Hunger isn’t the only issue that Oxfam International addresses, but it’s still high on the list of priorities. And in recent years, a particular type of combination fundraising and consciousness-raising event about hunger – around the world and in our own communities – has become such a popular hit that Oxfam has trademarked the name. It’s called a Hunger Banquet®, and you’ve probably already heard of it even if the name doesn’t immediately ring a bell. There have been several held in our neck of the woods, and Mount Saint Alphonsus in West Park will host one this Sunday, March 27 to benefit Kingston’s open-to-anyone soup kitchen and food pantry, the Queens Galley.
Here’s the scenario: You show up at a designated location and draw a ticket that randomly assigns you to one of three groups roughly representing the disparities among how different segments of humanity get to eat, based on the latest statistics about the number of people living in poverty. The luckiest 15 percent of attendees, representing those living in the high-income tier, are served a sumptuous repast. At this Sunday’s event, the high-end meals will be catered by Culinary Institute of America-trained executive chef Greg Garrison and executive chef Analisa LaPietra.
The next 35 percent are typically fed a modest meal of rice and beans. As this number corresponds to the largest demographic addressing hunger and food insecurity in our own community, our children, guests at Mount Saint Alphonsus will instead dine on an offering from the Kingston City School District lunch menu.
The remaining guests, representing the 50 percent of the world population facing hunger and poverty daily, can help themselves to small portions of rice and water: more than all too many of our fellow humans get to eat on a typical day. (At least we have the luxury of tossing a granola bar in the glove compartment for the drive home, in case we get unlucky.) All guests pay the same price for their meal, regardless of the luck of the draw; in this case, admission is free, although donations to the Queens Galley will doubtless be invited.
It’s a fascinating concept, and there’s more to it than an opportunity to experience deprivation first-hand for a couple of hours. The Hunger Banquet® always includes an open discussion component, and there is often a featured speaker to help take your mind off that pitiful blob of rice and let you know practical ways in which you can help alleviate the invisible hunger in your own backyard. Sunday’s guest speaker will be chef Tim Cipriano, executive director of Food Services for the New Haven, Connecticut public schools.
“Chef Tim” has more than 16 years of culinary experience, having worked in school food service for the last six years and at several restaurants in the Northeast. He has received local and national recognition for integrating lessons about food into school curriculum and for getting students to ask for locally grown fresh foods. This effort led him to receive the honorific moniker Local Food Dude from a fellow chef. On a more global level, he worked closely with congresswoman Rosa DeLauro toward the passage of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, then went on to work directly with the White House – specifically, with the First Lady’s Office and chef Sam Kass – on the planning and rollout of the Chefs Move to Schools campaign.
One of Cipriano’s proudest achievements to date has been introducing more local produce into the school lunch program – over 150,000 pounds of Connecticut-grown food in 2010 – and working to educate New Haven’s urban students about fresh, healthy and great- tasting food choices. New Haven has 46 public schools serving roughly 20,000 students, 80 percent of whom qualify for Free and Reduced-Price Lunch, indicating a very high poverty rate in the community. “Chef Tim” will lead a discussion about child hunger with delegates from regional schools at Sunday’s event.
The Hunger Banquet® runs from 3 to 5 p.m. on March 27 at the Mount Saint Alphonsus retreat center, which is located at 1001 Broadway (Route 9W) in the Town of Esopus. To reserve your seat, call the Queens Galley at (845) 338-3468. If you’re interested in volunteering at the event, contact UlsterCorps at (845) 481-0331 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.