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Hunger Banquet examines food insecurity

<dapted version of the Oxfam Hunger Banquet was held last week in the Great Hall on October 30 to raise awareness about food insecurity on campus. Upon entering the room, students were randomly separated into groups of low, middle and high income, which determined the meal they received.

“The point of it is to simulate what meals look like for different levels of income. And it’s also an event to elicit emotions. It’s supposed to make the high income group uncomfortable, with the person a foot away from them only having rice,” said Julia Kenney ’20.

The event focused on visually emphasizing what it is like to live with the realities of food insecurity. About forty students attended the banquet, which also included time for videos and discussion questions.

The event was organized by Mara Blumenstein ’19, Nat Gillard ’20, Julia Kenney ’20, and Adam Loew ’20. They are students in the political science course “Comparative Social Movements” taught by Professor Dev Gupta. The class planned and initiated projects of activism throughout the term. Students were placed into groups based on common interests.

“The students then have to work together to find a specific topic or focus within that,” explained Gupta. “Some issue that they care about, that they’re interested in. That has to do with a social issue that they would like to see increased awareness or change.”

The banquet forced attendees to question their previous impressions of food insecurity. “I think a lot of people realized their own misconceptions about food insecurity and there was a lot of discussion that happened between different students,” said Loew.

“Food insecurity can present itself in a lot of different forms,” he continued. “And so reducing the stigma around that and helping people realize what they can do to combat it was really important to us.”

Considering the issue of food insecurity on campus, Gillard said, “We don’t acknowledge it at Carleton because this is a school of very privileged kids and you don’t think your classmate could be insecure. When I learned that 1 in 10 Carleton students were food insecure, that really shocked me.”

Gupta also commented on the importance of the group’s efforts to raise awareness of food insecurity. “One of the privileges of being in a developed country is that it’s not immediately apparent to everyone what food insecurity looks like,” she said. “And that’s not true for everyone at Carleton. Some people live with food insecurity as a reality in their own lives. But for many people, hunger is something you experience temporarily; it’s not chronic.”

The banquet was just one of several initiatives organized by the group over the course of the term. When tasked with creating projects related to food insecurity, the group first defined the scope of their desired impact and planned their events to be on the local level. “We started it off as an advertising campaign about defining what food insecurity is and let people know that it exists at Carleton and in the Northfield community,” said Kenney.

The first initiative consisted of creating posters and pamphlets to provide facts about food insecurity. It did not fully have the intended impact. “I realized the people we were giving pamphlets to weren’t really reading them and we weren’t really connecting with them,” said Gillard. “My goal changed in the sense that I thought it was more important, over the quantity of people I’ve reached out to, the quality of information that was distributed to smaller groups of people.”

The next project was the trayless initiative, which took place over several evenings in LDC. The group was present during the dinners to make sure they could explain the rationale behind the missing trays. They also had a ‘Clean Plate Club’ on the chalkboard outside of LDC, to encourage people to be more cognizant of food waste.

“People were interested in what was happening until it began to have an effect on their daily lives,” said Loew. “When we decided to take trays away in the dining hall, there were a lot of complaints from people that they had to get up again and go get more food. We have them available in case someone needs them especially if they have injuries or have problems getting back up to get more food.”

There is evidence that food waste is reduced by dissuading the use of trays. “LDC went trayless for a week two years ago and reduced food waste by 30 percent. It definitely has an impact, to take away trays, because people think about how much food they’re putting on their plate,” said Kenney.

One of the group’s goals is for Carleton to go permanently trayless. They focused on the issue of food waste and how that plays into food insecurity and hunger, more broadly.

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