In Praise of Hunger


By Tash McGill

In Praise of HungerWhen I was a kid and my sisters and I completed the Famine for the first time, there was no option to give up technology or any other substitute. There weren’t all-nighters or tent cities.

My mother fastidiously guarded the fruit juice and boiled candies we were allowed. Before it was cool to be sugar-free, we were restricted to a single cup of juice and 2 sweets to replace each meal.

We were hungry. Really hungry. Listless and without energy, just the nasty lethargy of tiny sugar rushes and crashes every few hours. At least we had a countdown clock to watch. I couldn’t imagine going any longer or not knowing when it would end. Empathy is what my first Famine experiences gave me.

Yes, we raised money by knocking on all the doors in our neighborhood, talking to teachers, family and friends asking for sponsorship. We carefully collected the money, feeling the twinge of pride as we counted out dollar bills and coins to tally the totals. How much of a difference we were going to make.

Within a couple of years, we started to make the 30 Hour Famine ‘more interesting’.  We built tent cities, we slept outdoors, we ran Famine film festivals and all-nighters; we did anything we could to distract ourselves from the hunger we felt.

We raised lots more money. But our Famine mission also became more about our ambition to raise more money than other groups, more than we raised the previous year.  It was about our sense of achievement, rather than the problem solving we were contributing to.

Our ability to be distracted from what’s uncomfortable is remarkable. But I only learned empathy when I was without distraction. And empathy is how we change the world effectively. Empathy is what helps us solve the problems that matter most because we can directly understand what impact these problems have on people.

Empathy is a more powerful force that ambition, every time, because empathy makes the problems human and real.