Sure, Newark Mayor Cory Booker's decision to live for a week on what a food-stamp recipient would get - slightly more than $4 a day - is a gimmick.

Booker is reportedly considering a run for governor or U.S. Senate, and he has certainly generated some positive publicity by living on $29.78 worth of food for a week.

But we'll give any politician points for a gimmick like this - it's certainly not fun to live for a week on what the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, provides.

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And gimmick or not, Booker is helping deflate some common stereotypes about recipients of food stamps and other welfare programs living large on the public dole.

In fact, the so-called SNAP Challenge is a nationwide program sponsored by the Food Research and Action Center in Washington and a host of civic and religious organizations. The goal is empathy - to educate the public and elected officials about what it means to live on a limited budget.

Booker took the SNAP challenge after getting into a debate on Twitter with a person who said "nutrition is not a responsibility of government." A growing number of people in this country probably feel that way. And, of course, it seems that almost everyone has a story about standing in a checkout line behind a person using SNAP to buy something that seems inappropriate.

But every government program has its abuses. And we'd venture to say that most of the approximately 46 million Americans in the SNAP program - half of them children - are not scamming taxpayers. They are just trying to survive.

Eating nutritiously on $4 a day is particularly difficult. High-calorie, high-fat foods are often cheaper - and more readily available - in an economically depressed neighborhood than fresh fruits and vegetables. (Councilman Ras Baraka recently said that it is easier to get a gun than a piece of fruit in Newark.)

And Booker - a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School - is, it's safe to say, better educated than most SNAP recipients, and he made some smart choices.

He shopped the sales at the Pathmark in Irvington and bought bagged lettuce, apples, sweet potatoes, canned peas and corn, cauliflower, broccoli and beans. A day into his challenge, which ends tomorrow, he said he wished he had bought some eggs - and something with caffeine in it.

So Booker probably ate better than most SNAP recipients - but it still all sounds unpleasantly spartan.

And if you disagree, if you think food-stamp recipients are ripping off taxpayers, you can always take the SNAP Challenge yourself.

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