Hunger Banquet dishes out filling plate about poverty, world hunger

Diners at the seventh annual Hunger Banquet drew lots to determine whether they would dine in luxury or on rice and beans. The event strives to show participants the prevalence and inequity of hunger in the world.

Hunger Banquet dishes out filling plate about poverty, world hunger

A week after many Americans sat down to plates heaping with all the trimmings of a traditional Thanksgiving feast, an at-capacity crowd filed into a meeting room on University of the Pacific's Stockton Campus for another holiday dinner—but this time most ended up sitting on the floor with a plate of rice and beans.

That was the point of Nov. 29's Hunger Banquet this year at the Alex and Jeri Vereschagin House. For the past seven years, the event has been sensitizing students and the community at large to the prevalence and inequity of hunger by illustrating the disparities between those born in countries where food is plentiful and the millions who routinely go to bed on an empty stomach.

"Oh, c'mon now!" was Christian Murphy's initial reaction when the Pacific sophomore learned that his $5 ticket only bought him a modest helping of black beans and white rice.

"But then I realized I'm paying for the experience," he said. "You're trying to get a feel for people who are less fortunate than us, (for) what they go through."

To underscore the arbitrary nature of fate and fortune, the event featured a lottery of sorts: Participants drew slips of paper from a basket that determined whether they would eat like the millions around the world who live in poverty or enjoy more substantial fare.

Those who received a "middle-class" designation received chicken breast, red potatoes, squash and carrots. Only 16 were lucky enough to sit at linen-covered tables where they were served a three-course meal of beef tenderloin medallions with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, mixed green salad, rolls and chocolate cake.

That the Hunger Banquet takes place at a time of year when food dominates festivities is no coincidence, said Laurie Lichter-Heath, faculty adviser to the student club that organized the event.

"It reminds people how ... fortunate most of us are on this campus that we don't need to worry about where our next meal is coming from," she said.

Raymundo Bravo, a senior, grinned as he held the ticket entitling him to a middle-of-the-road dinner.

"I didn't want to be on the floor, because they don't have the same quality of food," he said.

Although the marketing major had come to earn extra credit for a course, the experience wasn't lost on him or fellow classmate Steven Scogna.

Each ticket was printed with the profile of an individual representing one of three income brackets and included facts about his or her standard of living. Scogna was taken aback to learn that someone who's considered middle-class in Guatemala earns only about $50 per day.

"It's honestly shocking to me," he said.

As people tucked into their meals, sophomore Zahab Shaukat recited statistics on global hunger.

"You may think hunger is about too many people and too little food," said Shaukat, president of the student club Council of Social Entrepreneurs. "That is not the case. Our bountiful planet produces enough food to feed every woman, man and child. Hunger's roots lie in inequalities in access to resources."

That imbalance exists not only between nations but within the United States: In San Joaquin County alone, 98,650 people - 46 percent of them children - don't have enough affordable nutritious food, according to Stockton's Second Harvest Food Bank.

The face of hunger also defies stereotypes: Lichter-Heath has seen Pacific students show up each week to club meetings just for the free food offered and then disappear before the events began.

"I had them in my class and I didn't realize they were hungry," she said.

Lichter-Heath's hope is that the event not only opened people's eyes to the prevalence of food shortages but inspired them to help those in need.

"One person can make a difference. All you have to do is have an idea and follow it," she said.

Emilie Jenkins is already doing that. The graphic design major grew up volunteering at food banks with her family and went on a three-week humanitarian trip to Ecuador last year.

"I've led such a privileged life that it's important for me to experience how other people live," Jenkins said.

Shaukat is another who practices what he preaches.

The business law major and his roommate regularly give away staples—milk, bread, fruit—that they know they won't finish before it reaches the end of its shelf life. Shaukat takes the groceries to a homeless encampment nearby or drops them off at a local mosque to distribute.

He's well-acquainted with hunger pangs himself as an observer of Ramadan, a month-long period of spiritual reflection during which Muslims fast from sunup to sundown.

"When you stay hungry for 12 to 14 hours, then you understand what people are feeling," Shaukat said.

The $615 in proceeds from the Hunger Banquet will be divided evenly between Second Harvest Food Bank and Pacific Food Pantry, which offers emergency supplies for students.