On a recent Sunday afternoon, a group of Duke undergraduates participated in an event combining the excitement of competition with an experience in how income affects the nutritional options for families both locally and globally. The “TK Food Challenge” was a student-designed project of Team Kenan, a Kenan Institute for Ethics program in which students plan and facilitate ways to engage the Duke student community on ethical issues that follow the Institute’s motto of “think and do.”
For the challenge, the students split into three teams, each representing a family of five at a different income level. Each team shared the task of shopping for groceries and preparing a meal with nutritional specifications, while each team was given different constraints on budget, mode of transportation, and what kitchen and pantry items were available for use. The “families” shopped at Whole Foods (budget: $45), Kroger (budget: $20), or Dollar General (budget: $7) and returned to Duke’s Smart Home. Resource inequities were designed to reflect realistic disparities across class lines. During the meal, KIE Graduate Fellow and Nicholas School of the Environment doctoral candidate Shana Starobin helped students understand how the day’s shopping and meal preparation reflected larger ideas about food insecurity, consumer choices, and global food supply chains. Starobin connected ideas that seem abstract—like subsidies that affect commodity pricing or the political and ethical questions surrounding food stamp policies—to students’ own experiences. A Team Kenan organizer, Chandra Christmas-Rouse, remarked that the students “discovered that hunger is more local than you think.”
This experience was the second in the ongoing “TK: Challenge” events series, which was initiated in the fall of 2011 with the “TK Hijab Challenge,” in which non-Muslim students donned hijabs in public as a means to explore the ways in which identity is tied to appearance. “The Challenge series is about facilitating moral imagination by trying to approximate someone else’s experience,” says Christian Ferney, Team Kenan’s director, “even if it’s in a limited and imperfect way. It’s humanizing, sometimes confusing, and usually illuminating.” The food challenge in particular was rooted in two students’ involvement in the Duke community and with Project Change, a program for incoming freshmen co-sponsored by the Kenan Institute for Ethics and Duke Women’s Center, in which students participate in eight days of intensive activity and discussion to learn about some of the social challenges faced in the greater Durham community.