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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript:

Interview

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SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: Well, Chris, first of all, thank you for focusing on this and for Ron doing what he`s doing.

This is nothing but a partisan, mean-spirited effort, frankly, not only to attack poor children and families, but to tank the whole farm bill.

Those of us who care about supporting farmers and conservation and jobs and nutrition understand what Eric Cantor is all about.

It`s just one more time trying to stop us from doing anything. And as you mentioned, I think it`s important to emphasize 85 percent of the people who get federal assistance for food are either children, children with their parents, senior citizens, or people with disabilities, like our veterans, included with our veterans.

And so we`re talking about 85 percent being in that category, and of the other 15 percent, these are folks that are trying to piece it together coming out of the worst recession.

MATTHEWS: Sure. It`s not exactly a bragging right either when you have to go in the store and use food stamps.

STABENOW: Right.

MATTHEWS: But added to that sometimes indignity, although it shouldn`t be, but people are hard up, in bad shape. They may have lost their job, lost their home.

STABENOW: Right.

MATTHEWS: They`re relying on this.

It just seems like Eric`s real name should be Ebenezer.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I mean, I do -- let me ask you, without getting too personal here. When people come to you from the conservative side and yell at you, do you ever get people complaining about food stamps?

STABENOW: No.

MATTHEWS: In Michigan, you don`t?

STABENOW: You know what? In Michigan, where we have had people that never thought in their wildest dreams they`d need food help, they have paid taxes all their lives, they`re -- they`re mortified that they need help.

But they need a little bit of help. These are folks -- the new folks coming onto food assistance in the last several years are on for 10 months or less. So it`s temporary help. And here`s the other good news. We actually are reducing the number of people on food assistance the right way.

The Congressional Budget Office says 14 million people -- fewer people will be on food assistance over the next 10 years than there are now because of jobs. It`s real simple, more jobs...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And we have had a tough five years, too.

STABENOW: Right.

MATTHEWS: We have had a tough five years.

STABENOW: Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to our other guest, Mr. Shaich.

Mr. Shaich, thank you very much for joining us, Ron Shaich, who runs Panera foods, a great chain of restaurants.

RON SHAICH, CO-FOUNDER & CEO, PANERA BREAD: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: And you have done very well, I guess, financially, and you decided to see what it`s like at the other end.

What was it like? What is it like to live on $4.5 a week -- a day,
rather?

SHAICH: Well, you know, Chris, this is something that we have been working on for a very long time.

It isn`t the SNAP Challenge. We have had these cafes of shared responsibility. We give $100 million to $150 million in donations. And it became very clear to us that this is a real issue; 48 million Americans are going to bed without enough food.

And I decided at a personal level that I wanted to give awareness to that problem. I wanted to give voice to that problem. And I also wanted to feel it personally as a retail -- as a guy who`s run a public company for 29 years, the way we built our company is listening to the customer and listening to...

MATTHEWS: What do you miss? What do you miss eating on $4.50 a day?
What do you miss?

SHAICH: Well, you know what I discovered?

You know, I -- we all take food for granted. I need lunch, I get lunch. I need dinner, I get dinner. Here, food dominates my life. In this week that I have been doing it, I`m all worried, am I going to have enough food? What`s going to happen?

If I -- I got in a little tiff with my wife. She put too much pasta in the pasta she was making for me. And I was really worried I wasn`t going to have enough for the week. I have made one meal. I have had chickpea stew for four days. The reality is, food dominates your life.

And you begin to be unable to operate. I have had -- and I think that, quite frankly, the most interesting part to me is not what I learned about me, but it was the letters I got.

You know, the senator spoke to it. Yesterday I was speaking to a veteran who had basically hit a wall, couldn`t move on, wasn`t able to eat, and was able to live through some of the NGO program.

MATTHEWS: Let me let you say something that I think people need to hear. I hear from our producers here that when people come to your stores, your restaurants around the country and they go in, if they make a case to somebody there, an authority behind the counter that they can`t afford to eat there.

What`s the reaction? What`s your standard of behavior there?

SHAICH: Well, as a rule, we`re not giving away food. I mean, we would not be able to stay a $4 billion public company very long doing that.We have created cafes. We have now five of them we`re serving a million people a year in cafes of shared responsibility. There are no set prices in those cafes. We have one in St. Louis, one in Detroit, one in Chicago, one in Portland, Oregon, and one in Boston. They are in the cities. They`re in places where people can access them.

And the whole purpose is to give these cafes to the community and let the community take care of each other. We built it, we paid for it, the community takes care of it.

We say to people if you got a few extra bucks in your pocket, pay it forward and leave more to take care of people. If you have a little bit less, feel free to leave a little bit less. And if you have nothing, leave nothing. We`ll ask you to volunteer to help clean the tables.

And, Chris, here`s the amazing thing. People thought we were nuts when we were doing it. The reality is that these are working. People are -- have stepped up. We will serve a million people in these cafes.

Americans are fundamentally good people. They will understand. They will take care of each other.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back -- congratulations on what you`re doing. I think it`s great the private sector is doing this.

Let me go back to Senator Stabenow, who is a great senator. Let me ask you this whole issue of food stamps and the iconography of it. What did you make of it when Newt Gingrich called the president the food stamp president?

SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: Well, you know, I mean, we all know what the codes are for that, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STABENOW: And you talk about that all the time.

I mean, I think what Ron is speaking to is the best about us. It`s our higher angels. It`s the values we`ve had as Americans of reaching out to help somebody whether it`s a poor child. Half of the people we`re talking about on assistance are children.

And the rest of the folks, you know, as I mentioned -- I mean, you know, need some temporary help that the folks that are seniors that we ought to be respecting in their older years living only on Social Security and need a little bit of help, put food on the table, or people with disabilities.

I mean, what they`re doing in the House are going to our worst nature, trying to pit people against each other. We`ve seen this story before. Pitting everybody against each other instead of looking at the reality which is food costs are coming down, 14 million people coming off of food assistance, because the economy`s improving.

If they want to help us get more people off of food assistance, stop the sequester, help create jobs, instead of demonizing hungry children and families.

MATTHEWS: Yes, they like to say that people use the food stamps to buy booze, to buy gin or vodka. I heard those charges.Anyway, thank you --

SHAICH: Chris, if I could throw something in here.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SHAICH: The real question is what kind of society we want? That`s the challenge each of us business people, each of us as individuals have to really take into.

MATTHEWS: You`re a great role model, Ron Shaich. Thank you very much, from Panera.

SHAICH: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thanks for coming on tonight.

And Senator Stabenow, thank you so much for coming on as always.

STABENOW: My pleasure.


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