Oxfam’s interactive hunger banquet facilitates discussion about food insecurity, social injustice

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By Mollie Higgins
For Mitzpeh
@Molliehigginss

In an effort to educate and inspire students at this university, the Oxfam UMD chapter held a hunger banquet and discussion at Hillel to strike conversation on the social injustices facing refugees and food insecurity issues around the world Thursday night.

Senior American studies major Autumn Thompson helped organize Oxfam UMD’s second annual hunger banquet, which included an interactive dinner and discussion. It was the first time for many, but left most feeling more aware of the issue being discussed than a typical lecture or discussion would.

Upon arrival, students and faculty were told to draw a random piece of paper that determined their socioeconomic status for the night. The paper either told them that they were part of the upper class and could sit at the table in the middle of the room, the middle class and could sit on a chair on the outside of the room, or lower class and would sit on the floor in the front of the room.

Some students also participated in a simulation in which they were given a scenario and had to move out of their class. Claudia Gomez, a senior animal science major, was initially sitting with the upper class and had to move down to the middle class. Others though, were more fortunate and got to move in the other direction from the lower class to the upper class.

 

Claudia Gomez (right, standing) reads her paper describing a fisherman from New Orleans whose crop was ruined due to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. This caused the fisherman to lose income and be moved to the middle class. Mollie Higgins/Mitzpeh.

Gomez, reflecting upon how moving from the upper class to the middle class made her feel, said, “I was surprised, but it really reestablished how people can’t choose what class you want to be in.”

When students initially signed up for the event, they were told that they would be served food, but didn’t know the socioeconomic status they were placed into that night would determine what they were having for dinner.

As dinner was served there was a clear distinction between the different groups. The upper class was served brisket, mashed potatoes, rice, cooked vegetables and ice cream for dessert while the middle class was served mashed potatoes, rice and cooked vegetables. As the lower class continued to sit on the floor, they were only served one tray of rice that they had to share between 20 people.

Two people from the upper and middle classes decided that they did not want to eat their dinner and that they wanted to give it to the people in the lower class who didn’t have as much food, but every time, the people of the lower class said no thank you.

 

The lower class group enjoyed their shared tray of rice and joined in conversation. Mollie Higgins/Mitzpeh.

 

Senior psychology and women’s studies major Julia Snider was sitting at the upper class table and said that halfway through the meal the table realized that there was an abundance of meat and talked about how they could split it up.

Snider said, “We even tried to figure out how many pieces to cut the meat into, but in the end we didn’t get anything done.”

Dr. Kenneth Leonard from the Agricultural and Resource Economics Department said that while hunger banquets and interactive events are effective, “One thing that is almost impossible to convey in a situation like this is the sense of worry.”

Leonard asked everyone in the room to think about what they worried about before they attended the event. He reassured everyone that they probably had something to worry about, but then he said, “Ask yourself the simple question and worry of ‘Will I eat?’”

Leonard reiterated that something like that is hard to convey in a simulation, but is important to think about and ultimately asked the attendees to “be a part of the generation of change, because someone has to.”

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