A taste of poverty

Author: Ed Cohen

Students sat on the floor of the South Dining Hall drinking water and eating rice with no utensils.

They weren’t being punished. They were volunteers selected to eat as the world’s poor eat at an awareness-raising Hunger Banquet last fall.

Exactly 200 students, faculty and staff participated in the program, which involved each person being handed one of three colored cards that determined their place in the world’s pecking order for the meal. Fifty-five percent received green cards, signifying the 55 percent of the world’s people whose diet is limited mainly to rice and water.

Thirty percent were handed blue cards, putting them in the “middle class,” globally speaking. They were entitled to rice and beans plus water or coffee.

The other 15 percent, handed red cards, had their usual abundant dining hall choices of food and drink. They also were seated in an exclusive area of the hall, symbolic of the privileged position most Americans occupy in the world order.

“It just makes you recognize and realize the blessing we have,” sophomore Katie Hinley, who was handed a green card, told The Observer.

The meal, which followed a model developed by the grassroots aid group Oxfam America, was part of the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness. The banquet aimed to raise both consciousness and funds. The dining hall donated $1.50 for every student who agreed to forego the regular meal. Faculty and staff participants paid $5 each.

The $1.50 rate is the same as the dining hall donates to the World Hunger Coalition for each student who agrees to forfeit one meal a week from their meal card. That program, which has existed for more than 10 years, currently has 546 participants. The $1.50 figure is a conservative estimate of the cost of food the student would have consumed, according to the Food Services department.

Rene Mulligan ’01, who coordinated the Hunger Banquet, says the event raised nearly $900 for the campus group East Timor Action Network (there was a speaker and translator from East Timor) and for the Center for the Homeless, Hope Rescue Mission and Life Treatment Center in South Bend.