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Hunger Meal to raise awareness of social inequality and poverty

February 23, 2012 By Stacy Forster

Are you among the 1 percent, or do you find yourself struggling to scrape by?

At the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Hunger Meal, sponsored by students from the La Follette School of Public Affairs, whether you get a gourmet dinner, rice and beans, or something in between will be determined the same way many receive their lot in life: by chance.

In this case, diners at the Hunger Meal will receive a raffle ticket that dictates the kind of dinner they’ll eat that night. Most diners will get a very simple meal, a slightly bigger group will enjoy something fancier, while a select few will dine on delicacies.

The students are staging the dinner to demonstrate social inequality and the role chance plays in a person’s social status, says organizer Peter Braden, a second-year graduate student in the La Follette School.

“The idea is for us to demonstrate social inequality and the idea that a lot of us are born into poverty,” Braden says. “Political and economic forces are at play here that can really shape what’s available for people to eat.”

The meal will take place from 6-9 p.m. on Thursday, March 1, at the Red Gym, 716 Langdon St. Robert Haveman, professor emeritus of public affairs and economics, will speak at the dinner about poverty and inequality.

Hunger often flies under the radar, especially in the U.S., where many believe government programs have taken care of the problem, Haveman says. More than 46 million people a year receive help through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, often referred to as food stamps or SNAP, and about 30 million receive help through emergency food pantries, he says.

“The American problem with hunger is a part of the problem of poverty and inequality in this country,” he says. However, “the problem of hunger in America pales by comparison to hunger in the less-developed world.”

Proceeds from the dinner will benefit the Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin and the La Follette School Student Association.

The student organizers are also asking diners to bring a donation of a non-perishable food item to offer additional support to Second Harvest.

“The Hunger Meal serves the twin goals of raising money for a local charity — the Second Harvest Foodbank — and of allowing participants to experience, in a small way, the material hardship associated with poverty,” says Thomas DeLeire, director of the La Follette School of Public Affairs.

Tickets to the dinner are $25; registration ahead of the event is required. To register, send an email to Peter Braden at pbraden@wisc.edu and send a check payable to “LSSA” to the La Follette School, c/o Peter Braden, 1225 Observatory Dr., Madison, WI 53706.