Clash of the Classes: Student government gives students a taste of food disparity
There is hunger even in the land of plenty; an estimated 450,000 Arkansans experience food insecurity, meaning they don’t know if they will have access to enough food at times, according to a 2009 study by the United States Department of Agriculture.
To help bring awareness to the university community about how food and other resources are unevenly distributed in Arkansas and worldwide, the Student Government Association sponsored, for the second consecutive year, a hunger banquet Nov. 15, which they dubbed Clash of the Classes.
As in life, the participants didn’t get to choose their stations. After paying $2 or donating four canned-food items, they each picked an envelope at the door that included a short biography of someone from either the low, middle or high-income class. When they entered Ledbetter Hall, they were directed to a seat corresponding with the income level indicated on the slip in their envelope.
To the right, sitting at several round tables draped with white tablecloths, were the participants in the high-income class. A basket of bread, bowl of salad dressing and vase filled with an assortment of fall flowers were arranged in the center of the table and each place was set with a colorful green salad and a hefty slice of white cake. They had lemonade to drink and in a chaffing dish were generous portions of rich cheesy vegetable lasagna. They were told they represent the 10 percent of people worldwide that have plenty to eat.
To the left there were three long rows of tables with chairs along both sides where the representative middle-income class sat. There were no fancy tablecloths or flower arrangements and no bread, salad or cake. For them, a chaffing dish contained hot soup and they had water to drink. The people in this class represent the 25 percent of people who generally get an adequate number of calories, but are low in essential nutrients.
In the center of the hall there are no tables, no chairs and just a few simple pieces of cardboard to separate the representative low-income participants from the ground. The low-income class is the largest group; they represent the 65 percent of people worldwide who have too little food. They are served a small bowl of white rice and a cup of water.
At first, the new participants didn’t know exactly what would happen at Clash of the Classes. But freshman nursing and social work major Chloe Deaton wasn’t surprised that when she pulled her envelope, the slip she read relegated her to the low-income cardboard mats scattered in the center of the room.
“I guess I was kind of expecting it because I knew the largest percentage of people were in the lower class, but I was kind of shocked that we were sitting on the floor and on cardboard then we only got a bowl of rice and cup of water. I thought we would get more to eat,” she said.
The representatives from the low-income class were not the only ones dissatisfied with their fare. Hamza Arshad, junior philosophy major, said he was disappointed that people like him in the middle-income class did not get cake. “I was kind-of jealous of the first class for getting cake,” he said.
Even though those in the low and middle-income classes probably wished they pulled the high-income envelope, Monroe Suber, junior chemistry major, said he was embarrassed sitting at the high-income table while others were sitting on the floor or eating just soup.
“I wasn’t expecting to get an upper-class ticket; it was one of those things that just happened,” he said. One of the realizations Suber said he would take away from the presentation is “none of us really have control over what we are born into.”
But not everyone was stuck in the class to which they were “born.” Some, especially lucky volunteers like Justin Scott, senior marketing major, symbolized prosperous individuals that were able to move up a class because of their hard work and good fortune. However, there were also ill-fated volunteers that represented those whose families had suffered major financial loses or natural disasters causing them to move down a class.
Whether in a Third World country that was mentioned in the Clash of the Classes presentation or in Arkansas, when families struggle financially they are forced to make difficult choices between feeding themselves or paying for utilities, shelter or medicine.
Rising from her cardboard mat and with the realization that so many people have so little, Kanesha Barnes, junior criminal justice major, shared her feelings about the experience with the crowd. “I felt like I guess I am ungrateful sometimes; some people don’t get the opportunity to eat a good meal,” Barnes said.
But in the end everyone at the hunger banquet got a good meal. SGA President Simone Lewis said the high-income class told her they felt bad and wanted to share their food with everyone.
“That’s not reality for most of us,” she told the crowd. “But that’s out of the goodness of your hearts and I hope this opens you up to how the world really is.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done, yet there’s also hope. All the stories you’ve heard today are those of real people, so by attending this hunger banquet you’re deepening your awareness of world hunger and poverty. The test is how you put this knowledge to use. Our hunger banquet ends here, but this is just the beginning for each of you. If what you’ve learned or something you’ve experienced has stirred something in you then take action now,” Lewis said.
Those who are interested in the fight against hunger can help year-round by donating food, money and/or time, and by becoming a voice against hunger.For more information you can visit arhungeralliance.org.