Friday, December 14

The Quad: A small taste of food insecurity at the Hunger Banquet

This week's Hunger Banquet showcased what it is like to eat at a lower socioeconomic status. (Courtesy of Amy Truong)

This week's Hunger Banquet showcased what it is like to eat at a lower socioeconomic status. (Courtesy of Amy Truong)

UCLA’s annual Homelessness Awareness Week featured many events to raise awareness of food insecurity, such as the the Hunger Banquet, which took place Tuesday. I decided to attend the banquet since it was not just an ordinary event, but a simulation that attempted to reflect the experiences of people who experience food insecurity.

The event was organized by Hunger Project at UCLA, a student-run service organization. Members frequently help the homeless and at-risk populations in the Los Angeles community, with visits to Skid Row to serve meals.

When the guests arrived at the Hunger Banquet, they were randomly assigned a socioeconomic status. Guests received an “X” on their hand to represent class. In the order of descending social class, the colors were blue, red, green and black. Each color determined the amount of food that one could receive at the event.

I received a black X on my hand – the lowest class. The food was served to the highest class first, followed by the other classes in descending order. I waited, hungry, in my seat as my friends received their share of food.

When the emcee finally signaled to those with black X’s to get our food, I leaped out of my chair and got in line for the food. However, I was greatly disappointed at the portion I received – I was only given two small slices of bread and dips. A member of Hunger Project who was in charge of serving the salad apologized to me. She said I could not receive the salad since I was part of the lower class.

Some of my friends commented on how tiny my portion of food was, and this was disheartening because the simulation made me realize that my experience does not even compare to those who are actually food insecure as they are worse off.

Besides dinner, there were also talks from members of Hunger Project at UCLA and Bruin Shelter, one of the country’s first student-run homeless shelters for students. The talks increased my awareness of the dire conditions that some people in the LA community face, particularly those who are homeless and hungry.

“The purpose of the Hunger Banquet was to open the dialog among all college students and bring about a new perspective or understanding of the situation of those who are less fortunate than we are,” said Disha Samaiyar, a third-year mechanical engineering student and a member of Hunger Project at UCLA.

Samaiyar was one of the speakers at the event. She said the simulation was meant to show attendees what it is like to not have food readily available to them even if it is right in front of their eyes.

After speakers finished their talks, those who were assigned the lowest two socioeconomic statuses had a chance to get more food, since they did not get much food earlier. A handful of people from my table got up and helped themselves to more.

This event enlightened me to the issues of homelessness and hunger. The speaker from Bruin Shelter said that 14 percent of students enrolled in community colleges across the country are homeless.

Being part of a lower class for the simulation gave me a glimpse of what it feels like to be hungry, although clearly not to the extent of people who are actually food insecure. After missing just one meal, I felt grateful when my friend offered me her food. However, in reality not everybody is this lucky, as very few of us actually offer our food to someone who is homeless and hungry – most of us choose to turn the other way.

Devin Ryan Barrientos, a fourth-year psychobiology student and board member of Hunger Project at UCLA, said the banquet was created to raise awareness of the fact that some people have to fight personal battles based on their social class and people should not take what they have for granted.

[Related: Project Concern International raises awareness for global hunger]

This event helped show me we should empathize more with the homeless and the hungry and do our part to help – whether it means joining a student organization that helps the needy or offering food and money to someone on the street. We should also count our blessings and not take the food that we have for granted by being wasteful, especially since many people in the world do not even know where their next meal is going to come from. Food insecurity is an issue that is difficult to eliminate completely, but if everyone does their part to help, we can at least fill someone’s stomach and put a smile on their face.

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Brenda Chan is a Quad contributor. She likes writing about fitness, nutrition, lifestyle and education.

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