A Famine Buffet

A bloated belly in Chad. An emaciated woman in Kolkatta. A skeletal frame in Sudan. Images of hunger are synonymous with poverty and in turn with ‘development’. I recently attended the launch of a global hunger report written by a large bilateral agency. The event was glitzy. The food was lavish. My conscience was in turmoil. The walls were covered in projected images of ‘hunger’ and against this backdrop we quaffed fancy wine, nibbled on canapés and satiated ourselves with an extravagant buffet. Food stuck to the roof of my dry mouth and the wine tasted acrid. I swallowed and made small talk as I imagined a new menu:

An ounce of maizemeal served with a side of integrity

Half a cassava dowsed in a sauce of veracity

A handful of rice accompanied by a clear conscience

I work in communications and my mind was running overtime. What better way to really get people to connect with the issue of hunger than by making them empathise? And what better way to empathise than to eat the diet of someone suffering from malnutrition? I risk being gimmicky as I try to appease my conscience but hear me out. Imagine if the buffet, instead of being rich and sumptuous had been plain and minimal. Imagine if there was not enough food to go around; these development professionals and policy makers would have had to negotiate who ate and who went without, a decision made every day by the 925 million hungry people globally (2010, UNFAO).

While I understand that my idea would have had zero impact on rectifying the dizzying inequality that is global hunger, I believe it would have at least been a nod towards sincerity. Instead I, and others present, seemed content to bask in the irony. Another day at work; another day of trying (and failing) to balance on the tightrope of integrity.

This post has been written as part of Blog Action Day 2011 which is supporting World Food Day 2011.


3 thoughts on “A Famine Buffet

  1. This is a really thought and image provoking post. I have a (probably inanswerable) question: Coming from a communications perspective what do you think a ‘nod towards integrity’ would look like in terms of campaigning (especially for fundraising) about hunger ? This is obviously quite pertinent in terms of the East African Food Crisis. I know there is a wealth of literature out there on imagery in development campaigning and no doubt this has throughout the years fed into practice but I guess I am more interested in your personal reflections…

  2. Indeed a picture of reality: while campaigning against hunger and publishing data based on ‘superficial’ causes of it, bilateral organizations promote work and seek more donors with lavishing banquets for the elites. It comes down to keep donors’ money in to a large extent, while all the realities on the ground are concealed. As a result, hunger evolves into famines. It is a sad reality, but we can only hope one day the table will turn! Good article and thanks for sharing!

  3. Pingback: Empathy and development in the UK | Youth Development Voice

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