The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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USU ‘Hunger Banquet’ sheds light on poverty

Several CSUN members from the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS) organized an event titled “The 2007 Hunger Banquet,” which aimed to explain why poverty in some parts of the world is endemic, and what mechanisms can be developed to improve work and food production in local communities.

Students attending the Nov. 27 event at the University Student Union were greeted at the door by a NCSC member, who requested they withdraw from within a little box one card from a variety of colored cards with printed instructions.

Most of the cards were red. Students with red cards were told to seat on the floor, while cardholders of white and other colors were given seats, some at lunch tables. The students on the floor represented poor people, while those seated and at lunch banquet tables represented the middle class and wealthy, respectively.

Only a few were served at the clothed banquet tables.

“We hold this event to raise awareness about world hunger and poverty,” said Kevin Guillen, a NCSC member.

Guillen said NCSC wants to teach students how the world is broken down in economic levels, how people get to be hired for good jobs, and why peasants and migrants seldom get access to middle class salaries.

While presenting a video from Oxfam, a non-government organization that seeks to find solutions to poverty and trade injustices around the globe, the NSCS members showcased why special subsidies to wealthy farmers in the United States have ripple effects in the remote villages in East Africa, Guatemala, Mexico and other places.

The documentary focused on the production of two crops: coffee and corn. Coffee growing villages in Ethiopia have been ravaged by droughts, lack of technical support to work the land, scarce food and manipulation of food supplies.

According to the video, in the last four years coffee prices have dropped nearly 70 percent, which in turn ravaged entire villages dependent on coffee production. Women interviewed said they had nothing to eat, and nothing to wear. They wondered what they could do.

With the help of Oxfam members, cooperatives and educational projects are being developed to produce decent coffee crops traded at fair market value. Oxfam also has provided these villages with techniques on irrigation, how to improve coffee bean quality, and brought needed machinery.

The Oxfam video stated 80 percent of the more than 5 billion people in the world live in poverty, while only 20 percent are middle class or wealthy.

The film depicted Guatemalan and Mexican migrants who pick two tons of tomatoes daily at Florida farms for $20 a day and are examples of why poverty and unequal development opportunities affect villages in a global context.

Twenty-year-old Romeo Ramirez is an example that is featured in the video. The Guatemalan native does backbreaking work, seldom has access to basic sanitary facilities, and eats poorly. In addition, he seldom receives medical attention. Like Ramirez, many need to send remittances to their loved ones, who toil around their shacks and raise children.

The documentary also indicated 850 million people worldwide have chronic diseases, such as asthma, diabetes, arthritis and others. Although it indicates global poverty is also caused by natural causes, such as tsunamis in Bangladesh and droughts in Africa, economic and social injustices prevail in many countries.

Joe Benoun, a cell biology major, said these type of official policies should be challenged.

“We need to make people more aware of hunger issues worldwide. Although Oxfam has supplied most of the information, we as students can promote change,” said Benoun. “This event is about telling how many resources are distributed around the world.”

In the United States, small corn farmers in Nebraska are also being affected by large subsidies to wealthy producers. They use to make about $2.46 per bushel only a year ago, while they now receive only $2.40. While Midwest big corn farmers’ production is protected, there is little chance crops from remote villages in Africa, Central and South America can be purchased here.

OxfamAmerica is building small farmer’s coalitions with small business owners to lobby officials in Congress to change the current subsidy programs.

Melina Shahbazian, student president of the NCSC, said her organization has at least 500 CSUN members. This is the second year a hunger banquet has been showcased.

“We live so ostensibly here, and we don’t know what is really going on in the world. Any step we can take to help poor people adds up to fighting poverty,” Shahbazian said. “Even in this country we have a lot of poverty.”

Vickey Allen, NCSC faculty advisor, said global poverty is almost inescapable. But coordinated efforts like Oxfam and NCSC can help improve striking social and economic disparities.

“I had the opportunity to visit Ghana, one of these countries. I visited a man who only ate once every two days. I visited communities with no piped water, electricity or food. It gave a lesson,” Allen said.

Eric Munchow, 22, a business finance major, was one of two students who picked a white card. He was served lunch by a NCSC representative.

“The event was very eye opening. I think a local effect can be done if we find help, and find ways to develop it, like in the Ethiopian example,” said Munchow. “As a small entrepreneur, I think I could work on developing products offshore, help small growers, pay them decent salaries, and import their crops to the U.S. Happy workers are better workers, and maybe we could produce better quality coffee beans.”

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