by: Autumn Young
At first glance, the room resembled a sort of strange tea party. Tattered table cloths lay on the floor, a circle of folding chairs occupied a corner, a table, already set with glass dishware, was raised above it all. This, however, was not a tea party. This was a way to live another life.
Under normal circumstances we each get to live only the life we’re given, but Wednesday evening Bluffton students were given the chance to experience an entirely different social class when the Bluffton Global Health class, led by Professor Ross Kauffman, hosted a hunger banquet for Bluffton University’s Civic Engagement Day.
Over forty students and faculty arrived at the Kreider room in Marbeck and were handed cards explaining their character and station in life. For the next hour they would not be Bluffton students; instead, they would become sweatshop workers, widows who subsist on meager servings of rice, and plantation workers who don’t even make enough to buy food for the day. A lucky few would become part of the twenty percent—those who make over 6,300 dollars a year—but the other eighty percent of the students in the room would become representatives of the world’s poor.
By the time everyone had settled into their new, temporary roles, those few students sitting at the table had already been served their meal of pasta, salad and breadsticks. The majority of students, however, remained hungry.
Students Alicia Rodriguez and Sarah Klenke facilitated the event, giving a brief explanation of world hunger and prompting the attendees to question their own lives and roles they could play in the problem of hunger and poverty.
“Hunger is about power. Its roots lie in inequality,” Klenke said, emphasizing that poverty, and the hunger that follows it, is not a problem of overpopulation, or a choice. She cited global shifts in weather, land unavailability and unchangeable circumstance as major causes of hunger.
“Look around the room right now and recognize that equality does not exist here,” said Rodriguez, a Junior Dietetics major.
That inequality became even clearer to students as food was served. The “middle income” group, those students making between $1,128 and $6,300 dollars a year, where given plates of rice and beans. The students sitting on the floor, however, were given only small packets of rice along with strict directives to let the men eat first. These students were making less than $1,128 a year.
The banquet idea, according to the students who hosted the event, was inspired by the organization Oxfam, which fights poverty, injustice and hunger around the world. The organization encourages groups to hold “hunger banquets” in order to raise awareness of world hunger, providing tools and resources to do so.
The event ended with a renewed emphasis on Bluffton’s theme for the year: education for life.
“Education is the single greatest weapon against poverty…we want you all to think about what role education plays in hunger,” Klenke said.
And students seemed more than up for the task. “For women especially, getting an education is definitely one key…if you don’t have education you don’t get a good enough job, which means you don’t get paid enough, which means you don’t have enough food, or at least good quality food, which leads to all kinds of problems. You also can’t learn anything if you’re hungry, so it all kind of goes hand in hand,” Sophomore Kim Meyer, an attendee of the event, during a discussion shortly after the dinner.
Myer reiterated an underlying theme of the banquet, which stressed how little choice people have in their lives, just how much where you are born can affect your future, and how hopeless it can be to try to improve your life when caught in a never-ending cycle. Though Bluffton students got a chance to live another life for an evening, for most of the world’s hungry, that dream lies just out of reach.