On the same evening celebrity chef Gordan Ramsay hosted a fundraising challenge with the city’s top chefs raising over $1 million in support of breast and ovarian cancer research at Mount Sinai Hospital, another lower profile but equally important fundraising event was underway.
Hosted by the Toronto Zen Centre and held at the Steelworkers Union Hall, a Hunger Banquet was held benefiting The Children’s Breakfast Clubs, Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam’s Hunger Relief Campaign.
I highly doubt any one of us is unaware of the global hunger crisis, or even local food inequality, but the Hunger Banquet was more than showing slides of hungry children in third-world countries. It was a tangible approach to bringing attention to the disparity of food distribution not only in the rest of the world but as well as our own backyard.
Upon arrival each guest was asked to draw a card determining their income level and identity for the night. I drew a low-income card. For this evening, I was Ravi from Gujarat, India.
Banquet tables filled the hall, all set according to their respective income levels.
Two tables at the front of the hall were laid with white linen tablecloths, patterned china, stemmed glassware, and a complete cutlery set. A basket of rolls, crystal butterdish and a floral centrepiece awaited the few high-income guests that would be dining at this setting. Several tables were draped in dark blue plastic to represent the middle-income class. Flanking a white porcelain dinner plate and a simple juice tumbler was a fork and spoon.
To find my table, I didn’t need to look too far. Rows of bare wooden tables filled the remainder of the hall. Multi-coloured plastic plates and juice cups and a single spoon atop a paper napkin was the setting for the low-income cardholders.
I was impressed by the turnout of about 150 for this seemingly unpublicized event. The evening began with an opening from the Children’s Breakfast Club founder, Rick Gosling. I felt immediately inspired by his sincerity and genuine enthusiasm as he spoke of the children his program feeds on a daily basis.
A dramatic presentation depicting inequality of food distribution followed. A gentleman, representative of the high-income group emerged from the kitchen carrying a plate overflowing with the evening’s dinner. Several women followed with plates of modest proportions, symbolizing those in the middle-income class. And finally, a young man and woman carrying plates with barely a palm-sized portion of food circled the hall as guests remained in silence.
All guests were active participants in the demonstration, as we were asked to stand according to our respective income levels. There seemed to be a sense of dejection as three-quarters of the guests rose when the low-income group was called.
A local and organic vegetarian menu of paneer and spinach samosas, red cabbage coleslaw, chickpeas with tomatoes, and stewed root vegetables with steamed rice was set for guests to serve themselves.
We were all asked to remain in silence as the high-income group began the food service. The men (as identified on our cards) from the middle-income group followed, then the women. It was no holds barred as the low-income group was called upon.
Ending the evening was an ‘open-mike’ forum, for any individuals to share their hunger experiences or lessons learned from the night. We heard short stories recounting family hardships, first-hand accounts of hunger witnessed outside holiday resorts and a guest’s own experience with hunger in the city of Toronto.
This was the second Hunger Banquet hosted by the Toronto Zen Centre in as many years and it has yet to be determined if this will be an annual event. Tickets were $40 plus a non-perishable food bank donation. There was also a raffle and silent auction held during the evening.
If you ever have a chance to attend a Hunger Banquet I suggest you do so. You will not only enjoy a thoughfully prepared local meal but particiapate in bringing awareness to the local and world-wide crisis of hunger.
until next time….