"Real World Dinner" Teaches about Global Food Production
April 28, 2008
What percentage of the world's population subsists on the most meager of diets? What percentage enjoys nutritionally rich meals? To starkly illustrate differing access to food and clean water, students and teachers in the Environmental Science and Society classes, along with Dining Services, organized a "Real World Dinner." It was a chance to educate the Exeter community on sustainable food production while raising over $2,000 for communities in need, in Honduras.
Approximately 350 attendees (students, faculty and guests) drew tickets to determine the type of dinner they would receive. Tickets were apportioned based on world populations: 15 percent live in highly developed regions, 30 percent in moderately developed regions, and 55 percent in the least-developed countries. Those representing the top echelon sat at linen-covered tables and ate a rich diet of shrimp cocktail, steak, salad, potatoes, dessert and sparkling cider. The middle 30 percent sat at tables and ate casamiento, a staple of Central America, consisting of spiced black beans and rice. The majority – 55 percent – sat on the floor and ate a bowl of rice with curry.
Spencer '08, who hosted and worked at the dinner, observed the educational impact of the dinner. "I watched people's reactions to getting developing or least-developed meals. I think it was a wake-up call for most of the participants. We know the numbers and care, but it's still hard for the average student to visualize." Bree '08, another student host, was pleased with how cooperative attendees were. "I was surprised at how willing people were to try something new and step outside of their normal routines for one evening."
Students were actively involved in planning the event. During class discussions, the various types of food were discussed in relation to their human impact on the environment. A key goal of the Real World Dinner was to share the ideas discussed in class with the guests. Students designed posters and PowerPoint presentations to illustrate these topics, which included meat production, over-fishing, industrial agriculture and genetically modified foods. Ward Ganger, Director of Dining Services, was impressed with the quality of the presentations. "I quizzed a student who researched genetically modified foods. She was very well-versed in the topic. It was great to see the implications of these food-related technologies come alive for them." He continued, "Our folks love working with students. This event was a way for us to participate in the academic mission of the school and contribute to the learning goals of these classes."
On the day of the dinner, students worked with the dining staff to prepare the food and serve the meals. They also acted as "educators," talking to people about issues related to the dinner and world food production. "I enjoyed hosting, and chatting with people about the dinner and global economic climate," says Spencer. "The torture was smelling the steaks while preparing the food!"
At the end of the meal, students helped in the dish room, scrubbing the pots. Science instructor Anne Rankin noted that "this made a huge impression on the students, as many had never been downstairs in the dining hall or thought about the hard work of people that make their food everyday." Bree '08 worked up an appetite for her mid-level meal. "All of the workers, including myself, piled the leftovers on our plates and sat down together and ate after the dining hall closed. The food was surprisingly delicious. I ended up eating an entire meal of beans and rice."
"The dinner gives students an opportunity to 'make a difference,' " says science instructor Betsy Stevens, who volunteered for a year at a Honduran orphanage (Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos) and returned in March with a group of PEA student volunteers. "Not only does it give them a venue for talking about what they learned and educating others, their efforts benefit another community." Students raised over $2,000 from donations during the event and from Dining Services, which donated its savings from the low-cost meals. Students voted to donate the money to Heifer International's Honduran programs in sustainable food development.
Rankin sees more such meals in the school's future. "We love the dinner and are excited to make it a traditional part of Biology 342." Bree agreed with that positive sentiment saying, "I would definitely encourage kids to try this event sometime; it was a huge success. Not only do you learn about other cultures, but you learn about how lucky we are."
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