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Hunger Banquet

Students raise awareness of 'food insecurity'


11/18/2009

Nearly 50 million Americans don't have enough to eat. It's the highest number since the government began tracking what it calls "food insecurity" 14 years ago, the Department of Agriculture reported Monday.

The increase of 13 million United States citizens was much larger than even the most pessimistic observers of hunger trends had expected, shining a spotlight on the daily hardships caused by the recession's impact on jobs and wages.

On Wednesday night, students and faculty from three MCLA sociology classes hosted a Hunger Banquet fundraiser and food drive. For the first time, the event - which has been held every other year for the past decade - was open not only to members of the campus, but to the greater community as well.

Attendees either paid $1 or brought a non-perishable food item - all of which were donated to a local food pantry or soup kitchen.

According to Dr. Sumi Colligan, an MCLA sociology professor and one of the event's organizers, the Hunger Banquet demonstrates the social and economic inequalities surrounding the distribution of resources, including food, around the world.

In the U.S. alone, about a third of households that struggle are forced to skip meals, cut portions, or otherwise forgo food at times during the year. Although the other two-thirds typically had enough to eat, they ate cheaper or less varied foods. They also relied on government aid like food stamps, received groceries from food pantries, or ate at soup kitchens.

The banquet also served as a forum for students to share their knowledge about global poverty and inequality, as well as the ways in which people across the globe are working to bring about greater equity and justice.

"I think they learn something about the root causes of hunger and poverty in the world," Colligan says. "My particular students are supposed to understand the sources of power that prevent people from getting ahead. They also locate stories of activism in the world so they know people are trying to be proactive in changing their situation."

At the banquet, attendees were assigned positions in various socioeconomic classes and dined accordingly. As a symbolic representation of how hunger is distributed throughout the world, 10 people in the "elite" tier enjoyed lasagna, salad, dessert, and soft drinks. This meal was served with silverware and on a tablecloth.

Twenty people - who represented the middle tier - ate beans, rice, and cornbread. The majority of the diners fell in the lowest tier. Those 70 people had only rice and water to eat and drink.

Many were assigned a "persona" and were asked to read their stories as the evening unfolded. 

"Some of it jolts people out of their sense of complacency," Colligan says. "I don't think people understand the scope of poverty in the world. It's not just somebody else's problem. I want people to feel that there's something that can be done about it. We create the policies that create hunger and poverty and we can also recreate the policies that change the distribution of hunger and poverty."