Tag Archives: hunger banquet

Talking about hunger with kids

Last week I wrote about the famine in East Africa. But how do we make sense of such catastrophic events with children? How do you explain to your kids—in a classroom or at home—that we have enough food to feed everyone in the world but five million children die of hunger in the developing world every year?

It’s not easy. When my kids’ school hosted a hunger banquet two years ago, we all (parents and teachers) struggled not to feel hopeless or powerless, to provide context and also to go farther in our analysis of solutions than simply “you need to donate to international food agencies” or “donate to the local food bank.” While that might make sense in the short term, much larger and more systemic changes are necessary if we are really going to challenge hunger in our lifetimes.

For some ideas about how to talk about these issues, check out the WFP’s recently revamped website with its excellent resources and country profiles aimed at students and teachers. It’s also got resource links, examples of schools taking action on hunger issues, and classroom activities such as a math exercise in which kids in Grades 4-6 learn about what it’s like to live on less than $2 per day.

I’m also continually adding to my Resource page aimed at teachers and parents interested in the food system, including issues of  hunger, malnutrition and food justice. Check it out here.

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Talking food justice with kids

One of the biggest things we learned last spring when my kids’ school hosted a hunger banquet (see blog posts here and here for how it worked), was how hard it is to keep the conversation about hunger and food justice going with kids without focusing solely on charity.

The low-income meal at the Hunger Banquet: plain rice

Talking about (and) making donations to a food bank or international organizations working with hunger are great things for kids and families to do—and something that naturally emerges from the experience. But I think our more important role as parents and educators is to give kids the critical thinking tools to help make long-lasting differences in the world. We need to help them understand not only what’s happening and why, but also how, as citizens of the world, they have the power to do something about it.

That means finding age-appropriate ways to talk about difficult subjects like: Why do some people even in wealthy countries still go hungry? How is it possible that we have enough food in the world to feed everyone and yet there are a billion people hungry? Why do the poor suffer more from diet-related illnesses than their wealthier neighbours?

These aren’t easy questions and many teachers and parents don’t feel equipped to deal with them (nor do most teachers have the time to find a way to fit it into their curriculum). But I think we all need to try—there is too much at stake to throw up our collective hands.

Kamla Ross McGregor, Education Co-ordinator at Toronto’s The Stop Community Food Centre has recently published a great article in Jaste (Journal for Activist Science and Technology Education) about how she and her organization have gone about integrating issues of food justice and sustainability into all of their school-age food-based programs.

At their Grade 5 workshop series, for instance, they talk about how food gets from field to table, cook a First Nations meal, share their own food traditions and learn the down and dirty about composting. But they also play games and participate in specific activities intended to get them thinking and talking about food justice. They have developed one exercise in particular called The Game of Real Life  in which children are given identities (rich, low-income, on welfare, physically challenged, etc.) and they have to try to manage within their character’s budget and also eat healthily. As you can imagine, it’s an eye-opening struggle for many of them.

Most importantly, as Ross McGregor writes in her article, it’s “about thinking critically about what kind of life is fair and just.”

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Hunger banquet: the film

The middle income meal: rice and beans with juice

The Grade 5s and 6s who participated in the Hunger Banquet at our school (see May 10th post) have continued to look at food issues in their French and Social Studies classes as a followup to the event. In addition, a parent of one of the kids is a videographer for CBC TV and he followed the children (one or two from each income group)  through the experience and made a 7 minute short.

Two weeks ago, the film was shown to the entire school. It was quite incredible to see all the kids (kindergarten to Grade 6) sitting on the floor watching how the Hunger Banquet played out. There were some great, poignant moments, and it triggered a really interesting discussion with lots of participation from the rest of the school.

Two Grade 6s were asked to speak first and they talked about how shocked they were by the experience, seeing so graphically how many people in the world experience hunger every day. They told their schoolmates about why hunger and poverty exist—putting many adults to shame with their insight and analysis!

Most importantly, to my mind, they said it made them want to do something about it (!!) and they asked the kids gathered in the gym if they had any ideas about what kids can do about hunger and poverty.

One child put up his hand and told the school that his family contributes to relief agencies helping kids around the world. Another stood up and told the school about FreeRice, a non-profit website benefitting the World Food Program where you answer questions on everything from chemistry to geography, and with each question answered correctly 10 grains of rice are donated to WFP.

Another boy told the school—with a complete lack of self-consciousness—that his family used to go to the local food bank and now they donate to it whenever they can. I think it was testimony to how safe he felt and what a good job his teachers have done talking about these issues that he could tell this very revealing story in front of his whole community without shame or discomfort.

Another child told the assembly that what we need to do is change the economic system so it’s sustainable and equitable for everyone!

I was blown away by how engaged all of the kids were—both those who’d participated and those who only watched the film. Some of the younger kids asked if they could do it next year. Their insights and candour left me with a giant lump in my throat and a whole lot of hope that these kids will go on to make real change in our world.

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