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Panera CEO takes the food stamp challenge

Published: Monday, Sept. 30 2013 12:40 p.m. MDT

In this May, 2002 file photo Panera Bread Co. CEO Ron Shaich stands behind a counter in a St. Louis cafe. For one week, Shaich lived on the average SNAP benefit amount of $4.50 a day to raise awareness about hunger in America.

Tom Gannam, Associated Press

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As the House of Representatives passed a bill that would cut almost $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — informally known as food stamps — Ron Shaich, the CEO of Panera Bread, took his own "food stamp challenge."

For one week, Shaich lived on the average SNAP benefit amount of $133.44 a month, or $4.50 a day. According to the USDA, 47 million Americans — one-sixth of the country — currently receive SNAP benefits.

"I was hungry last week — laser-focused on how much food was left in the fridge and how many dollars were left in my wallet," Shaich wrote for CNN. "I was scared about eating portions that were too big, and wasn't sure what to do if my food ran out."

Shaich said he did the challenge to raise awareness about hunger in America. "However, it wasn't until I participated in the challenge and heard stories from the hundreds of people who responded to my blog posts that I really understood what a life of food insecurity means," he said.

Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post said that the SNAP challenge, which has been taken by a number of politicians, is somewhat misleading because about 75 percent of SNAP participants use their own money, in addition to SNAP benefits, to buy food. Kessler notes that the program is designed to be a supplement to a family's food budget, not its entirety.

This is not Shaich's first foray into the issue of hunger in America. Panera has opened a series of cafés called Panera Cares, where food items list a "suggested donation," but customers pay as much as they can for food. If they can't pay anything, Panera allows them to donate time volunteering in the restaurant in exchange for a meal.

"[H]unger is not a problem of 'them,' it's a problem of 'us,’ ” Shaich wrote for CNN. "Hunger exists in every community, in every county, in every state. Simply put, this is our problem to solve, and it's time to do so."

EMAIL: dmerling@deseretnews.com

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