About 65 people gathered in the Red Gym on Thursday night to participate in the La Follette School Student Association‘s “Hunger Meal.” The event, which was a joint venture with the Second Harvest Foodbank, was designed to “raise both funds and awareness” to combat both food and income inequality, according to event organizer and LSSA Board Member Peter Braden.
“We were delighted with the turnout and the community involvement,” Braden said.
The Hunger Meal sought to show the unequal distribution of both food and income by randomly selecting participants to eat one of three types of meals that represented different income groups. Six attendee tickets were drawn out of a hat at the beginning of the event to select which participants would enjoy an “upper class” meal. The upper class members were served their meal on golden plates at a separate table. Twelve more tickets were drawn to select the members of the “middle class,” who served themselves and enjoyed a decent meal at a long table. The remainder of the participants received a small serving of rice and beans. All participants paid the same ticket price to enter.
The line for the serving of food available to the “poor” was long, and those who received it found themselves sitting on the floor between the two tables representing the wealthier citizens.
Braden came back to the podium after all participants had a chance to eat to announce that the event had raised $325 for the Second Harvest Foodbank, which has a network of locations serving 140,000 people across 16 counties in southwestern Wisconsin.
Professor Emeritus of Public Affairs Robert Haveman, who is a researcher at the Institute for Research on Poverty, spoke to the crowd about the current state of income inequality in the United States and its relation to hunger. He began discussing the varying definitions of hunger, including food insecurity, malnutrition, and starvation.
Over 40 million people in the United States are food insecure, which means that they have difficulty finding enough money to afford a healthy diet, according to Haveman. He pointed out that these individuals are often forced to make hard choices between food an other expenses, such as health care and rent.
Haveman also said about 1 billion people in the world are malnourished. Although the overall rate of people that are malnourished has fallen over the last four decades, six million children die each year because of starvation, which is the third and most dire category of hunger.
Shifting his focus to the United States, Haveman pointed out that income inequality rose dramatically between 1979 and 2007, and that the definition of poverty itself is based on an “outdated” measure from 1965 that measures the amount of income required to purchase “a minimally adequate diet.”
“It’s bad. It’s getting worse,” Haveman said, referring to the poverty problem in the United States.
He outlined three programs that alleviate poverty, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), free and reduced-price school lunches, and local private food pantries. SNAP, also known as food stamps, provided an average monthly income of $336 per household to 45 million recipients in 2010. Low cost or free school breakfasts and lunches are provided to 30 million students daily, and 5.6 million households accessed emergency food from pantries one or more times in 2010, Haveman said.
Haveman informed the audience that more people are eligible for these programs, but many fail to enroll.
“The goal was to get not just students, but the entire community involved. I think we succeeded,” said organizer Braden.
LSSA President Katherine Sydor also attended the Hunger Meal.
“I was really touched and pleased that a group of professors came to this event to support us,” Sydor said, noting that they could speak with Professor Haveman about this subject any time, yet they chose to donate and attend.
Ryan Eisner, a first-year La Follette student, noted that even though he was in the poor category, he still enjoyed the food.
“The rice and beans were better than I thought,” he said.
Professor Haveman, who was lucky enough to have been selected to be middle class, noted in his discussion that the poor in the United States often eat less healthy and include more processed food than the rice and beans provided.
Braden was upbeat after the event and hoped to make a tradition out of it, saying “I’m looking forward to year two.”