How to Host a Hunger Banquet

Burmese children eat at a temporary feeding center run by villagers near Kundangon. (Photo: Adam Dean/Reuters)

Nov 16, 2010

Sounds like an oxymoron to place the words "hunger" and "banquet" right next to each other—right? But as we prepare our Thanksgiving feasts, Oxfam International is asking Americans to take time to witness the disparity between the "Haves" and the 900 million "Have Nots" around the globe who battle hunger on a regular basis.

Here’s how the event works: each guest at the Hunger Banquet is given a ticket signifying whether he or she is in the high, middle or lowest tiers of global wealth. The ticket dictates the guest's menu options—ranging from a full spread to a meager portion of rice and water.

This simulation is designed to raise awareness of the issues surrounding chronic hunger. You can help the cause by hosting an event this Thanksgiving season. Here's how:

Download the Tool Kit
It takes about 30 seconds to register on the Oxfam website and download the tool kit (found under the Tools & Downloads on the left-hand rail). The kit suggests you start planning a few weeks out, but you could conceivably pull off the event in a few days. The tool kit even provides a detailed script for the moderator of the event.

Send Out Electronic Invitations
Oxfam provides easy electronic Hunger Banquet invitations that you can fill out and email to friends and people in your community. (There are also printable versions, if you’d rather send the invitation through snail mail.)

You can even register your event through Oxfam to open the invitation to your larger community.

Plan a Menu and Purchase Food
You can coordinate with local food providers to make donations for your event and help offset the costs. Keep in mind, only 15 percent of your guests will be served a nice meal, 35 percent will be receiving rice and beans, and the remaining 50 percent will subsist on rice and water.

Set Up a Dining Space
Reserve spacious seating for 15 percent of your guests, the high-income earners. Put down a tablecloth and fabric napkins to give the meal an extra touch of class! Set up large tables for the middle-income earners. Leave room on the floor for the lowest income group.

Let the Banquet Begin
As guests arrive, allow them to draw tickets that designate their incomes, and character cards (found in the tool kit) to help personalize the experience and signify that real people with lives and families are battling poverty and hunger—these issues are not merely statistics.

Have the moderator introduce the simulation before serving groups their respective meals. Follow the meal with a discussion period and suggest ways to take action.

Don’t Keep the Secret

Encourage your guests to share their experience with family and friends during this Thanksgiving and holiday season. Spreading the word about the inequalities of wealth and chronic hunger is the first step to alleviating poverty for good.

Scale it Up
Want to go all out and host the event of the year? Here are some suggestions to make your event a hit:

  • Have additional speakers. Recruit a returned Peace Corps volunteer, or an elected official, or a leader of a community or faith-based group.
  • Talk to your local press to see if a journalist can cover the event.
  • Invite local celebrities to bring greater attention to the issue.
  • Show a video or slide presentation during the meal.

Scale It Down
Running a little short on time, but still want to participate? Oxfam has great suggestions for getting involved:

  • Attend rather than host an event. You can find events in your area here.
  • Fast for a day or for a meal, and donate the money you would have spent on food to an organization that assists the hungry.
  • Set a workout goal and then ask friends and family members to sponsor you for every mile you walk, every lap you swim, or mile you bike. Donate the proceeds to Oxfam to support the tremendous work they do to fight poverty and tackle hunger.

Quick Study: World Poverty | Hunger

Related Stories: 17 Million American Homes Didn't Have Enough to Eat in 2009 | Real Girls, Real Stories: Escaping Child Marriage and Poverty Through Education

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