n Tuesday, October 15th, I attended my first “hunger banquet”. To my surprise, googling the term revealed these really were a thing, and several were hosted across the nation. The one I attended was at The Indiana Interchurch Center hosted by the Indianapolis Oxfam Action Corps, a branch of the international organization that works to end poverty and injustice across the world.
The premise of the event was to simulate and experience a glimpse of poverty and food injustice through a shared meal. Guests were split into income groups and one would eat a meal similar to their given identity. When participants arrived, each pulled a scenario identity card out of basket. I was Ilfide, a single mother living in Haiti. I had a job in the market and was able to make enough money to feed my family, and was therefore assigned to the middle income group. The middle income group sat in the middle of the room at picnic tables. Our table was set with pitchers of water and each individual setting had a paper plate and a spoon. The lucky few in the high income group sat in the front of the room at round tables with linens, floral, and complete place settings with utensils and a real glassware with ice water. When someone from the low income group asked where their seat was the facilitator pointed at the floor. Water for this group was in the back of the room in a bucket with a ladle.
After guests were seated by their assigned economic classes, the program began with guest speaker, Jim Morris, President of the Indiana Pacers and former Executive Director of the World Food Programme. I believe Mr. Morris’ participation was a great boon for event organizers to secure such a high profile speaker. He was fresh off an international business trip taking the Pacers to play games in Asia, including the Philippines. Having recently been to Philippines, I know it is impossible to visit this country without seeing the face of poverty many times over. Issues of hunger and poverty were likely especially fresh in his mind. He shared some interesting statistics. For instance, it takes only a dollar and quarter a day to get above the poverty line, and nourishment is the foundation for humans to aspire to anything beyond poverty. Children need nutrition for their bodies to accept medicines and to be able to concentrate in school. I don’t think I had ever explicitly thought about the fact that having a healthy diet and access to food was the baseline needed for any sort of accomplishment. He also shared that 92% of food given to the poor is by government agencies, and he stressed the importance of the individual to hold our leaders accountable regarding this necessity. It is not a partisan issue.
When the Oxfam facilitator took the program back, dinner was served to the low, middle and high income groups. The fortunate in the front of the room had a nutritious meal with a fresh salad, pasta with vegetables, rolls, and maybe other nice things I couldn’t see from the middle income area. In my area, our table was given a pan of rice and a pan of beans. On the floor, they were given a tray of rice, but had no utensils, only their hands. The facilitator shared an overwhelming amount of alarming statistics about poverty and injustice. He stressed that there IS enough food in the world, but the fight is against access and power that keeps some of us as haves and the others as have nots. He walked through the room stopped by a person from each group and told the story of a life from each group. An interesting part of the evening was the demonstration of potential movement between the worlds. For example, in the middle income area a couple was asked to move to the floor because a mudslide had just taken out their small farm. This exercise illustrated how many in this group were just one catastrophe from joining the low income group and becoming food insecure.
I felt like the event was a bit scripted, but an admirable effort by the volunteers involved. This thought was validated when I did actually find the exact script and event plan online, complete with step by step instruction of how to host an Oxfam Hunger Banquet! I left feeling blessed that by sheer luck I was born into the 20% who are food secure. It is truly circumstance that separates us. No matter how much we, as Americans, like to think that if you work hard the American dream is yours, this is not true in all parts of the world.
Oxfam America – http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
How to Host Your Own Hunger Banquet – http://actfast.oxfamamerica.org.s3.amazonaws.com/downloads/2013OxfamToolkits-HungerBanquet.pdf