As National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week began Saturday across the country, Penn State started its first event Monday night with free food and a few life lessons on the agenda about food inequality and class imbalance.
Sponsored by the Penn State Student Affairs Union and Student Activities, a hunger banquet was held in Heritage Hall at the HUB to mirror the unequal distribution of food in the world, as said in a flier. The event was free, but donations of non-perishable goods were suggested upon entrance.
As people arrived, each was randomly given a slip of paper with an imaginary story of someone in a specific class system. Each slip listed a name, a class system and a brief description of the person’s life, family history and occupation. The paper determined where the individual would be stationed during the event—the low class sat on the floor, the middle class sat on buffet tables and the high class sat on round tables with table cloths and restaurant dinnerware.
Amina Amir, a second year finance major from Malaysia, was the program planner for the event. The expected attendance was around 100 people. Even though less than 100 people attended, Amir was completely satisfied with the number of participants.
The three segments were divided according to the real world statistics — 15 percent of the world population has a yearly income of $9,076 or more, 20 percent has a yearly income between $912 and $9,075, and 60 percent has a yearly income of less than $912.
As everyone laughed with their friends who were split into different class systems across the room, smiles disappeared from people’s faces when it was time to eat.
Those who were placed in low class had to walk over to their food and water and receive just a cup of rice. The middle class sat on buffet tables and walked up to their line to receive a spoonful of rice and black beans on a disposable plate. Finally, the higher class was served a salad with creamy Italian dressing, baked ziti, penne chicken, mozzarella sticks and iced tea—with the option of receiving a second serving.
“They got the tables and I was sitting on the floor and just got a cup of rice,” said Mirza Ikmal, second-year marketing major from Malaysia, about the upper classes.
Placed in low class, Ikmal was more disappointed in the imbalance of food distribution than his actual meal, he said.
“I’m going to read more about it,” he says. “I think donation is very important and I’m definitely going to donate more.”
Jake Ruddy, a sophomore bioengineering major, was placed in middle class. “Our meal was fine, but being able to sustain yourself on this type of food will definitely be difficult,” he said. Ruddy was surprised to know how different the American perspective on class system is compared to the world.
The hunger banquet was a metaphor for how food and resources are inequitably distributed in the world, said one of the presenters during the introduction. About 841 million people suffer from chronic hunger and almost 30,000 children die a day from it.
Its purpose was to spread awareness about food inequality and show others how the American class system differentiates from the rest of the world.
Along with the banquet, two more events will be held this week. A forum on hunger and homelessness awareness week will be held on Tuesday from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the Freeman Auditorium at the HUB. Three panelists will share their views and perspectives on hunger and homelessness around the world. Also, on Thursday, Nov. 21, a group of volunteers will gather to organize Thanksgiving baskets in order to distribute them to local families during the break.