Clarkies Experience World Hunger

5 December 2002

By Stentor Danielson
Scarlet Staff

Only four people were served pie, while most of the people in attendance got only bread at a recent dinner in Tilton Hall; and it wasn’t because the organizers ran out of food. About twenty students gathered Monday, Nov. 25 for a hunger banquet to raise funds for, and awareness about, the charity Oxfam's efforts to combat hunger and poverty around the world.

The event, sponsored by the Department of International Development, Community, and Environment (IDCE) and Uncle Sam's Pizza, tried to simulate the worldwide distribution of access to food. As diners entered, they selected slips of paper that gave them an identity for the evening. Those who were in the high-income group, representing 15% percent of the world’s population, were seated at tables with tablecloths while servers brought them lemonade, pizza, salad, meringue pie and brownies. The middle-income group was fed beans and rice. The unfortunate individuals that were placed in the low-income group, representing the 55% of the world that lives on less than $2 a day, sat on the floor and were given only bread, tied up in plastic shopping bags in a fashion resembling a foreign aid food drop.

Each slip of paper gave details about the diner's identity for the night. For example, this reporter was Julio, a Costa Rican coffee farmer who was exploited by a middleman until he joined a farmer’s collective.

Participants were encouraged to role-play, which many did. Members of the low-income group made deals with other groups, or simply stole food from the tables. Some individuals even assailed a server bringing a plate of brownies to the high-income table.

The exercise was meant to make participants reflect on the unequal distribution of food around the world.

"I wasn't just pretending to be annoyed" when food was taken from her table, said a member of the high-income group. "Food is so personal."

"These situations force people to do things they don’t want to do. But they have to feed their families," said a low-income member who had led some of the pizza stealing.

Didier Jacobs from Oxfam America spoke after the dinner about Oxfam’s projects around the world. "We've realized over the years that the real constraint on poverty is what we call social exclusion," he said. "Poor people lack access to resources that would enable them to feed themselves."

Jacobs said Oxfam has fought for land rights and civil rights, worked to establish microcredit enterprises that make small loans to poverty stricken individuals, and fought negative policies instituted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and first world governments. "The rules of society must change," he said.

Proceeds from the night’s donations at the door went to Oxfam’s program in southern Africa. While organizers had advertised a 50/50 split of the money between Oxfam and the Worcester food bank, participants agreed that the money would have more impact going to a single program.

Jacobs said that Oxfam had been forced to mute its political advocacy in southern Africa because, "The government [of Zimbabwe] is very authoritarian and has already expelled NGOs like Oxfam. In order to remain in the country and help poor Zimbabweans, we have taken the decision to shut up."

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