The woman had a torn jacket and ripped pants and carried a blanket in her arms. "What's going on in there?" she asked.

"A party," the man at the door answered.

"Can I look in?" she asked.

The man nodded nervously and smiled.

So, strangely enough, one of Washington's homeless women looked in last night on a party designed to raise public interest in nutrition and hunger.

About 250 guests had paid $50 each to attend the benefit for Public Voice, a nonprofit group that promotes consumer interest in food and health policies. The group, set up last November by Ellen Haas, was throwing its first annual Golden Carrot Awards fundraiser at the Market 5 Gallery.

As expected, the crowd had a common interest--food. There were people from different consumer groups, various Hill types and Public Voice supporters. Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.) were there to receive the awards, but newly declared presidential candidate George McGovern shared in the limelight.

"I've been studying the faces in the gallery," said McGovern. "It looks like a Democrats for Dole rally. I'm sure Senator Dole will reciprocate with a Republicans for McGovern" group.

On a more serious note, McGovern said, "Senator Dole has always put human and nutritional concerns before partisan ones."

Later, away from the podium, McGovern spoke about his decision to run for the presidency and his chances of winning. "I think it's a longshot, it's going to be uphill. But it was a longshot last time and I won the nomination. You never know till the voters speak. I'm very happy to be in the race."

Dole, mingling with the crowd for a short time (he had a "9:30 meeting" to go to), said, "I'm not sure I deserve it the award ," but added he was very pleased to receive it.

Coelho was also pleased to be honored. "I was born and raised on a dairy farm," he said while explaining the roots of his interest in food policy issues. "I milked 300 cows every morning and every night with my brother.

"I think one of my major problems with the Reagan administration is that they don't understand how food can be a major international weapon. We are the only country that can grow food extensively . . . for instance, what we did with Chad. It's more important that we send food to them than AWACS. The people are hungry there and they would be willing to listen to those who give them what they need.

"If we want to beat the Russians we should use food--this administration uses rhetoric and bullets."

At the evening's end, WRC-TV's anchor/consumer reporter Lea Thompson acted as auctioneer, bringing in bids from $50 to $200.

One of the big money earners was a dinner for two at Joe Theismann's Restaurant, purchased by John A. Schnittker, of Schnittker Associates here, as a gift for his daughter. "My daughter Ann is a Joe Theismann freak," he said. "I took her to one Redskins game three years ago and she hasn't been the same since."

Schnittker later bid $100 for a waltz with Esther Peterson, who was consumer affairs adviser to presidents Carter and Johnson. The couple gracefully twirled around the art gallery's floor to the bluegrass sound (dubbed "Kansas music" by Dole) of the band New Mode Grass.