Attendees of free steak dinner met with surprise

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High Class: Only 24 privileged students like Alan Prince were served a full course meal with soda as other students got either only rice or beans with rice. Photo Credit: Simon Gambaryan / Daily Sundial

Unified We Serve hosted a free steak dinner for students and faculty in the Northridge Center Tuesday night, and guests were in for a surprise.

The dinner was, in fact, a poverty simulation, in which only some guests would actually sit down to steak, said Eunice Eugenio, member of Unified We Serve.

“Each student is going to be individually assigned at random to a class – upper class, middle class or lower class – and will be served differently to show them how it feels to be in these classes,” Eugenio said.

The event kick started the group’s third annual food and clothing drive while raising awareness of poverty with educational presentations, including talks from Luke Ippoliti and Richard Weinroth of the nonprofit MEND (Meet Each Need with Dignity), and Devon Johnson of the campus religious group H.O.P.E Fellowship.

The organization’s plan was to bring as many students as possible to the event, which would have been difficult if they had known only a percentage of the attendees would receive the steak dinner, said Justin Weiss, event master of ceremony and coordinator for Unified We Serve.

Surprisingly, people didn’t walk out after learning about the class divisions, Weiss said after the event.

“Rather than fill their stomachs with steak, we want to fill their souls with understanding of what people are going through in this world, both internationally and locally,” Weiss said.

Students lined up along the A.S. ticket office waiting for the event to start, and the line was split into three once the event began.

Each line was classified by colored tickets: red meaning lower class, blue meaning middle class, and yellow meaning upper class. Inside, members of the different classes were seated separately.

Members of the lower class were seated in chairs only, while those in the middle class group were seated at tables. Guests in the upper class group were seated at table on center stage, above the other groups.

Erika Lopez, 18, was placed in the lower class group and had to walk to the back of the room to get her dinner: rice and water.

“I think that’s all we’re getting for now, I saw more food over there,” she said.

As the lower class was being told that the steak and salad would be served later, the middle class was being served their dinner: rice, beans and water.

On stage, the upper class had already been served steak, salad, beans, chicken and soda, while below, members of the lower class group rationalized their rice and water meal by saying everyone wouldn’t stay for the educational part of the event if they gave the steak out first.

Even on stage, minor complaints where expressed, such as having food but not utensils, or not getting plates sooner than others.
Videos showing hunger across the globe and in the U.S. played as people were finishing their meals. Guests seated on stage in the upper class were closest to these images of homeless people, starving children and empty refrigerators.

An excerpt from “The Fragrant Spirit of Life” showed an 8-year-old girl fetched water to bathe her younger siblings who were dying of hunger.

Two or three people walked out during the video.

After the film, Weiss took to the mic and explained the simulation to the attendees.

“Who was pissed they didn’t get their steak dinner?” Weiss said, and the crowd called back roaring.

Students expressed their reactions during an open mic session.

“At first I was pissed, saying let’s get up and leave, and now after the video I feel like a total ‘B,’” said Elisa Ruiz, 25, “Thank you for presenting it this way, because no one would have shown up if they knew right away and if they did it would have had less of an effect.”

Miriam Neal, 18, said she was upset at first that it was not a bible study, but then was pleased that there was food and appreciated the message.

Patrick Cruz, 18, said he was still hungry.

“I’m sad because I’m still hungry, and I know in reality, I‘m the people up there with food,” Cruz said.

The event put him back on track, he said, and on the path of not wasting food. He had previously taken part in a 30-hour famine to share in the experiences of poorer people around the world.

About 10-15 volunteers from Unified We Serve and African Student Organization hosted the event, which cost about $5 for each of the estimated 250 people in attendance, Weiss said at the close of the event.


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  • Paula F

    Honestly.. if you are in college, you already have a leg up on the truly poor.  And in terms of “ethical issues” … how about investigating why there are so many people hungry and living on the streets of the richest nation in the world?

    • David the small-L libertarian

      …how about investigating why there are so many people hungry and living on the streets of the richest nation in the world?

      There aren’t as many as you’re led to believe.  People do not starve to death in the U.S.  Most of those who are living on the streets are mentally ill.  ACLU lawsuits resulted in the release of the mentally ill from institutions and now they are on the streets.  Most have access to “soup kitchens” or are otherwise provided with food by charitable organizations.

      Read this 2007 report from the Heritage Foundation, How Poor Are America’s Poor? Examining the “Plague” of Poverty in America Excerpts are below:

      “To understand poverty in America, it is important to look behind these numbers-to look at the actual living conditions of the individuals the government deems to be poor. For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. But only a small number of the 37 million persons classified as “poor” by the Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity. Most of America’s “poor” live in material conditions that would be judged as comfortable or well-off just a few generations ago. Today, the expenditures per person of the lowest-income one-fifth (or quintile) of households equal those of the median American household in the early 1970s, after adjusting for inflation.”

      “While the poor are generally well nourished, some poor families do experience temporary food shortages. But even this condition is relatively rare; 89 percent of the poor report their families have “enough” food to eat, while only 2 percent say they “often” do not have enough to eat.

      Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family’s essential needs. While this individual’s life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.”

      “For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. For example, the “poverty Pulse” poll taken by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in 2005 asked the general public the question: “How would you describe being poor in the U.S.?” The overwhelming majority of responses focused on homelessness, hunger or not being able to eat properly, and not being able to meet basic needs.

      But if poverty means lacking nutritious food, adequate warm Housing, and clothing for a family, relatively few of the 37 million people identified as being “in poverty” by the Census Bureau could be characterized as poor. While material hardship does exist in the United States, it is quite restricted in scope and severity. The average “poor” person, as defined by the government, has a living standard far higher than the public imagines.”

  • guest

    Honestly, we’re all college students. They don’t need to tell us what it is like to be poor…

  • David the small-L libertarian

    Smoking-gun alert!  Here’s what I found out about United We Serve:

    From this May 2011 CSUN news releaseThe Corporation for National and Community Service is a federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in service through its Senior Corps, AmeriCorps and Learn and Serve America programs. It also leads President Barack Obama’s national call to service initiative, United We Serve.

    So the federal government, under the authority of The Prez himself, is behind this trickery!  Well I’m just astounded.  I guess complaining to the campus president or the IRS isn’t going to do much good.

    Hey Sundial!:  How ’bout a bit of investigative journalism here?  I’d like to see an opinion piece at least questioning if there are some ethical issues here.

  • guest

    I think PETA should use this tactic.. after everybody is seated and waiting for their steak dinner, PETA can take the stage and lecture them about the evils of eating animals!

  • David the small-L libertarian

    So is this the new way to indoctrinate students into leftism?  This bait-and-switch tactic put unwitting students who were drawn in to donate food, clothing and toys on the spot, forcing them to participate in this farce or risk ridicule and embarrassment.  It’s outrageous!

    Someone should look into Unified We Serve and African Student Organization and check out their tax-exempt status and consider reporting them to the IRS and to CSUN administration.