Panera CEO Lives on $4.50 Daily Food Stamp Budget for Hunger Awareness Stunt

This week Panera founder Ron Shaich gives us an example of a corporate CEO executing a “stunt” that feels much more like a study and doesn’t appear to directly benefit his own company. Shocking, isn’t it?

In what doubles as an example of a LinkedIn influencer doing something worthwhile, Shaich took the $4.50-a-day “SNAP Challenge” promoted by hunger advocacy group Feeding America for a week and blogged about it.

Quick background: SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, which we used to call “food stamps”. In order to counteract congressional plans to decimate the program, Feeding America encouraged as many followers as possible to try this challenge. Why? Because $4.50 is the average daily benefit received by each individual on this supposedly wasteful “entitlement”, which serves approximately one in every seven Americans.

Here are some of Shaich’s takeaways:

“I originally assumed that I would be blogging about how horrible I felt and how hungry I was each morning and night”, but quickly realized that “for those facing food insecurity, food quickly becomes a constant source of worry – and even a source of shame – when its availability is in question.”

Yes, he uses his platform to write about how great Panera is and how his strategy of encouraging executives to “walk in the shoes…of our customers” is exactly like pretending to be poor for a week. We expected at least a little bit of self-promotion, because the guy is CEO of a food brand working on a hunger project, but he also throws in some useful numbers to counter those who argue that the system needs to be weakened in order to prevent “abuses.”

So how has Feeding America’s SNAP challenge affected our political class? Very little, if at all.

The House of Representatives already cast a vote to cut the food stamp/SNAP program by $40 billion, but since they’ll never get the Senate to sign on and the program doesn’t need to be re-approved every year, the law will never take effect. It’s just a bit of branding, really: “Have you ever come anywhere close to qualifying for food stamps? If you answered ‘yes,’ then for God’s sake don’t vote for any of us!”

*Image via Michael L. Abramson

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