KELSEY RETTKE, Staff Writer
“Welcome to the Hunger Banquet. We are here today because more than 2.5 billion people live in poverty,” announced Kyle Bohrer’14 at the beginning of the Hunger Banquet, held in Commons on Sunday, April 15.
The event strived to raise awareness on poverty and food availability as an issue of power, rather than population size and little resources.
“My hope is that participants will start thinking about the issue of hunger. We oftentimes take food for granted. I hope that we can start thinking about actions we can take to provide for those more unfortunate than us,” said Bohrer.
His initial experience seeing poverty and hunger was when he traveled to Beijing, China the summer before his first year. He said, “It really got me thinking about global hunger on an international scale. I worked with rice and trying to distribute rice and water to areas and people who normally didn’t have access to the simple grain. I saw the privileges people are afforded and, also, not afforded.”
This was not Bohrer’s first hunger banquet. He previously attended one in Des Moines, Iowa, put on by Oxfam America, a non-profit organization that works to spread awareness about hunger on an international level.
The banquet began simply: each participant drew a slip of paper from a box at random, which assigned them to one of three groups, high-income, middle-income, and low-income.
Each group was designated a specific meal. Those that drew a high-income card were given a full meal of lasagna, salad, breadsticks, dessert and drinks. The middle-income group was given water, a bowl of beans and rice. Finally, the third group, low-income had water and a meager bowl of rice. The low-income tier was asked to sit on a cloth on the floor, the middle-income tier were allowed chairs, but no tables, and the high-income tier were given chairs and tables, adorned with candles, a water jug, plates, knives, forks, cups and napkins.
There were instances, however, when Bohrer asked a few people from the lowest group to stand up, and told of a real-life scenario wherein they had a chance to better themselves; these participants were then moved up to the middle-income group. Likewise, two people from the middle group were asked to stand, a real-life scenario was told with the participants representing the people that had fallen into misfortune, and thus were asked to move to the floor to eat with the lowest income group. The majority of participants were in the two lower-income tiers, while only a modest few enjoyed the privilege of being in the high-class tier.
As they ate, participants were invited to share any thoughts they had.
A participant from the middle-tier group said, “When I drew the middle-income card, I was thinking ‘Okay, this is still gonna be a pretty decent meal’…but that was not the case. Our views of the level of poverty are very different in the U.S. than they are elsewhere in the world.”
A participant from the high-income said, “I found myself taking less lasagna and less food because I felt terrible that people were sitting on the floor and I was eating such a great meal. There really is a level of guilt I wasn’t expecting.”
Bohrer ended the evening by saying that he hopes people are able to take away something from the event, finally adding a quote from Nelson Mandela, who had spoken at a hunger banquet which he had attended.
“Massive poverty and obscene inequality…rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils. In this new century, millions of people…remain imprisoned, enslaved, and in chains. They are trapped in the prison of poverty. It is time to set them free. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is manmade and it can be overcome…Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life…Sometime it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that generation. Let your greatness blossom. Of course the task will not be easy. But not to do this would be a crime against humanity, against which I ask all humanity to now rise up.”