Simulation Drives New Understanding of Hunger and Poverty
Hunger is something we’ve all experienced as a feeling before. Maybe a meeting at work went a little late, and lunch is pushed to the afternoon. Maybe you can smell breakfast in the morning and feel the gurgle in your stomach.
But hunger for many people in the Heartland is much more complex.
In Hunger 101, a simulation run by Second Harvest Heartland, participants get dropped into a day in the life of a Minnesota resident. This individual is responsible for feeding themselves and one or more other family members for one day. Hunger 101 participants get the opportunity to roleplay and understand the intense realities that make hunger a lot more than a grumbling stomach.
Just recently I went through my first Hunger 101 simulation. What struck me the most was the very last sentence on my profile card: “Your biggest fear was for [your kids] to ask you what’s for dinner and have to say there is nothing.”
For the afternoon, my name was Dwayne, I was 42, and I was responsible for feeding myself as well as my three teenage kids.
I received a set budget. I worked fulltime, but I had a difficult time making ends meet every month with all the expenses. Separated from my wife and having full custody of my two daughters and one son, I was without any support.
Thankfully, according to my profile card, my kids were doing very well in school and got along together.
But when I was done paying bills, I found I only had about four dollars every day to feed myself and three kids breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In Hunger 101, participants are compelled to stop and think about their options. The simulation puts participants in the position of needing to provide for others but having to face a difficult combination of limited time, limited money and limited access to help along the way. We had 30 minutes to get enough resources and a meal plan for just one day starting with just four dollars. We were given precise calorie counts for a full grown man and three growing children, and we had to try and problem-solve.
In the end, based on the prices of food per serving, the easiest way to meet caloric needs of my family and still stay under budget was to go for unhealthy, premade meals. My simulation partner and I worked hard to try and fit in some vegetables, but produce was so expensive per serving, it was impossible to feed the kids, stay under budget, meet the calorie needs and still eat healthy.
By the end of the simulation, my partner and I didn’t have enough time to make it to the grocery store and complete the simulation. In that half hour, I had to visit the simulated food shelf, run to the bank and apply for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) just to try and attain enough resources to get three meals in one day.
As I took the simulation, it occurred to me that this isn’t a game for many people. This is reality.
Only instead of just participating for 30 minutes, people like Dwayne are forced to make difficult choices to pay bills or to buy food to no fault of their own every day of their lives.
Dwayne’s profile card is based on the true story* of a neighbor with whom Second Harvest Heartland has worked. This is also true of the dozens of other unique profile cards—every character has a story, and every pair of participants in Hunger 101 works with a unique situation.
What does hunger look like? What does it feel like? Hunger 101 is a great tool to get a snapshot of the complexities that cause and perpetuate hunger in the Heartland. Request a Hunger 101 simulation today!
Dwayne’s story is not uncommon—for one in 10 people in Minnesota, hunger is far from a simulation. Hunger is here, but so are we. Together, we can make a difference.
*For the privacy and protection of those we serve, the names, ages and locations in the simulation have been changed.