Saturday, November 17, 2012

Take a seat at the table...or not!

“Take a look around the room,” I said, “50% of you are seated on the floor, 35% of you only have chairs, and a meager 15% of you have the luxury of a table. Equality and balance don’t exist here.”

Well, I may have adapted my exact words a little bit, but that was the story of this week’s Oxfam America Hunger Banquet® that your Oxfam Action Corps (that’s us!) co-hosted with Drake University’s student-run ONE Chapter. A hunger banquet for those who have never experienced one is, at its simplest, a simulation of the world we live. It is a simulation of how 85% of the world either lives on the brink of poverty or is knee-deep in it.

As participants of an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet® enter the room, they choose a card. Each card represents one of three tiers: low-, middle-, and high-income. ‘Low’ sits on the floor and is served rice, ‘Middle’ in chairs and is served rice and beans, and ‘High’ at a nice table and is served a full and balanced meal (protein, carbs, and vegetables).

Will you be at the table?

Before participants can eat, however, they must be subjected to the “winds of change”. That is, there are many circumstances that are beyond our control (e.g. weather, etc.). Middle-income people sometimes fall into low-income and perhaps low-income rise to middle-income. So, a shuffling happens of a few participants. Then, the meal arrives. I hope that the women aren’t too hungry because, in low- and middle-income groups, the men get to eat first. Fair? You bet it’s not! Wait! Why do the people sitting at tables get chicken for dinner but I have to eat rice with my hands?

After the meal is finished, participants are asked to reflect on their experience. How did it feel to sit on the floor right beside the people enjoying a full and balanced meal while you ate rice? How did it feel to have to let the men eat first? Why do these inequities exist in our world?

This time of year is perfect for hunger banquets because, in the United States, we are gearing up for one of the largest food-focused holidays of the year: Thanksgiving. It is a time of celebration, reflection, warmth, family, and, of course, food – except for those without. For them, Thanksgiving might be further evidence that our food system doesn’t provide enough for everyone. For them, Thanksgiving might be a painful reminder that there are too few voices in the fight against hunger.

This holiday season, join Oxfam America and host an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet® with your organization or vow to skip a meal and donate the money you save to help Oxfam create solutions to hunger. Millions need your voice. Let yours be one of hope.

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