Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Irony of a Hunger Banquet and Guilty Minds of the Affluent.

It’s Sunday night. Lauren convinced me to put down my keyboard and attend a Hunger Banquet hosted by IUPUI Global Health Student Interest Group and Breads for the World. I hesitated at first because I’ve got a lot to do this week with school, work and everything else. But I thought this is a worthy cause and since I am deeply involved in changing the way we see food, this is one event I can afford to break away from my routines of being in front of my computer for 18 hours a day.

I was excited when we got to the place. There are all kinds of people and organizations in attendance doing so much good for the world. I felt I belonged, naturally excited. It was unlike those business community breakfasts or the many swanky law school networking functions. It was down to earth, and people were diverse and interesting. They are doing great things, helping refuges or delivering education to third world countries with iPods.

The banquet was also a great concept:
10% of the people attending were randomly assigned to the first class experience, representing the 10% of the developing world able to afford upscale dining and trendy foodie faddishness; 20% were randomly assigned to the second class experience, representing those below $9,000 a year income per capita but is able to afford food; the remaining represented the rest of the world, suffering from food insecurities.

The 10% finding folks got catered dining from Saffron Café and a few other trendy and delicious local restaurants. One of the table was surprised with McDonald’s meals to represent nutritional poverty not necessarily correlated with income. This is one of the points made in The China Study.

The 20% developing world citizens received over portioned Chipotle burritos and Yats rice and gumbo. They do not face food insecurity but is depended on their crops exclusively. One table was surprised by a downgrade to insecure status due to “a category 5 hurricane affecting their crop.”

Third class folks got assigned to the rugs on the floor and rice and beans only. 

We had got lucky and were assigned to the second class tables. When we received our food, while the people on the floor were waiting for theirs, Lauren and I had wanted to see if we could share our food since it was obvious too much food for us. But we didn’t know anyone there and there wasn’t a convenient way to cut our burritos, so we sat silent and tried our best to finish our meal. To ease our guilt, we brought back what we could not finish.

We took this picture of the irony of a Hunger Banquet.

On our way home, Lauren and I discussed the final thought of the night: even though we were not asked to share, we weren’t told not to share. 

We failed to take the initiative. Lauren and I felt horrible. We are humbled, both by the event itself and by the lesson: to help the world rid of hunger by starting with ourselves. Even though we thought to share, we were kept from doing so because we lack a fundamental appreciation for the relationship we have with food and with each other: it’s not just about us, but about the rest of the world. Not only do we have to appreciate our relationship with food, we have to be mindful of others in respect to food. WE need to take actions, and make food a basic right of reality.

All rants aside: I believe there is a way to efficiently address both the nutritional inequalities in our own societies (affluent diseases) and the problem of lack of access to food. We can develop viable local solutions here and add value to shaping a sustainable Global Food Ecosystem. Not only can we rethink our duty to others in hunger, we also may rethink our obligations to Earth in its reparation.

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