The question: How do you get teen-agers to grasp the differences between the haves and the have-nots in this world?
The answer: Let them eat rice.
At Notre Dame Preparatory School, a private, Roman Catholic girls' school in Baltimore County, all 437 high school students were invited yesterday to a $2-per-person banquet to benefit the hungry.
What they didn't know until moments before sitting down was that not all meals would be equal. Students were divided into three groups, based on per capita income statistics that reflect allocation of the world's resources. They ate accordingly.
About 50 students in the First World enjoyed shrimp and chicken salad, sauteed potatoes, fresh fruit and homemade German chocolate cake. They dined at tables covered with tablecloths, candles and floral centerpieces, and drank from water goblets.
Another 130 students in the Second World ate vegetable soup and drank soda.
Students in the Third World, by far the largest group, were served a single scoop of white rice and a cup of broth.
And to drive home the point, those students had to file past the First World group to get their meals.
Brandi Beckner drew a number that placed her in the Third World group, and the 16-year-old junior from Parkville was not amused.
"We paid $2 for this like everyone else," she said, surrounded by a few disgruntled Third World students. "We paid for the rich people's food."
Furthermore, she said, "I don't like rice."
Shanita Butler, 17, also at a Third World table, felt the whole thing was unfair.
"I don't appreciate this. I paid $2 and I should have been given a choice," said the junior from Woodlawn, who lamented to her friends: "I got the Third World hunger blues."
Most of the students took a more conciliatory tone.
"It shows how life really is," said Rachel Anderson, 17, a Third World participant from Timonium. "We can go home and get food. They can't."
Ed Donnellan, a social studies teacher whose students had organized the event, said that's the attitude the exercise was intended to foster.
"It's a small gesture to try and sensitize our students that many people are suffering throughout the world," he said.
Judging by the reaction of some students, the point was made.
Jennie Tinder, a 15-year-old sophomore from Reisterstown, drew a number that placed her in the small First World group.
She had mixed feelings about her good luck.
"At first I was kind of happy," she said. "But then when I saw my classmates doing without, I felt bad."
Dionne Davis, 17, from Baltimore saw her classmates "look longingly" at what the First World people were eating.
"It makes you feel kind of bad," she said. "But it does open your eyes a lot."
Some Second World and Third World students asked for food from their First World friends, but giving it to them was against the rules for the day.
"I feel like saying 'Yes,' " said Lori Brune, 14, who lives in Baltimore.
Fifteen students in the school chose to fast for the day to represent the thousands of people who die from hunger every day, Mr. Donnellan said.
These students sat off to a side in a silent circle. Every few minutes, one would leave the group and walk away until there was no one left.
Yara Cheikh, 16, of Towson said she chose to fast for the day to make a point.
"Too many times, people don't recognize how many times people die every day from hunger," she said. "If everyone would at least think about it, maybe they might do something about it."
Everyone who participated in the banquet did something about hunger. The event raised $750 that will be donated to Oxfam America, an international famine relief organization.