Why Panera Bread’s CEO Agreed To Dine On Only $4.50/Day

Last year, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman took part in a local food bank’s challenge to live on roughly the same amount a single person who qualifies for food stamps receives — $4 per day.

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The week long challenge was organized by Three Square Food Bank in Las Vegas. John Livingston, spokesman for Three Squares, said the food bank wanted to highlight the struggle of everyday Americans who receive assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“The main thing we really want is to let people understand this so we protect the benefits and they don’t get cut or lessened,” he said.

Mayor Goodman says getting enough food and the right food on food stamps can be difficult, and told ABC News it was difficult to scale back her usual eating habits to fit a tight budget.

“I didn’t get to put any fruit on my meal plan this week. And, there’s not much variety in my vegetables. It’s a good thing that I love tomato soup!”

This year, Panera Bread Chief Executive Ron Shaich, a millionaire, took part in the same challenge as part of an effort to see how people on food stamps live.

The Los Angeles Times notes Shaich accepted the challenge just as the House of Representatives is preparing to cut SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding by $40 billion over the next decade.

Barely halfway through the seven-day challenge, Shaich said he was already haunted by feeling chronically hungry. “I can’t stop thinking about food. You probably think I’m joking (or think that must be normal for me since I work for a food company after all), but I promise you it’s not.

“Over the last few days, my thoughts have been consumed with food. When is my next meal? How much food is left in my cabinet? Will it get me through the week? What should I spend my remaining few dollars on?”

Shaich commented that fear set in when he realized his weekly budget was only $31.50, and loading up on carb-heavy foods instead of more expensive healthier items was his only option.

“I was forced to choose foods that were filling — items that my Italian mother-in-law would have said will ‘stick to my ribs,’” he wrote. “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.”

The LA Times points out Shaich is just one of several prominent Americans who cut back last month as part of Hunger Action Month, which highlights the daily challenges of more than 47 million people in the U.S. who rely on food stamps.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that a big automatic cut is scheduled for Nov. 1 as a temporary boost from the 2009 stimulus bill expires.

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That change will trim about $5 billion from federal food-stamp spending over the coming year. And the number of Americans on food stamps could drop even further as Congress and various states contemplate further changes.

A House bill will remove 3.8 million people from the food-stamp rolls over the upcoming year.

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