Gwyneth Paltrow made headlines and ruffled feathers on social media last week when she announced she would be taking the Food Bank for New York City challenge and living on a food stamp budget of $29 for one week.
By slashing her grocery budget to the equivalent of $1.38 per meal — the average amount that needy families receive per person as part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — Paltrow set out to raise awareness about hunger in America.
Instead, the Oscar winner was filleted on Twitter and Facebook by critics who accused her of staging an exploitative publicity stunt. But a representative from the food bank says instead of being criticized, Paltrow should get props.
“She needs to be commended. She has raised awareness of a very serious issue across our country,” Silvia Davi, chief marketing and communications officer for the Food Bank for New York City told TheWrap.
“Forty seven million people are living on food stamps. Of those people, 1.7 million live in New York City… She should be praised to walk in the shoes of those New Yorkers.”
To bring attention to New York’s hunger crisis, the food bank launched its #FoodBankNYCChallenge earlier this month. The organization enlisted celebrity chef Mario Batali, a member of the food bank’s board, to spearhead the effort.
“We kicked off the campaign in advance of our upcoming annual Can Do Awards Gala,” Davi noted. The gala, which takes place on Apr. 21, is the food bank’s biggest annual fundraiser and is expected to bring in at least $2 million.
Batali, one of several chefs trying to stop Congress from further cutting food stamp benefits, challenged Paltrow, Deborah Harry and Sting to join him by taking the #FoodBankNYCChallenge or by making a donation to #CanDoNYC.
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
On Apr. 9, Paltrow tweeted a picture of her food choices — brown rice, black beans, peas, eggs, tortillas, cilantro, limes and fresh vegetables. She captioned the photo: “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.”
The picture set Twitter on fire, with some people taking issue with the amount of fresh produce in the photo.
One person tweeted: “Trying to be one of the ppl,
But Davi cried foul over such comments, explaining that part of the food bank’s mission is to encourage people to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
“Serving fresh produce is a very big part of what our program offers to families,” she said. “What we distribute on a regular basis is fresh produce, a lot of the things that were in her image and in her photo.”
Paltrow, who also runs the luxury lifestyle website Goop, posted a second tweet about the challenge saying she was “walking in their shoes to see how far we get” (the campaign’s slogan). That caused some people to skewer her too.
Among the critical tweets — “Don’t Worry, Poor People:
Another person tweeted, “Maybe instead of grandstanding about $29… you could help normal people and donate some of your millions to a food bank?”
While representatives for the actress did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment, Davi called B.S. on those comments too. “She [Paltrow] is a long-time supporter of the Food Bank for New York City,” Davi said adding, “We wanted to get some buzz out there and generate a conversation about the big hunger crisis.”
Mission accomplished thanks to Paltrow and her controversial fresh food photo.