40 students and townspeople took part in the Hunger Banquet held on Wednesday night in Baxter Dining Hall.
The project was organized by the Food Orders Organization, which has been active this semester in arousing awareness of issues connected with food such as hunger, eating disorders and food production.
To mirror the world’s hunger situation, 15 percent of the attendants, chosen at random, enjoyed a full course meal complete with table cloth, flowers and cloth napkins. Serious about maintaining the class divisions, the event organizers stood guard, protecting the upper-class food from the rest of the attendees. “It was very disorienting,” Sam Cha ’01, who was chosen to sit in the upper-class, said. “Coming upstairs with everyone and then getting randomly separated was weird. It was definitely something that made me think.”
Midway through the meal, Greg Whittmore ’98, an organizer of the event, read a series of hypothetical events. The scenarios he presented forced some participants to switch classes, in order to reveal to all participants the myriad of circumstances that can either improve or ruin a person’s situation. Later, various participants read short scripts profiling individual members of each class which served to break down stereotypes associated with each group.
Organizers were pleased with the outcome of the dinner/performance. “I thought it was fabulous,” Philip Weiman ’98, a member of the Food Orders group, said. “I liked how it was a performance in a sense that everyone participated.”
The focus of the evening took place after dinner with a panel discussion featuring Professor of Economics Douglas Gollin, Professor of History John Soluri, Professor of Biology Marta Laskowski and local farmer Harvey Carter. Kurth acted as moderator. The panelists addressed the topic, “Does Capitalism Increase Hunger?”
After each participant made an opening comment, the discussion focused on the opinions of Carter and Gollin. Gollin argued that hunger and capitalism are unrelated in their existence; a view held by most economists. Carter revealed the perspective of a small farmer who believes many current problems are caused by capitalism.
Gollin stated that although hunger does exist in capitalistic countries, it is fundamentally not a result of this system. “The most acute hunger of this century has been in countries with no capitalism,” Gollin said. “Hunger has been reduced in recent years which makes it hard to make a direct link between capitalism and the increase of hunger.”
Carter’s main argument against capitalist development in food production was that it allows people to become disconnected with the food that supports them. “Capitalism… provides the basis for a real disconnection from the food we eat,” he said. Carter worries this disconnection allows us to thrive on the suffering of others and our environment without having any liability.
When the discussion was opened to the audience, those who commented sided with Carter’s viewpoint. They articulated concerns that the Green Revolution will bring about increased costs in the future due to damaged resources because the current price mechanism does not take into account these costs.
The reactions to the discussion were mixed. Ira Boudway ’00 was pleased with the selection of panelists. “It was good they brought a farmer because it served to show the larger debate which is the traditional capitalist against the small scale farmer’s movement… Doug Gollin is one of the better representatives of his camp. Many other economists are less tolerant than he is.” Boudway was frustrated because he said he feels this “debate is neglected in our society. The people on this campus that needed to hear what was said weren’t there.” He said this is because only the people who were concerned with this topic in the first place would make an effort to attend such an event.
Christine Chan ’99 was convinced by Gollin’s position. “I would say that there are a lot of injustices in the current system and that we should address these, but I agree with Prof. Gollin’s response to the point the farmer brought up about disconnection. I’d rather be disconnected from my food and eat than be connected and starving.” Chan attests the disconnection those in a capitalist society have from their food allows them to maintain a sufficient diet, whereas those who have connection with their food because they eat only what they grow suffer from malnutrition due to the lack of nutritional variety.
As a chief planner in the event, Kurth was pleased with the evening. “Attendance was impressive for this time in the semester, and the discussion after the meal seemed to be worthwhile for both panel members and the audience.”
Remaining events planned by Food Orders will take place after spring break. These events include: a cross-cultural potluck dinner sponsored by several MinCo organizations, the Outing Club and the Working on Diversity and the Environment; a Hunger Cleanup event sponsored by MassPIRG and the Berkshire Food Project; Saturday morning gardening sessions in the vegetable, herb, flower and fruit garden around the Center for Environmental Studies house which is open to anyone interested.