Ag-econ class teaches the value of food

By Geoff Giancarlo

The poor college student is a familiar cliché when arriving at school. However, between all-you-can-eat dining halls and free food giveaways, food is not too hard to come by.

One UK professor has been challenging his students to eat in another person’s shoes.

A. Lee Meyer, extension professor in the Agricultural Economics Department, teaches AEC 309, World Food Needs and U.S. Trade in Agricultural Products.

For three years he has assigned a challenge to his students: either “eat the subsistence diet of a poor person for two days,” maybe in rice, polenta or vegetables, live on $2 a day for three days or fast for 24 hours.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate in the U.S. on average has been in decline for about 60 years, when the poverty rate was 22.4 percent. Today, about 43.6 people (14.3 percent) live under the poverty line. Since the early 1970s, the poverty rate has stayed steady between about 12 and 15 percent.

Meyer said he hopes the assignment will get his students to be “empathetic of those who have less than we do … and be aware of the world beyond their daily living.”

Meyer said the assignment is not just a way to teach intellectually but “viscerally.”

He said there are plenty of opportunities to read about people not being able to afford enough food for themselves and their families, but it is rare to voluntarily experience such a personal shortage.

“Part of what we learn is emotional — right brain — and this experiential learning adds to that type of learning,” Meyer said.

Meyer said the problem can be learned about more effectively through experience.

“Whether the problem is food security in the U.S. or malnourishment in low-income countries, it will take both empathy and carefully designed economic policies to solve them,” he said.