BY: NATALIE SMITH, STAFF REPORTER
On Friday night in the Johnson room, inside Robertson Hall, students broke out of the infamous “Butler bubble.”
Some Butler students stepped into the shoes of some Indianapolis residents by watching their counterparts eat a hearty meal while they ate nothing but white rice on a plastic plate.
More than 85 Butler students attended the Oxfam America Hunger Banquet, a program dedicated to raising awareness of hunger in Indianapolis. The Butler Volunteer Center and Oxfam America, an organization sponsoring hunger banquets, organized the event.
Upon arrival, each participant randomly chose a slip of paper depicting his or her socio-economic class for the evening- (high, middle or low). He or she recieved an identity and a background story outlining the struggles or benefits of his or her assigned class. Each table in the packed Johnson Room contained a mix of all three classes.
Participants noticed class divisions, as ‘high class’ students were served turkey, stuffing, rolls and more on glass plates with silverware and glass cups. They told staff what they wanted to eat and were served at the table.
The ‘middle class’ was expected to stand in line for a buffet containing beans and rice on plastic plates and cups.
“A lot of students were shocked at the difference between high and middle class,” said Hannah Cianci, a staff member at the Volunteer Center. “Students here think they are middle class, when in reality, most would be considered more upper class (according to hunger standards).”
Those representing the ‘low class’ were even more surprised. They sat and watched the others eat before they were allowed to go to their buffet, which was one serving tray of plain white rice.
“I ate as a lower class person at the banquet, and it was very eye-opening,” Cianci said. “I wasn’t upset because I knew I could just eat something better when I left. That’s what made me realize how unfair it was. Those who actually were lower class didn’t have the option to go and get real food after their small meal.”
“I actually went out for ice cream after, but I didn’t get any because of the guilt I felt.”
During a post-event discussion, students commented that the divisions were clear because of the hunger and food of each class.
High class students admitted to feeling guilty about getting more food when they were allowed to and even shared their food with those stuck with the plain rice. Low class eaters said they noticed how quickly their food was gone and how much was left over on the high-class plates after those participants were finished eating.
Kathyrn Battafarano, a freshman who was given a middle class standing, noticed divides between the classes’ plates.
“Everyone there had a moment where they looked around and really saw the differences,” Battafarano said. “Someone at your table either had a really scarce portion or a large, fancy one. People were either saying ‘I’m full,’ or ‘I’m still hungry.’”
The dinner’s bubble-breaking moment was an address to the crowd given by speaker Dave Miner, a volunteer through the Indy Hunger Network.
Miner talked of the growing hunger issue in Indianapolis and what can and is being done to solve it.
Miner summed up beating hunger in Indy through three steps.
The first step is helping people gain access to federal programming.
“People don’t receive benefits they can have because they don’t know how the system works,” Miner said. “We need to teach them how to use it and get what they need.”
The second step in his plan is to support the middleman food providers like food pantries and food banks.
Last year in Indy, 25 million meals were provided to those in need through food distributions.
Miner said even large food banks such as Gleaners Food Bank of America can only provide 5 percent of the hungry in Indianapolis with food.
“The smaller ones need to be supported because those are who the people directly come to with their food needs,” Miner said.
The third step is to fill in the gaps left over from the first two steps. Senior Citizens are the largest growing area of concern for hunger, Miner said.
“Some seniors are provided with one meal a day from hunger networks,” Miner said. “When we asked them what other meals they will eat that day from home, many said it would be their only one.”
Another large threat in hunger is lack of food security.
Food security is defined as access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Lack of food security affects one out of five people and is a cause for problems such as obesity, according to Oxfam America.
“Most think that those who are hungry would be frail and skinny, but that’s not the case,” Miner said. “If you’re food insecure, you’re going to eat whenever you can and as much as you can.”
Those who are food insecure often consume meals that are not nutritious and are cheap.
Miner’s speech emphasized that hunger can effect anyone, no matter what their race or background is.
“Want to know what hungry looks like? Turn around and look at your neighbors,” Miner said. “Hungry looks like all of us.”
The Volunteer Center is planning on holding the Hunger Banquet again next year in a bigger venue, Cianci said.
Students, such as Battafarano, gave generally positive feedback on a survey sent out after.
“I liked the dinner overall,” Battafarano said. “It was interesting because students at Butler don’t normally get exposed to things where they see hunger or don’t get fed enough.”
The Volunteer Center has not yet begun preparation for a follow-up event or another volunteer event pertaining to hunger, Cianci said