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Actress Gwyneth Paltrow.
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow. Jason Merritt—Getty Images

Sorry, Gwyneth Paltrow, Poverty Tourism Is Gross

Apr 13, 2015
Ideas

Darlena Cunha is a contributor to TIME

Gwyneth Paltrow is attempting to eat for a week on a $29 budget to draw attention to what it's like to live on food stamps as part of the Food Bank for New York City's #FoodBankNYCChallenge. It’s a well-intentioned idea. It's also a horrible one.

The food bank is right in trying to raise awareness: Over the past 18 months, Congress has slashed Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits twice. More than 47 million people nationwide have an allowance of $29 a week for food. And Congress wants to cut benefits again. Food banks around the country are already strapped as tight as they can go, with 76 percent citing a marked increase in use immediately after the SNAP cuts went into place in late 2013. Recipients who use the benefits (80% of which are women and children) say they run out by the third week of the month. It is a system that cannot sustain itself.

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Yet whether or not Paltrow's actions actually raise awareness long enough for anyone to donate money or time or food to the cause (which should be the end-goal), what she is inadvertently doing is making a mockery of those for whom poverty is not a choice and does not last for a just few days.

It’s poverty tourism, plain and simple, and it needs to stop.

Paltrow is choosing to eat as if she were reliant on SNAP for a week. The thing about poverty, though, is that people do not choose it. There is nothing about poverty that one week can teach anyone with a safety net in place. It’s a game. “Let’s see how far we get on $29 before we have to use our real money!” The contrast is stark.

The point seems to be lost on Paltrow, who tweeted a picture of her $29 haul which included rice, beans, eggs, some leafy greens, and an exorbitant number of limes. It’s almost as if she were trying to prove that you can eat a really healthy diet in New York City on just $29 a week. Can she live on that for a week? Being Gwyneth Paltrow, probably. Is it feasible that a normal person with normal cookware and normal life stresses could? Much less likely.

Paltrow’s trip to Poorville is comparable, though not as bad, to a callous experiment in Orange County, Cali., where three high-powered families ate nothing but food-bank food for a week, again, to raise awareness for hunger. But people already know that other people are hungry. And telling people that others are hungry by pretending to be like them for a short while doesn’t help the lower-income community. In fact, it could even hurt. In the Orange County example, those families took rare fresh produce from those who really needed it.

Going through "poverty" for a few days makes a vacation out of the lives of families actually living through it on a daily basis, particularly if donations of time, food, and money are not forthcoming. It is absolutely absurd that someone with so much to give would choose to play-act poor for awareness.

If Paltrow truly wanted to make a difference, she’d throw time and energy and press into the legislation itself. She’d use her star power to shine a light on what Congress is doing. She’d write her representative and tweet the note as a template for others. She'd try to inspire people to donate $29 to the food banks in their area. Of course, there may be fewer limes involved, which would be a near crime.

Read next: Gwyneth Paltrow Will Give Up Expensive Juices to Survive on Just $29 of Groceries This Week

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