TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 24
Sometimes it’s more important to nourish the mind than the body while sitting at the dinner table. When Oklahoma City University hosts dinner guests for its World Neighbors Hunger Banquet March 25 many will leave with an empty stomach, but that’s sort of the point.
“Nobody’s there for the food. They’re there for the experience,” said Marie Hooper, OCU history professor and faculty sponsor of the annual event. “Some will leave hungry, but it’s part of how we’re demonstrating the issues of world hunger and societal interaction.”
The student-led annual event is held to demonstrate a variety of conditions throughout the world, not just the plight of the hungry, but also the way nations treat each other, Hooper added. Large-scale issues like natural disasters, war, political instability and more play a role in the Hunger Banquet.
The event is akin to dinner theater, when food is served while a script is played out. However, that’s where the similarity ends, as the participants themselves are the ones acting out the “script.”
As ticket holders file through the doors they are assigned to a specific table through luck of the draw. Each table is designated as a particular region in several respects including the proportionate number of people as compared to the rest of the world, the type of cuisine served and even the amount of food available. As Hooper pointed out as examples, the food available for the “Africa” table might not feed everyone present. On the other hand, those seated in the “North America” and “Europe” will have plenty to eat, and some fancy utensils to eat it with.
There is also an added element of chance — tables roll a die to determine their fates, like whether their village is wiped out by a tsunami or whether they get ideal conditions to grow crops.
Phi Alpha Theta, the History Honors Society, sponsors the Hunger Banquet. Andrew Knifechief, an OCU graduate who organized previous Hunger Banquets after seeing it from the audience perspective as a freshman, talked about some of the things he enjoyed about putting it all together the past couple years.
“What I like most about it is putting history in action while serving the greater community through an eye-opening experience,” Knifechief said. “It’s one of the things that makes OCU unique. I know people in other schools who go four years for their degree but never get to experience something like this.”
The planning process takes a couple of months. It includes figuring out the menus for each country, how to set the tables, where to set the tables and inviting cultural entertainment.
Other items are purposely left unplanned, Hooper noted. For instance, those who sit at one of the Asian countries might have to go out and find their food in another part of the building. And those in poorer countries could decide to “raid” or risk “illegal immigration” to a richer country to feed themselves.
World Neighbors, an organization seeking to end world hunger through educational means, is the beneficiary of money raised from Hunger Banquet. The locally headquartered organization was established in 1951 by John L. Peters, who once taught at OCU.
Although the event serves as a fund-raiser for World Neighbors, Hooper said the money “is secondary. We’re more concerned about people experiencing what it’s like outside our borders. Obviously we can’t recreate what it’s like to die of starvation in a central African area, but at least we can demonstrate what’s going on in other parts of the world in a way that they’ll remember. Too frequently, Oklahomans don’t look beyond their front door when it comes to these major issues. This event is held to raise awareness, not money.”
For more information about the Hunger Banquet or to get tickets call Hooper at (405) 208-5453 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.