Oxfam America's most well known hunger-awareness event is the Hunger Banquet, part of its Fast for a World Harvest campaign. In it, attendees to the dinner draw lots to determine what kind of meal they will eat that evening: high-, middle-, or low-tier. The percentages are based on the global distribution of income.


15% of them represent those who earn US$9266 or more a year. They are served the high-income, sumptuous meal at a large table.


30% are fed a plate of middle-income rice and beans and sit on cafeteria benches. These people represent those who earn between $756 and 9266 per year.


The remaining 55% wait in line for low-income small portions of rice and water, which they eat on the floor. They represent those poverty-stricken people who live on less than $756 a year.

The course of the evening

After everyone enters the banquet hall and gets their allotments, they stand or sit with their group. An emcee gives a speech talking about Oxfam and hunger, and goes on to explain the giant metaphor in which they will be dining. She describes each group in turn, including some demographics and generalized cicumstances.

Then, she illustrates the small amount of mobility between these segments by describing scenarios and selecting some people to move between segments. Two groups switch places between the low and middle income groups, illustrating the plight of disposable workforces. One individual in the high-income group is told that they represent a profit-maker, but as he remains standing, to illustrate where those profits come from, one middle-income individual is moved to the low income group, and one low-income individual's small section of rice is cut in half. She concludes the scenarios and invites everyone to eat while talking and watching a slide show.

During the meal attendees are encouraged to read and share the descriptions of personae found on the back of their tickets. After the meal, the speaker retakes the floor asking for a moment of reflective silence. She then hosts a sharing period asking various attendees to discuss their thoughts and feelings about the meal. Then there may be a guest speaker or the canned Oxfam video.

To end the evening she gives a small conclusion speech, which includes specific calls to action for the participants to help end world hunger.

A template

Though Oxfam hosts its own higher-priced banquets each year in various cities with celebrities of various ilk in attendance, theirs are not the only ones. The Hunger Banquet is a template of sorts, and banquets are hosted by schools and community centers and faith-based organizations all over the world.

Oxfam provides detailed instructions for free on their web site to anyone who wants to host their own. Instructions include planning notes, hosting notes, example floor plans, scripts (that even detail when you should PAUSE), the personae that appear on the backs of the tickets, and even a crib sheet for the emcee.

Experience Design

Over and above the good that these events do, I'd say the Hunger Banquet one of the most elegant experience designs I've ever run across.

Psychologically, it's brilliant. I mean, yeah, it's canned, but it's well canned. There is nothing like in-your-face disparity to agitate the human sense of reciprocal altruism. And since guests know it's for a good cause, everyone is willing to endure the psychological discomfort for the duration. And since the event is centered around one of the core pleasure routines of our lives, i.e. eating, the participants are deeply jammed. The message delivered before, during, and after dinner are sure to have a deep impact.

What's more is that the metaphor is so clear that the experience is easy to pass on as a meme to others. Easy and engaging messages are quite likely to be passed on.

And finally, if you're selling tickets (not everyone does, some groups do it just to raise awareness) it's also a big win financially because 55% of the attendees are eating meals that cost less than a quarter each, but they paid as much as the folks eating the gourmet meal.


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