Mini Mario

 Is superstar chef Mario Batali really on food stamps?Chef Mario Batali accepts the food stamp challenge

No, but he did agree to a challenge laid down by the Food Bank for New York City, which is trying to attract support for a protest to proposed cuts in the food stamp program. The organization encouraged people to live for one week on a food stamp budget, so Batali, his wife and two teenaged sons subsisted on $31, or an average of $1.48 per meal.

The first thing the chef discovered was that he could save 50% by avoiding anything organic, pesticide- or hormone free. His family consumed lots of rice and beans, chicken, pasta and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He refused to cheat, even forgoing tastes of dishes he prepared for TV shoots. He was reportedly a good sport about it, although the diet was a shock to his system (on Day Four, his reaction was: “I’m f****** starving”).

Batali is on the board of the Food Bank, and there’s no doubt his gesture was sincere. He generated a great deal of publicity for the cause, and tweeted pictures of the meals he prepared to his nearly 300,000 followers. At the same time, the exercise functioned as some well-needed image repair for him. It’s been a rough year for Mario, who last November famously compared members of the banking industry to Hitler and Stalin in terms of their negative impact on society. Outraged Wall Street bankers, who comprise the base of the clientele for Batali’s expense-account lower Manhattan restaurants, immediately called for a boycott.

Now that the week is over, we may assume the chef has returned to his normal diet, but hopefully he learned a few interesting things about nutrition and alternative sources of protein. Perhaps he even lost a few pounds—which, judging from photographs, he could certainly afford to do. Mind-boggling though it may be, the next step might even be a bit of exercise.

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