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HUNGER BANQUET: Food insecurity haunts society, UNCP

December 18, 2013

By Alissa Smiley

Hunger is a serious issue in the world today. Students at the University of North Carolina Pembroke were reminded on November 21 how serious it can be at the annual Hunger Banquet.

Evan Long, a senior who directs the campus Food Pantry, said that the point of the Hunger Banquet was to “educate on poverty, hunger and other issues.” The banquet, sponsored by the Office of Community and Civic Engagement, began with facts about hunger in the world. Today, 1.3 billion people live in poverty, and out of that 793 million people suffer from hunger.

Beans and Rice – That was what the poor people ate, while sitting on the floor, at UNCP’s annual Hunger Banquet. The program illustrates food disparities and highlighted local food insecurity, including on campus.

Long said that there are many different organizations that attempt to help people in poverty by giving food, shelter or other services. And, there are also people trying to change the laws that keep poor people poor. 

The Hunger Banquet was a simulation. Entering the room, participants were handed a card with either high, middle or low income written on it. This determined seating arrangements. High-income card holders sat at a table with glassware and other markers of greater wealth.

There were six tables set with plastic ware for middle-income diners. If the card said low income, there was no table. At the beginning of the simulation, there were 12 people on the floor, eight at the middle-income tables and five at the high-income table.

Once everyone was seated the simulation began with students learning how fortunes can change. It started with three people from the middle-income tables losing their jobs and moving to the floor. This was followed by three people from the low-income getting jobs and moving up one notch.           

After this exercise ended the food was served. Those sitting at the high-income table received the nicest food, salad and baked chicken. The middle-income section received pizza slices. Those that were in the low-income section were given beans and rice.

During dinner, more facts were shared. Dr. Brooke Kelly shared the findings of her Sociology of Poverty class. The class has been learning about food insecurity in Robeson County and on campus.

Their findings showed that 34.5 percent of people in Robeson County are below the poverty line. On campus, they found that 45.5 percent of students had very low food security. This included having multiple instances of disrupted eating and low food intake.

The students shared their reactions to the simulation. One student, who had started out low income and moved to middle income said: “It was nice to move up from the low to middle income, it is more comfortable, and we got better food.”

Many of the students at the high-income table said that they felt slightly guilty while eating the nicest food and seeing the low-income people eat rice.

Jesenia Morales, a student in Dr. Kelly’s Sociology of Poverty class, said: “I think it wasn’t as eye opening for me because I have experienced hunger personally.” “This banquet is a great thing it is really beneficial to many students.”

The banquet ended with Christie Poteet, director of service-learning in the Office of Community and Civic Engagement, sharing information about the Food Pantry on campus. It is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. until noon. It is also open on Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m.

Alissa Smiley is a senior mass communication major and an intern with the Office of University Communications and Marketing.