MEDIA, Pa. — Penn State Brandywine students gained a fresh perspective on the reach and impacts of global hunger by participating in an Oxfam Hunger Banquet on campus. The banquet, hosted by members of Brandywine’s sustainability committee, multilingual student programs and multicultural club, encouraged dialogue about the issues surrounding hunger and poverty through an interactive lunch activity.
Students, faculty and staff were given tickets at random that assigned them to either a high-, middle- or low-income level based on global statistics about the number of people living in poverty. Each income level received meals appropriate to the realities of different global populations.
The 15 percent of participants in the high-income section sat at a decorated dinning table and ate a large meal. The 35 percent of participants in the middle-income section sat at a plain table and ate a simple meal of rice and beans. The 50 percent of participants in the low-income section ate a small bowl of rice with their hands and sat on the floor.
“There are 2.1 billion people living in poverty, including 75 million dealing with chronic hunger,” said Julie Stanton, associate professor of business at Penn State Brandywine. “And that’s not because we lack resources. Despite global efforts, nothing is changing.”
For many students, the randomized approach to receiving a meal was a glimpse into the realities faced by people in many countries around the world. The activity led to discussion about the magnitude of the poverty crisis.
“The banquet inspired me to be mindful of those who are not as fortunate as me,” said Darryl Thomas, a Brandywine student who found himself in the middle-income section. “There are people who would gladly take my own situation over theirs, even when I’m not happy with my situation.”
“Everyone has the same basic needs. It’s our circumstances that cause how hungry we end up being,” said Stanton. “We can’t discuss all the issues and solutions in one day. We can only ask ourselves to participate in seeking those solutions.”
One solution the participants discussed was fair trade, a growing movement that emphasizes greater equity in international trade through promoting sustainability, fair wages and humane labor practices. Brandywine was Penn State’s first official fair trade campus, and the campus’ hometown, Media, is the oldest fair trade town in the United States.
“Fair trade is a complex, multifaceted system that lifts up whole communities,” said Elizabeth Killough, a representative of Fair Trade Media who spoke at the banquet. “It pushes for better, sustainable working environments worldwide. It’s young, but it’s gaining traction and having great successes.”
“I was stunned by the turnout,” said Brandywine sophomore Shannon Barrett, a biology major who spoke about fair trade at the event. “The responses from people who attended were insightful and incredibly heartwarming.”
At the banquet’s closing, the hosts raffled off several fair trade products, including chocolate, T-shirts and a soccer ball to remind students to make equitable choices as consumers.
“My generation has left a crisis for you to solve,” said Killough. “Your buying power — and the choices you make in your daily routine — can make a big difference.”