February 17, 2019 | 33° F

Banquet teaches Rutgers what hunger really means

Photo by Haolun Xu |

“Find out what hunger really means” was the theme of Oxfam Rutgers’ Hunger Banquet held on Tuesday night, which offered students the chance to gain a deeper understanding of hunger and poverty around the world.

Oxfam Rutgers is a non-governmental organization and a branch of Oxfam America, which reaches out to those in need around the world.

“We’re an organization focused on eliminating social injustice and poverty, and we are focused on an international and national level,” said Ranya Elmaghariki, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and vice president of Oxfam Rutgers.

The projects range from issues in Latin America to the local New Brunswick community, Elmaghariki said.

“We wanted to raise awareness about the social class that people are born into and how that really affects how society works with this event, and how you can’t help what you’re born into,” she said. “We should take that into account.”

Attendees of the Hunger Banquet would come in and choose a random piece of paper out of a bag which would assign them to their social class. 

Those in the upper class sat on chairs and received a bottle of water and slice of pizza, while the middle class sat on the floor and received chips and shared one bottle of water. Those in the lower class stood the entire time and received only one piece of candy.

Kit Taylor, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, first attended the Oxfam Banquet last year, which helped spur her passion for volunteer work.

“I came to the same event last year, and it was really eye opening,” she said. “It’s very easy for someone to spit out statistics, but what makes this event powerful is that you get a sense of empathy for the problem.”

Taylor said she volunteered with groups including Elijah’s Promise, a New Brunswick soup kitchen, through Oxfam Rutgers. She has worked one-on-one with those fighting poverty and hunger.

“This becomes the story behind the people, rather than just X numbers of people,” she said. “They’re not just charts and graphs anymore, you can better understand where they’re coming from.”

During the event, Ameena Rana, president of Oxfam Rutgers and a School of Arts and Sciences senior, read a script with statistics and situations that people from various classes around the world live with daily.

Around 925 million people suffer from chronic hunger, which is more than the population of the European Union, Canada and the United States combined. A child dies from malnutrition every nine seconds, or 9,500 children dying from hunger every day, according to Oxfam America.

According to the organization's website, by eliminating injustice, people can eliminate poverty. Companies and governments control the global food system, determining who can eat and who cannot.

“If you are in the low income group, you represent 50 percent of the world’s population," Rana said. "Your average income is about $2.83 a day. Finding food, shelter and water can consume your entire day.”

The point of the event was to show those in attendance that despite the fact that there was more than enough food for everyone, it was distributed unfairly.

“We’re trying to show how much food the Earth provides, but how unequal the distribution really is,” Rana said. “People have so much power over this food, but others have no access whatsoever. Oxfam believes the problem can be solved if there is a balance of power around the world.”

Oxfam America is aiming to use five ways to feed the planet through their “GROW” campaign, which includes methods such as increasing productivity, increases farmers’ access to resources like water and land, modernizing food aid programs and holding governments and businesses accountable for the impacts of their policies and practices on global food security, according to its website.

“Oxfam works one on one with members of the communities so they can be self-sufficient and don’t have to rely on outside resources,” Rana said. “It is similar to the saying ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.'”

Oxfam is a great opportunity to take part in community service, Taylor said.

“There is something to be said for giving back to the community you’re a part of. Rutgers is a major university and when you’re in the bubble you can get a bit blindsided to how most of New Brunswick lives,” she said. “The overall need of the New Brunswick community is different than the needs of the Rutgers community.”

By the end of the event, the attendees realized how powerful the statement is that Oxfam was making through the Hunger Banquet.

“If everyone could share the food, there would be no problem,” Rana said. “This event was a metaphor of what is going on around the world.”

Alexandra DeMatos

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