Friday, March 12, 2010

The Hunger Banquet

Yesterday, I went to something called the Hunger Banquet. It was a very interesting experience. The event was meant to demonstrate income and food inequality throughout the world. To do this: people were randomly assigned a class. 10% were the upper class. They were seated on nice tables and were treated to a very nice feast from Red Brick Oven and Tucanos. 20% of the People sat in chairs and were feed a small hot dog, bag of chips, and a drink. The remaining 70% sat on the floor and at a small bowl of rice and beans with a tortilla; two people to one plate. This was a powerful visual representation of world income inequality and hunger. Before entering the banquet, I saw a sign that read: The temptation will come to leave this event hungry and frustrated. Try your best not to! Remember that this is how most people in the world live, and they go about their lives still finding happiness. (Or something like that). I have to say, that while seeing people eat a feast while I ate a sick hot dog, the urge did come to feel jealous and frustrated. However, the spirit of this event was not one to make you feel guilty and depressed but rather to fill you with hope that world hunger can be solved. That is what I like so much. In my previous experiences, events like these often aim to make you feel guilty that you blessed with so much, and often you leave feeling worse than you came; being aware of huge problem but not seeing any hope of a solution.
The key note speaker was from Paraguay, former mayor of the capital city, and current founder and supervisor of a school that seeks to educate farmers to be self-reliant. I loved the speaker and his remarks. He was full of praise to BYU for the event. "When I was invited to speak on solving world hunger, at a hunger banquet I thought to myself 'Oh brother!' However, this event has been one of the most memorable of my life." He said that one of the things he loved about BYU students is because we are happy: "Normally when you attend an event like this, you meet a bunch of bitter and angry people. Whenever you meet a bitter and angry person, run from them, because those are the last people in the world that are going to solve world hunger. I love BYU students because you believe that something can be done, and you will do it." He also prayed BYU and the Church for its teachings on and work helping others work towards economic self-reliance. Describing his organization he said "We don't teach people to farm and to grow agriculture. People in South America have been doing that for centuries, and they are still poor. We teach them how to grow things and make money doing it!" He also said that "we need to do things that will help more equally distribute standards of living without distorting the incentives to hard work." I couldn't agree with him on this point more, the old adage "you don't help people, you help people help themselves" need to be reconsidered by many with good intentions to help others.
Overall, it was a very good experience. The them was Celebrate Human Dignity. I even submitted a photograph for an art Competition for the event. With it I submitted this essay:
The pain, suffering, and death that occur in developing countries are often trivialized by those on the outside. Perhaps they are lead to think that differences in culture, education, and circumstance change the depth and power of human emotion. Or perhaps others think that because it is more common, they become calloused—past feeling. This photograph conveys the error in the presumption. When one looks at this picture, they immediately are struck by the intense rush of emotions associated with human loss. The man in the back ground stands deep in reflection, trying to cope with the loss of a friend. The headstone in the foreground stands as a powerful token to the deceased.