On Wednesday, April 23, students and faculty gathered in the Center for African American Studies for the first Hunger Banquet, a lecture and meal designed to educate attendees about world hunger. Seniors Marissa Schnitman and Francesca Moree organized the event, and Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies and English Sarah Mahurin gave the introductory lecture preceding the meal and facilitated a discussion afterwards.
Each student was given a slip of paper upon arrival, designating hir class status: lower class, middle class, or upper class. Lower-class citizens sat on the floor, middle-class attendees sat on chairs, and upper-class citizens sat at a table with a tablecloth, tulips, and full place settings. Mahurin observed that these are extremely simplified classifications and that, in reality, class lines are much more difficult to distinguish.
Mahurin began the banquet with an introductory speech describing the pervasiveness of hunger in the lives of the impoverished.
“This is a hunger that is a reality in [people’s] everyday lives,” Mahurin said. “We often talk about hunger in very theoretical or conceptual terms, but I want to try to make this as literal and material as possible. A child dies from malnutrition every nine seconds, which make it 9,500 children since you had your dinner last night.”
Expanding upon this, Mahurin explained that hunger is linked to numerous other issues and is cyclical for many families, continuing from generation to generation.
“Hunger is not just about resources or about there being too many people and not enough food; the planet actually has the capacity to grow plenty of food for everyone to eat,” Mahurin said. “Hunger is really about power, and its roots lie in inequalities and in access to resources rather than in scarcity of the resources themselves. Access isn’t just about food…it’s about literacy, money, peace, these are also things that are limited and inaccessible for a large portion of the global population.”
Mahurin then described American poverty and hunger, an issue that is a reality for a large portion of the population.
“This is a global phenomenon, both in richer countries and in poorer countries, in rural areas and in urban areas,” Mahurin said. “It is also, importantly, a national phenomenon: 46 million Americans live in poverty.”
Schnitman described her motivation for bringing the Hunger Banquet concept to the University in an email to The Argus.
“I organized the banquet along with Francesca Moree, who coordinates the Hunger and Homelessness student group,” Schnitman wrote. “We received additional sponsorship from Oxfam America—an organization that I have been involved with for many years—as well as Full House, Farm House, Earth House, Rho [Epsilon Pi], Shoulder to Shoulder, and Haveli. I have been to two Oxfam hunger banquets and these were very powerful and eye-opening experiences. I have wanted to organize one at Wesleyan for a while and this semester I finally found the time and support to do it.”
During the event, lower-class citizens were each allocated a small bowl of rice, while middle-class citizens ate lentils and upper-class citizens were served steak and salad. Schnitman expressed her satisfaction with the event and with Professor Mahurin’s introduction.
“The event is designed to be an interactive simulation of global inequalities related to income, power, and food, and [to] challenge certain assumptions people have about hunger,” Schnitman wrote. “Professor Mahurin did an amazing job facilitating a discussion about these issues and I was very pleased that so many attendees contributed to the dialogue following the meal.”
Roxy Capron ’14 described her enthusiasm for the event and her hope that, in the future, a greater and more varied audience will attend events that raise awareness about world hunger.
“I’ve heard about this event happening at other schools and I thought it sounded really interesting,” Capron said. “I think [the idea of a Hunger Banquet] can be an enlightening learning experience, but, for the most part, the people who go to these events already know about the issue and are passionate about it and the people who need to hear about it the most generally don’t attend.”
Each student paid two dollars upon entry to the Banquet, and proceeds were donated to charities focusing on ending local and world hunger.
“I think the event was successful both in terms of engaging students and raising over 150 dollars, which will be split between Oxfam, which fights global hunger, and Amazing Grace Food Pantry, which alleviates local hunger in Middletown,” Schnitman said. “I really hope the event becomes a yearly tradition.”