Sunday, February 19, 2012

Menacing the Hunger Banquet

Food is sacred. It nourishes us; That I don’t have to rationalize, I take for granted.

That’s why I begin my perspectives on sustainability with food; how you relate to sustainability is your business.

But food, to me, is sacred.                      

Lauren and I attended the IUPUI sponsored hunger banquet last night for the second year. We were excited and sure the time would be well spent. Eliminating world hunger is a cause we support; food, I think, should be a universal positive right. But that’s my personal problem.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time; yet it was nothing we had expected. Of course, as always, I had to instigate as the menace:

We arrived a few minutes before the event started. I walked around and saw the many affiliates and sponsors; Kids Against Hunger and Bread For the World was also in attendance, so was World Vision, my favorite charity, and my favorite local brewery, Sun King.

Mmmm... please excuse the Homer moment.

I enjoyed talking to different sponsors; I learn a lot from what others are doing. I was a little puzzled by a new organization with a display of a complicated water purifier system costing more than $3000, runs on electricity, with some assembly required? What is that suppose to do for a village that could hardly afford the price of a meal? They did however boast a solar-powered source; but just as the guy rolled out his modular solar unit, the event began.

Food was served!

Each year, the banquet splits up the attendees into first, second, and third "world" consumers; each with a different dining experience. Last year, we drew the luck and sat at the second world table. We second-worlders each had a burrito enough to feed a family, while the first world enjoyed catered food and the third enjoyed rice and beans. I remember last year I did not think to share my food; I lived with the guilt for a year in passing. This year, I wanted a chance to prove myself, but as for how far irony goes, I’m not in the position of sharing; we were assigned as third-worlders this time.

I walked around the room and took some pictures of the uneaten privileged food; I wanted to see just how many people had plenty to share but decided not to. We have a systemic problem in this country relating to food—we throw too much of it away and we rarely think twice about the food insecurities faced by others. Isn't that what this banquet is all about? Isn't that why the eating arrangements are set up by "status"?

Lauren asked one of the volunteers what they planned on doing with the left overs. We thought they would donate them to the Wheeler Mission. She was also curious about the trash itself, knowing that some of the used plastic cups and plates could be recycled. They were suppose to be recycled. Recycling to Lauren is sacred.

However, once I made it to the back.....

Just as I caught one photo, I saw an elder lady rush towards me.

The next thing I remember was her finger in my face telling me I shouldn’t be in the place; there were health codes I had apparently violated.

I explained to her that I saw no signs saying I cannot enter, no one had tried to stop me, my intent was not to abuse the food further in some violate way against public health standards; I had simply wanted to look because food is sacred to me.

"I wanted to see the ironies of a hunger banquet." I told her.

I promptly left the area as she screamed about these "health codes." I’ll be sure to look them up but I always thought they were to protect food, not secrets. I found Lauren and boasted my run-in with the authority. Before we could even all laugh about it, the woman in charge—the one who would’ve had to inform me of my Miranda rights—came rushing at me with her finger raised, anger charged, ready to take to battle.

“You were not supposed to be back there. You know if any of this food had been served on the floor I couldn’t serve them again. The health code says so.”

I felt an instant change in the mood of the place; everyone around seemed to be looking right at me. I told her again I had seen no signs; I wasn’t aware of any health code laws prohibiting my right to freely inquire in public places?

"Look, it wasn't personal. I just wanted to know." 

If there be health laws prohibiting my rights to know, I’d say it’s a stupid one. Why wouldn’t I want to know how my food is treated before and after consumption? Especially at a hunger banquet? Or at a food processing center? Or at a CAFO?

I did not have anything personally directed against her. My beef is with the mentalities of our systemic problems, with laws that are too rigid to cause people wanting to protect those systemic problems; my beef is with a institution of thought that does not give people the freedom to negotiate to live in better ways, that does not give people the incentive to think for themselves. Blind enforcement leads to bureaucrats who knows nothing of the spirits of the law to abuse laws; it takes a university staff wanting to tell me what I can and cannot think because of her health codes.

My beef is with laws that favor blind enforcement as opposed to reason. I could’ve offered her to take some of the food to the Wheeler Mission or some homeless person who did not even share our “third world” status; but instead I was stunned by her reaction. 

If I had violated some social taboo for wanting to see how food is treated then I publicly apologize. But let’s not forget that the purpose of wanting to solve food hunger issues is to solve them, not to perpetuate the same bulls#$@ we have been living with (excuse the language). And we won’t know the kind of bs we are living with unless we see them. Right to know is the only thing that is really protecting our precious healthy capitalism in an ever unsustainable world, isn't it?  

I look forward to what troubles I shall menace next year. ☺

In honor of the Simpsons' 500th Episode:

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