By Dharana Rijal, News Writer, MPP ‘13
A week before Thanksgiving, the 2nd HKS Annual Hunger Banquet brought together students to share an unusual meal and reflect on the issues surrounding world food security.
Students attending the event agreed that the arrangement of the meal highlighted the inequalities that exist around the world, and often, in our own neighborhoods.
At the event, participants were randomly assigned to one of three income groups such that the proportion of participants in each group reflected the income distribution of the world population. It was this arbitrary classification that dictated what each participant got to eat at the event.
In the discussion following the meal, one student commented on how the event prompted in her a “feeling of guilt and the awareness of privilege” as a member of the high-income minority of the world’s population.
Students brainstormed ideas on what can be done to address the issues surrounding hunger. One student stressed on the need for increased awareness. Another student expressed his skepticism of awareness alone. In order to combat desensitization on issues related to hunger, he said, “There should be an additional step beyond awareness.” Another student suggested that there be “…not only awareness of need, but also awareness of strategies to combat hunger.”
One of the student organizers suggested local, national, and global actions students could take. Local-level actions, she said, could include donating to local food banks, volunteering for meals on wheels, and buying local food first. Actions to influence national and global policy include engaging in the policy debates surrounding food security and trade issues. This includes being informed for example, about which companies are getting contracts to feed America’s troops abroad, or which companies are being allowed to open businesses in the vicinity of low-income housing.
David Noymer, the Chief Financial Officer of the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), who was present at the event, assured students that they did not necessarily have to limit themselves to careers in the food and agriculture sectors to effect change. “You are in the dawn of your careers in public service” he said. “ There are hosts of other areas where you can have immense impact.”
The most unexpected and poignant comment came a member of the catering staff who had been listening in on the entire conversation. “It makes me sad to see how much food goes wasted everyday,” she said. “When people who live in poorer countries don’t even get a bite to eat.” She spoke about how she alerts her children to economic inequalities and tries to teach them how they can help by donating clothing and school items they no longer need. “You give it, you get it back—that’s what I teach my children.”
According to the student organizers, donations of canned goods went to the GBFB and cash donations to Oxfam Unwrapped, which empowers farmers in developing countries.