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Have you heard? Chef Mario Batali recently tapped his dear friend Gwyneth Paltrow to participate in the annual #FoodBankNYCChallenge. In return, Gwyneth promptly asked Mario to participate in the #NoMoreCrocs campaign, but Mario promptly refused.
The annual “food bank” challenge encourages New Yorkers to try and live on a $29 weekly food budget (per person), the $29 being what you would receive on the NY SNAP assistance program. Mario has been taking the challenge for a few years, nominating famous friends to join him in order to raise awareness about poverty, food insecurity, and how food stamp programs are terribly underfunded.
After Gwyneth agreed to the challenge, she headed out to her local market, and then tweeted a pic of her $29 haul:
There are things about this photo that bug me.
1) The overabundance of limes. There are so many. I count seven. Do you get more points for taking the challenge at sea with pirates, afraid of scurvy?
2) The presentation. It’s cynical. It’s Instagramming poverty in order to make a point. “What filter should I use to make these dried beans look more sad? The Hudson filter, natch.”
There are things about this photo that do not bug me .
1) Cilantro. In heaven, they serve cilantro. What do they serve in hell? Diet Pepsi and olives.
2) The impression that Gwyneth will only eat Mexican-inspired fare for a week. The lady only has $29. That does not bode well for variety. Also, she clearly wants flavorful food. That is a noble goal. Enduring food stamps should not mean subsisting on nothing but bland fare. (Full disclosure, I have eaten pesto on farfalle with kale salad on the side for the last five meals, save breakfast, so I do not judge people for eating the same thing again and again.)
What is Gwyneth trying to tell us? That being poor is hard. Why, yes it is!
A few years ago, Morgan Spurlock – of Super Size Me fame – attempted to live on minimum wage for one month, all for his FX reality show 30 Days. Spurlock didn’t try on parts of poverty for the episode, as Gwyneth is doing by eating on a food stamp budget but still living with her usual perks. Spurlock did it whole hog. Gwyneth does nothing whole hog because she hates pork, but I digress. Spurlock and his fiancée lived on minimum wage, paycheck to paycheck. No health insurance. No credit cards. No ability to save. It was rough. But when shooting was done, Spurlock got to go back to his regular life. He got to wear poverty for 30 days. Actual poor people don’t have that option.
Typically, when rich white women eat on a low budget, they call it “a cleanse.” I once ate on a low budget, but I was also hospitalized for an eating disorder. Playing around with starvation does not amuse me. Primarily because it’s play. Gwyneth would call that “acting.”
You want to highlight poverty? Make a documentary. There are plenty of people in America that experience hunger and food insecurity on a daily basis. I don’t need to take the $29 challenge because when people on food assistance say it sucks, I believe them.
I generally like Gwyneth Paltrow. I loved Emma. I don’t care that she is American; Gwyneth says “Mr. Knightley” way better than Maggie Smith ever could. Sorry, Dowager Countess.
I love Gwyneth’s style. She was my Best Dressed at this year’s Oscars, hands down.
I love her lighting fixtures. I stared at those bulbous silver lamps that hang in Gwyneth’s Hamptons house for hours after my November 2007 House & Garden landed in my mailbox.
People viciously ridiculed Gwyneth and Chris Martin when they split up and called it a “conscious uncoupling.” But I found it to be quite mature and lovely.
When we understand that both are actually partners in each other’s spiritual progress, animosity dissolves much quicker and a new paradigm for conscious uncoupling emerges, replacing the traditional, contentious divorce. It’s only under these circumstances that loving co-parenting can happen. It’s conscious uncoupling that prevents families from being broken by divorce and creates expanded families that continue to function in a healthy way outside of traditional marriage. Children are imitators by nature, and we teach what we are.
My point is, not everything Goop does earns my ire.
But this type of “empathy” she is attempting to show really bothers me. If you must experience someone else’s pain in order to feel empathy for them, you kinda suck. Remember the white Christian woman who wore a hijab for Lent, in order to understand the hateful discrimination Muslim women endure in America? Do you really need to wear a costume – and it was a costume for this woman – to believe people are awful to Muslim women?
Remember that company president who said she used to believe working moms were crappy employees, deserving nothing but disdain, only changing her tune after she became a mom herself?
Her name is Katharine Zaleski, and she is awful. She deserves no applause at her turnaround. This Zaleski chick actively harmed women prior to her “aha moment.” I didn’t have to become a mom to know working mothers aren’t giant scam artists. I empathized with women in my office who struggled and juggled, long before I gave birth to my daughter. I’m no Zaleski, which is my new word for people who suck. Correction. It’s my new word for people who want praise for simply sucking less.
Now back to Gwyneth. Why did people jump on her so hard for this food challenge? Because she is an easy target. Because in the past, Gwyneth has said things like this:
I am who I am. I can’t pretend to be somebody who makes $25,000 a year.
I’m just a normal mother with the same struggles as any other mother who’s trying to do everything at once and trying to be a wife and maintain a relationship. There’s absolutely nothing perfect about my life, but I just try hard
I find the English amazing how they got over 7/7. There were no multiple memorials with people sobbing as they would have been in America. There, they are constantly scaring people but at the same time, people think nothing of going to see a therapist.
One cold wintry day in London, I was dreaming about salad nicoise—one of my favorites.
It’s one thing to do and say what you want under the philosophy of “I give zero fucks” with full understanding of how you are bucking the conventional wisdom. That’s brave. See Iris Apfel for reference. It’s quite another to say to do and say what you want under the philosophy of “I give zero fucks” because you are self-unaware and have no idea how the world views you. That’s not bravery. That’s looking like a clueless jerk.
So to Gwyneth, I say, “Bless your heart.” And I mean it because she is the latter.
The phrase “Bless your heart” has lots of meanings, and as a gal who grew up in Greenville, SC, I’ve heard them all. For Gwyneth, I mean it in the sense of “Bless her heart, she don’t know no better.” It’s not the “Eff you” kind of “Bless your heart,” because I really do believe Gwynnie’s intentions are good.
Gwyneth has no real idea how she comes across to us normal folk. She deserves to be on our prayer list, not our hit list. Does she need to experience something before she can show empathy? Maybe. Is that problematic? Yes. Is she making the lives of poor people worse? Absolutely not. She really does want to help those less fortunate than her. One lime at a time.
Don’t let this all be for naught. Let’s do better. Really try to have empathy even if you have no experience with something yourself. Donate to a local food bank. Call your elected officials and tell them food stamp benefits fall way too short. Crap, I don’t care. When you call, tell ‘em Gwyneth sent you.