Is the US the new Capital: The Hunger Games, Eating Culture, and Famine in East Africa

“They do surgery in the Capitol, to make people appear younger and thinner. In District 12, looking old is something of an achievement since so many people die early. You see an elder person, you want to congratulate them on their longevity, ask the secret of survival. A plump person is envied because they aren’t scraping by like the majority of us. But here it is different. Wrinkles aren’t desirable. A round belly isn’t a sign of success.” - from The Hunger Games, first book in a series of three

This Summer I began my Boren Fellowship at the University of Florida, where I took an intensive Yoruba course. One of our assignments was to explain the eating culture in the United States. I attempted to explain, in my limited vocabulary, the problems associated with body image and eating disorders in the US. Needless to say, my instructor was very confused, but not because my sentence structure was off- the concept was what was foreign. Much like the quote above, from this year’s new Harry Potter/Twilight/series craze The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, in Yoruba culture, and many other cultures, it is desirable to be overweight because it is seen as a sign of wealth and success. The idea of gorging oneself and then purposely purging, or consciously not eating, is incomprehensible to those for whom food security is a daily question.


While reading these books, one can’t help but come to dislike, maybe even hate, the Capital and its citizens. They waste their time on frivolous endeavors, like ridiculous body modifications; take joy in watching the gruesome Hunger Games; and eat exorbitant and extravagant amounts of food. When two of the main characters, Peeta and Katniss, are at a banquet in the Capital, they are overwhelmed by the massive amounts of decadent delicacies. Katniss is lamenting that she won’t be able to try everything, when her capital beauty team tells her that she need merely take a drink from the vomit-inducing fountain, as is customary at these types of events, then return and eat more. In fact, they’ve each done this several times already. Katniss and Peeta are disgusted, especially when their friends and families back home are barely scraping by.


While the Capital may be an extreme version, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between it and the US. As I was reading these books, news about the famine in East Africa was being highlighted on CNN daily. Flipping through the channels, I went from images of an emaciated child curled into himself on the dry, cracked ground in Somalia to Man v. Food, a food reality TV show on the Travel Channel that features champion eating contests. This is when it really sunk in- how can we find ourselves any different from the citizens of the Capital? Many of them don’t ever see the poverty in the other districts, and are blissfully unaware of their over-indulgence, much like many Americans. What is our social responsibility in this case? Should we join the rebel Mockingjay cause and fight to end the structural violence that supports these inequities?


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Tags: east africa, famine, food security, hunger games


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