she attended an expensive pre-fixe meal in Los Angeles to promote Jon Favreau's film, Chef. Favreau had posted a picture of the two of them, confirming she was present, but Gwyneth had a secret to reveal: she had actually given up four days into the challenge. She just couldn't do it.
"As I suspected, we only made it through about four days, when I personally broke and had some chicken and fresh vegetables (and in full transparency, half a bag of black licorice)," she wrote.
But her struggle served as a good wake-up call. "My perspective has been forever altered by how difficult it was to eat wholesome, nutritious food on that budget, even for just a few days — a challenge that 47 million Americans face every day, week, and year."
Paltrow used her post to go off on a semi-related tangent about the lack of equal pay in the workplace, as it's working mothers — those on food stamps — who have it the worst.
"Sorry to go on a tangent, but many hardworking mothers are being asked to do the impossible: Feed their families on a budget which can only support food businesses that provide low-quality food. The food system in our beautiful country needs to be subjected to a heavy revision — it is a cyclical problem, with repercussions that we all feel," she wrote, before admitting her standards for food are truly impossible for many people to meet. "I’m not suggesting everyone eat organic food from some high horse in the sky. I’m saying everyone should be able to afford fresh, real food. And if women were paid an equal wage, families might have more of a choice in the grocery aisles, not to mention in the rest of their lives."
She also encouraged her Goop followers to donate to the NYC Food Bank (which provides more than 63 million meals to hungry New Yorkers a year), just as she did.
Paltrow stepped down from her organic pedestal in the post which might mark a huge transition for her: she gets it. She saw the light. She's privileged, and her diet is not the norm. It's barely attainable for people who make decent money. But unfortunately for Paltrow, who will always be an inch away from invoking some sort of criticsm, the recipes she posts (brown rice, kale, and sweet potato with a poached egg, for instance) consist of ingredients that are unavailable in many poor regions where people actually subsist on food stamps. Affordability is one thing, accessibility is another.
But if Paltrow can use her platform to at least call attention to this issue, then it's at least another prominent voice discussing the realities of the hunger crisis — even if her observations were obvious.
She signed off with a call to action: "I know hunger doesn’t always touch us all directly — but it does touch us all indirectly. After this week, I am even more grateful that I am able to provide high-quality food for my kids. Let’s all do what we can to make this a basic human right and not a privilege."