Red beans and rice! `Eeewww!’ |

Red beans and rice! `Eeewww!’

Tim Mutrie

Lunching with fourth-graders at Aspen Elementary School yesterday, the division between the haves and the have-nots was glaringly obvious.

While half of the 9- and 10-year-olds feasted on homemade lasagna or deli-style sandwiches, their classmates, the have-nots, ate a modest ration of red beans and rice. And while the haves sipped milk or juice, the have-nots washed their feed down with tap water.

“I had red beans and rice and it tasted horrible,” declared 10-year-old Katie Bird with a cringe. “EEEwww, it’s gross. I feel sorry for people who have to eat like that every day.”

“I ate every single bit of it – even though it was really bland – I guess I realized we’re lucky,” said 9-year-old Shannon Dick. “We’re lucky not to have lunches that are just bread and water or rice and beans – we have variety. But other people in the world who are the exact same age as us aren’t as lucky.”

The fourth-graders created the division between “haves” and “have-nots” by random draw in the lunch line yesterday as part of an ongoing Hunger Awareness Project. The aim is giving youngsters a new perspective on some sobering facts about childhood hunger around the world.

For instance, the poverty rate in the United States is twice that of other industrialized nations; one in five American youths (over 14 million kids under age 18) live in poverty, even though 9.6 million of those children come from working families. And, about one in 10 children in Colorado are at risk of hunger every day.

The project – sponsored by Ann Owsley, operator of The Lunchroom Co., the Aspen School District’s independent caterer, along with the school’s fourth-grade teachers – also has an art component that features hunger-themed paintings and murals done by students. The works, such as a painting with the message “Hungry Children Can’t Concentrate Well,” are on display at Alpine Bank in Aspen.

“The importance of this is to show the kids the randomness of the haves and have-nots in the world,” said Owsley. “With kids, it’s beyond their control. And this is a challenge to our kids to be more aware of what’s going on in the rest of the world.”

The majority of the school’s five fourth-grade classes – about 100 students – didn’t have their normal snack yesterday, either.

“That may not seem like a big deal, but to them, it was like the end of the world,” said fourth-grade teacher Pem Fowler. “When the kids first heard about it, it was hard for them to understand – they don’t see real hungry kids in this area. But we tried to show them that hunger is prevalent around the world and the country, and Colorado for that matter.”

“It’s good for the kids,” added fellow teacher Bobbi Seelenfreund. “I think sometimes in Aspen, we don’t know just what we have.”

Though most students despised the red beans and rice, some enjoyed the meal and the experience.

“They’re good, they’re better than lasagna,” said Jackie Satrapa, 9. “And they’re just red and white, they don’t look like gross lasagna.”

“It was hard because practically everybody sitting around me had lasagna,” said Haley Kaufman, 9. “I was the only one with red beans and rice, but it was really good; maybe that’s because we didn’t have a snack.”

“I hate all beans,” declared Jeff Gerbaz, 10, who left most of his beans undisturbed in his bowl. “But if I was hungry, like some people are, I’d eat ’em. I’d have to.”

All the fourth-graders’ Wednesday lunch money will be donated to the Washington, D.C.-based world hunger organization, Share Our Strength.

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