Do you know what it means to be hungry?

It’s not often a university endorses segregation, classism, and sexism. But, such was the case for attendees at USF Health’s Hunger Luncheon on Wednesday, October 23.

From the moment guests arrived, they were divided into three groups based on income. Fashioned after Oxfam America’s Hunger Banquet, participants took their brightly colored assignment card and grabbed a seat on the tile floor, in a folding chair, or at a table set for a formal lunch.  They were challenged to think about what it means to be hungry.

Heather Bush and Mariam Zeini MCOM at Hunger Luncheon_RSS

Heather Bush (left) gives Mariam Zeini  a card denoting her income status at the USF Health Hunger Luncheon.

“The purpose of this event was to raise student’s awareness of hunger and to motivate them to make a difference in their community and their world… It’s not just about other countries, states, or people. Hunger exists in our own backyard,”  said public health researcher Lauri Wright, PhD, RD, LD, who led the humbling presentation on hunger, food insecurity, malnutrition, and how to help make things right.

Most importantly, she said, “hunger can be prevented through policy, social action, individual empowerment, and education.”

The interactive program included monologues from several  people representing various levels of socio-economic conditions. Throughout the presentation, they ushered attendees from middle to lower-income status and vice versa for reasons beyond their control.  In one exercise, ‘farmers’ lost their land to a foreign mining company. To make matters worse, pollution from the mine also killed off cattle from nearby farms.

And just like that, families moved from sitting comfortably in the middle class to being uncomfortably hungry.

About 45 minutes into the program, lunch was announced.

Higher income rep being served at Hunger Luncheon_RSS

Luncheon attendees designated “high income” were served a nutritious and tasty lunch with fine dinnerware set on a clean, white tablecloth.

“Those of you in the high income group will be served a delicious and nutritious meal of pasta, salad, rolls and coffee and tea,” said Curtis Devetter, a College of Public Health doctoral student.

“Those in the middle-income group may proceed to the buffet tables, where rice and beans are available.  Women in the middle-income group, we ask that you go to the end of the line and let the men serve themselves first.”


Middle income reps Cynthia Crespo and Kathryn Kass_RSS 2

Those representing the middle class, including Morsani College of Medicine students Cynthia Crespo (left) and Kathyrn Kass, said they felt fortunate to receive beans with their rice.

“People in the low-income group please remain seated on the floor as your lunch of rice and water is passed around.”

Bon appetite!

The problem is clear, Dr. Wright, told those gathered for the Hunger Luncheon.

  • Nearly 1 billion people in the world are hungry
  • Worldwide, 178 million young children are stunted
  • In the US, 15% of Americans experience food insecurity
  • In the US, 22% or 17 million children are food insecure
Lower income rep Stephanie Machin RSS

College of Pharmacy student Stephanie Machin, among the attendees representing those with low incomes, was given a plate of rice and told to eat sitting on the floor.

So, what’s food insecurity?

According to Dr. Wright, “It’s the most commonly used measure of hunger.” It represents a condition where “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”

Dr. Wright tested participants’ knowledge of hunger with a series of questions (answers can be found at the end of  this article):

1. Which of the following is the #1 health risk in the world?

  • AIDS
  • Hunger
  • Malaria
  • Tuberculosis

2. The number of malnourished people in the world is equal to:

  • The population of the United States
  • The population of the European Union
  • The population of Canada
  • The population of all of the above, combined

3. Which region has the greatest number of hungry people?

  • Africa
  • Asia and the Pacific
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Middle East

4. The lack of adequate nutrition only effects children’s physical growth

  • True
  • False

The session wrapped up with several calls to action:

  • Increase availability of healthy food
  • Increase obesity prevention programs
  • Educate community leaders and politicians
Dr. Lauri Wright at Hunger Luncheon RSS

College of Public Health researcher Lauri Wright, PhD, explains why many people are forced to choose between noodles for 15 cents or a fresh turkey sandwich for $1.50.

In addition to the Hunger Luncheon, USF Health sponsored several events in recognition of National Food Day on October 24.

On Tuesday, students, faculty, and staff joined forces for Community Care Day. Three teams of USF Health Bulls delivered meals to those in need at Metropolitan Ministries.

Additionally, Wednesday’s  Hunger Luncheon officially kicked off a canned food drive.  The friendly competition between USF Health schools and colleges runs through December 5 and benefits Metropolitan Ministries, the San Jose Mission in collaboration with Catholic Mobile Medical Services, the Tampa Jewish Family Services Community Food Bank, and Project Downtown in collaboration with Muslims Without Borders and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

To learn more about the canned food drive, contact Ellen Kent, MPH, CPH, coordinator of the USF Health Service Corps, at or (813) 974-6622.

Benjamin Groves and Dr. Lynne Arric_RSS

College of Pharmacy student Benjamin Groves thanks COP Director of Student Services Lynne Arric, EdD, for her canned food donation.

The Hunger Luncheon was held in conjunction with USF’s Homecoming.  The festivities continue on Friday, October 25,with a lunchtime Food Truck Rally and USF Health float in the parade at 7 pm.

Quiz answers: 1. Hunger; 2. The population of all of the above, combined; 3. Asia and the Pacific; 4. False.

USF Health celebrates homecoming this week