Members of the Madison community gathered to sit down to a meal and lecture on the wealth gap by renowned retired professor Bob Haveman of the La Follette School of Public Affairs Thursday night.
The event was an effort by the La Follette School of Public Affairs’ student association to encourage dialogue on issues relating to class, poverty, hunger and inequality.
Before Haveman’s lecture, attendees were given meals of varying calibers in a simulation intended to imitate the wealth gap in the U.S. Attendees were raffled into three categories: upper, middle and lower class.
Six of the more than 60 attendees were given a three-course meal and dined on a table covered with a white tablecloth surrounded by flowers and candles.
Those who found themselves classified as poor were provided with a meal of applesauce and beans on paper plates and ate on the floor.
University of Wisconsin graduate student, and a member of the lower class for the night, Mandy Gaulke said she appreciated the chance to role play because it gave her an idea of real people’s feelings.
Following the meal, Haveman took to the podium and said approximately one billion people – one-sixth of the world’s population – are classified as malnourished, and six million children die of hunger each year.
Haveman also spoke on the hunger problems in the U.S. and said more than 40 million people – one in seven people – in the U.S. were food insecure last year.
“It’s easy to convince yourself everything is OK because of all of the government efforts to provide food assistance so that the hunger problem is solved, but it’s still out there,” Haveman said.
He also noted that while efforts like food stamps, food pantries and school meals have alleviated some of the more extreme cases of food security, malnutrition is still an issue.
Haveman also said dietary issues are prevalent for inner-city community members. He said since it is difficult to find a nearby grocery store, people have to shop at convenience stores, leading to an insufficient diet.
“Somehow the nation has to come to grips with what it means to live in the inner city. A lot of the things we take for granted are not available in the inner city,” Haveman said.
Pete Braden, one of the event’s facilitators and funding coordinator for the La Follette School Student Association, said the issue of poverty needed to be raised.
“The programs that deal with this stuff need public funding, and Americans need to understand that their fellow citizens are suffering; these programs don’t themselves,” he said.
Michelle Kramer, the food outreach manager at the local food bank Second Harvest, said food banks are a great place to start for those interested in aiding to bridge the wealth gap.
Attendee Sergio Gonzales, a teacher at Sennett Middle School and UW alumnus, said the separation of classes for the meal was a great simulation but that for him, the presentation drove the message of the reality home.
One-third of the event’s proceeds will be donated to Second Harvest food bank, and the rest will benefit LSSA and cover the costs for running the event.