Oxfam Banquet simulates income inequality through varying meals

The Oxfam Banquet is an annual event that serves to teach students about income inequality through a holistic approach. By dividing attendees into three different income groups and serving foods based on these incomes, students were able to see the differences in nutrition. (Ash Dean/Photo Editor)

Each year, over 2.5 billion people live in poverty around the world. The links between poverty and food are undeniable, and at the annual Oxfam Hunger Banquet, students gathered together to learn about the issue and how they can help.

In fact, every four seconds, a person—mostly children—dies from hunger or a preventative disease. Oxfam is a non-profit organization that helps those in poverty.   

“I want to join the Peace Corps,” English major sophomore Leah Christman said. “I think this is a good way to get an idea of what people I’m serving have gone through.” 

Childhood and special education major senior Conor Lynch and Area Coordinator for Monroe, Livingston, Genesee and Putnam Sawyer Green lead the Geneseo Opportunities for Leadership Development sponsored event.  

Using nametags, the committee assigned each student to one of three groups: upper, middle and lower income. 

Additionally, they handed the students a card with a name on it. Every name belonged to a real person who had benefited from Oxfam. Students could text Oxfam with the name of their assigned person and learn more about their story. This way, the simulation felt all the more authentic. 

Before the meal, Green and Lynch explained the impact of poverty and hunger on a global scale. After a brief overview in which the issues of poverty were described in terms of statistics, Green and Lynch asked participants from each group to stand up. 

Four people from the middle-income group were introduced, but due to a bad harvest and flooding, the four students had to move to the low-income group. For the middle class around the world, their fate was still precarious. A single bad harvest has the potential to push them below the poverty line and to endanger their families. 

Two people from the low-income group, however, moved to the middle income with the help of Oxfam. 

For a final moving example, two mothers were introduced to one another. One was a mother with a steady job who attended college and made her own organic baby food. The other was a young widow from China who earned just 73 cents per day. With a son and a daughter, she had to decide whether she could afford to send her daughter to school. 

After this sobering discussion, the meal was served. To simulate the experience of the relation between income and food, different meals were given to each group. 

The upper income group was given a nutritious meal at a table set with silverware, cloth napkins and china. Soda was served in glass pitchers. The middle group ate a simple meal of beans and rice in plastic bowls, sitting on chairs—and the lowest group, made of about 15 students, all had to share a single pot of rice while sitting on the floor. 

As the groups ate, students could see the impact of income on food.

“I think the simulation really worked out,” Green said. “We don’t really think about whether or not we’re going to eat on a daily basis—so seeing that we are part of that small table really makes an impact.” 

Lynch agrees; he thinks that this type of education will help him when he graduates and begins his career in teaching students.

“I’ll be looking at each student and not looking at a classroom,” he said. “Everyone has a different story.”