Oct 232008
Authors: Madeline Novey

Women on chairs in the Parmelee dining hall waited anxiously as the men stepped up to a serving line for a meager meal bowl of beans and rice before the women were allowed to get their meals.

The group of diners, mostly students, were there to experience the effects of economic stratification of classes worldwide.

“I can’t believe that the middle-class women were forced to wait until after the men were served to get our rice and beans,” said Brie Sexton, a freshman art major. “It made me mad knowing that women take care of the children and do the majority of the work, maybe more than the men, and they got served first.”

Thursday night, at the fourth annual Oxfam Hunger Banquet, women who were assigned an alternate identity in the middle-income economic class, were told to wait to be served — much like the majority of women world-wide — until after the men had received their meal.

This example of gender stratification was only one of the issues that officials addressed and educated the more than 100 attendants of the meal.

To illustrate the stratification of the world’s economic classes and expose the diners to the growing crisis of world hunger and poverty, diners were assigned an alternative identity, in either the low, middle or high-income economic class, which dictated what meal they were served and where they were allowed to sit.

Hunger banquet planning committee officials said they were “elated” because they raised over $800 from ticket sales, all of which they said will be donated to Oxfam America, a relief organization that works to develop solutions to hunger and poverty.

Officials said the event was designed by Oxfam America and coordinated by various CSU organizations, including the Office of International Programs, Housing and Dining Services and Hillel, among others. They said the banquet was one of thousands that are hosted across the country each year to bring awareness to the hunger issue.

“The banquet shows the inequalities of the world and promotes a better understanding of hunger and poverty,” said Lannea Russell, chair for the hunger banquet planning committee. “I think we’re pretty sheltered as United States people; even those who live below the poverty line here have it fairly well compared to other people in the world.”

Attendants said they were shocked by the class disparity and significantly higher number of people were labeled low-income — who represented the 60 percent of people living in poverty in the world — and were forced to sit on ragged blankets to eat their meager meal of steamed rice.

“I felt really guilty having masses of food and seeing the others with their tiny little bowls,” said Garrett Dickson, a freshman health and exercise science major and high-income banquet diner. “(The people at my table) wanted to take our food over to the other people in the low-income section.”

High-income diners, who represented the 15 percent of the world’s population and earn more than $9,076 per year or more, were greeted and escorted to tables set with flower arrangements and linens where they enjoyed a meal that provided 87 percent of a person’s 2000 calorie diet for the day.

“For me, it’s interesting how quickly I go back to the American meal,” said Travis Hall, founder of Seven Days for Seven Dollars and a high-income banquet diner.

“We’ve been programmed since we were born to be like this,” Hall added, and gestured to the chocolate tartlet on his plate. “It was hard to eat the meal here because there were people five feet away eating only rice.”

After the dishes were cleared, attendants broke into discussion groups to reflect on the experience and share insight and solutions to end hunger and poverty.

In one group, attendants said that they were disheartened by the prevalence of hunger on both the global and local level and, while they said they felt “helpless” overall, thought that the solution is to increase awareness of the issues and get involved by volunteering at local food banks and examining personal consumption levels.

One Hunger Solution

Last summer, two CSU students, Allison Lundeby and Miranda Fisher, founded Universities Fighting Hunger, an on-campus organization that Lundeby said was on a “mission” to raise awareness about hunger and fight it “domestically and internationally.”

The organization — a smaller branch of Universities Fighting World Hunger, started by students at Auburn University in Alabama — made its greatest push to raise hunger awareness when it hosted the Cans Around the Oval Concert on Oct. 18, from which proceeds were donated to the Larimer County Food Bank.

“Hunger should not be a crisis because we have enough food to feed the world,” Lundeby said. “It makes me sad that our world does not provide every human with basic needs — food, water and shelter — especially when we have the technology and the ability to.”

Lundeby said the organization works closely with Student Leadership, Involvement, and Community Engagement and the Office of International Programs to launch various efforts — from volunteer work with the Larimer County Food Bank, to educational speaker series — that offer solutions and combat hunger.

The next Universities Fighting World Hunger meeting is open to the public and is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 29 at 5 p.m. in Clark C217.

As far as solutions, many attendants and officials agreed that growing awareness of the issue is the start to an overarching solution.

“I think that there is a lack of awareness in the world for both local and global hunger issues,” Lundeby said. “Locally, I think there are many ways to help by volunteering time or contributing money; globally, we need to push our politicians to support existing aid programs with funding and to pass legislation that supports ending poverty and hunger.”

Senior Reporter Madeline Novey can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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