The date: December 10, 1901.
The venue: The glittering Hall of Mirrors at the Grand Hotel, Stockholm, Sweden.
The attendees: 113 distinguished all-male guests.
The menu: A seven-course-meal costing $200 that included hors d’oeuvres, poached brill with white wine sauce, beef fillet imperial, breast of hazel grouse with Madeira sauce, ice-cream parfait, and fruit tartlet.
The above are some banquet trivia from the very first Nobel Prize award ceremony.
Not all banquets have this level of extravagance, or are hosted in resplendent settings befitting a Renaissance court. But they could just as well serve to focus attention on a noble cause.
Fox Lane High School’s Youth in Action club recently hosted one such banquet—the Hunger Banquet—to create awareness about the blight of global hunger.
A seemingly oxymoronic concept, “It’s a banquet without much food that gives people the chance to learn about hunger from the perspective of those who experience it on a daily basis,” said David Whalen, the club’s faculty advisor.
Sure enough, the banquet didn’t just skimp on the décor and the seating arrangement, but on the meal itself. A hunger banquet is a simulation of the unequal distribution of food resources in today’s world, which gives its attendees a taste of what it’s like to live on a subsistence diet—a plight suffered by more than 800 million people worldwide.
At the event, as each guest walked in the door, he or she was handed a ticket that randomly assigned him or her to one of the three zones in the cafeteria, each a dramatization of the conditions prevalent in various regions of the world where hunger is widespread.
But one needn’t necessarily travel to the war-torn, poverty-stricken pockets overseas to witness hunger. Though it often goes unnoticed, locally, many folks go to bed hungry each night.
According to the estimates of the Food Bank for Westchester—one of the state’s eight food banks—a startling 200,000 people in Westchester County don’t have enough to eat.
The group representing the world’s low-income population squatted on the floor, strewn with a raggedy patch of old newspapers, interspersed with twigs and leaves, in an attempt to mock up the dining spaces (or the lack thereof) of people earning woefully low wages. For fare, they were served a pasty gruel of stiff rice and drank water from cabbage leaves.
This batch symbolized countries in the developing world like Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, and Chad that have a per capita Gross National Income of $905 or less.
“For one meal, they suffer the fate of the millions of people throughout the world, who live in poverty,” said Mr. Whalen.
The group signifying the middle-income citizens was seated on benches minus tables, in keeping with their place in the global economic ladder, where the annual individual earnings are in the range of $906 and $11,115.
Bolivia, Lebanon, Poland, Hungary, and China are some of the economies that fall in this category. They ate white rice and beans and had plastic forks for cutlery.
Attendees, who by the luck of the draw, got to represent some of the world’s most affluent nations like the U.S., France, Japan, and Britain, with a per capita G.N.I. of $11,116 or more, went home the least hungry. A three-course meal of garden salad, lasagna, and dessert graced this table.
For them, the event leaned closer to a “banquet” and was less about “hunger.” This lot sat around a proper table, complete with a clean tablecloth, neatly-folded napkins, sparkling glasses, silverware, and crockery.
“For those at the hunger banquet, that night was just a metaphor for [the real-life situation]. We all knew we could all go home afterwards and have a real dinner. But when you stop to think that there are real people out there who’re constantly hungry, it’s a hard idea to swallow,” said 16-year-old junior, Hannah Sarokin.
Echoing a similar sentiment, junior Dan Cohen said, “Knowing that 854 million others around the world are chronically hungry made every bite of my rice-in-a-cabbage leaf bittersweet, as I realized how thankful the vast majority of us should be for our privileged situations, but more importantly, how cruel it is to not try to do something to alleviate global undernourishment.”
The Youth in Action club has been in existence for 20 years. Over the decades, it’s evolved organically into a socially conscious youth organization, with a mission to educate the school’s student population about pressing national and global issues.
Also, whenever an opportunity has arisen, it’s stepped forward to offer community service. Currently, it has an active membership of 35 students.
“We’re like a human rights club. In the past, we’ve donated clothes to soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. [In the wake of hurricane Katrina], we also paired up with a sister school in New Orleans and raised money for them,” said Youth in Action’s 17-year-old president, Theodora Skeadas.
The event, which was open to the entire community, was attended by over 100 people, each of whom left with an average individual contribution of around $9.
“It was a great success. We [collected] $869. We’ve raised $2,400 over the past four years, since [school teacher] Christine Crossan and I have taken over advising the club.” said Mr. Whalen.
The entire donation will go to Oxfam America, an international relief and development organization that provides solutions to fight “hunger, poverty, and injustice” around the globe.
“Hunger is not the result of our world producing too little food like many think. This Earth can provide enough food for everyone. It’s that food is not distributed equally,” says Hannah, offering her analysis of the hunger problem.
Her solutions? One, putting the heat on politicians and two, encouraging more free-trade.
“We could buy more fair-trade products like coffee and ask for it at our local Starbucks. Fair trade ensures that more money trickles down to the workers and producers and not just the C.E.O.s of large companies. We should try to make sure that the people making the products receive fair wages,” says Hannah.
Dan adds, “Widespread public education efforts may greatly contribute to ultimately bringing hunger (and poverty) to an end.”