TEDxNYU Simulates Inequality at Hunger Banquet

Tiffanie Hwang
At the Hunger Banquet, guests will randomly be classed as lower, middle and upper-class and eat according to their wealth.

NYU students might be highly privileged, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care to help the less fortunate. TEDxNYU is partnering with Oxfam, Amnesty International, Share Meals and Habitat for Humanity on Monday to host and allow NYU students to participate in the Oxfam America Hunger Banquet. This will not be the typical student organization banquet where students will enjoy a hearty meal together; instead, students will experience the meal as members of different social classes.

Students who attend will draw tickets before the event assigning them to a specific economic class of high, middle or low income. These income tiers reflect the current statistics of people living in poverty. Each group will be served a different kind and quantity of food, which will reflect their income bracket for the night. Students will also be spatially dispersed, with the upper class sitting at round tables, the middle class sitting buffet style and the lower class sitting on the floor. TEDxNYU Director of Marketing and CAS sophomore Aneesh Ashutosh explained that every aspect of the banquet was carefully designed.

“The idea is to confront the idea of food inequality by bringing it to your community in a very personal way,” Ashutosh said. “It’s hard to ignore the problem when it’s literally right in front of you. It’s one thing to read news about poverty, but another entirely to get kicked in the face by it, even for a single meal.”

Students will be part of a direct and interactive experience that strays from the normal, collegiate banquet. The event will also feature guest speakers and student performers.

TEDxNYU Director of Community Events and Steinhardt senior Chasity Polk hopes the banquet’s uniquely interactive experience will inspire attendees to action.

“I don’t think it’ll alter whole perspectives or change habits,” Polk said, “but I do hope people either leave more informed or with an idea of how else they can get involved, not just in the grander sense of eradicating the world of hunger but even just on campus, which is where Share Meals comes in.”

Share Meals, a meal swipe sharing app, is one of the clubs partnering with TEDxNYU. Their active club president, Jonathan Chin, will speak about individual agency and empowerment at the event.

“Ending hunger is the poster child for problems-too-big-to-even-try,” Chin said. “It seems as impossible as world peace, and so many people feel powerless to take action, so they don’t.”

Chin, however, doesn’t let the size of the task stop him.

“I want everyone to walk away with a new perspective on their own ability to impact the world,” he said. “To address hunger in particular, I want them to reevaluate their consumption habits and to be more responsive to the needs of the people — friends and strangers — around them.”

The Hunger Banquet aims to shed light on the global issue of hunger and food security in a simulation that allows students to be put in a position where they are directly surrounded by situations in which they may not be familiar with.

“I feel the topic is something that most people are aware of, but [the Hunger Banquet] reimagines it in a way that not only talks about it, but makes you feel it,” Polk said. “This is what people have to deal with in real life, [and] it almost forces you to engage with something that may make you otherwise uncomfortable.”

The Hunger Banquet will take place tonight at 8 p.m. in the Eisner and Lubin Auditorium at the Kimmel Center for University Life.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Dec. 5 print edition. Email Tiffanie Hwang at [email protected]

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