SOS, the international distress call, has taken on an additional meaning. It is also the call letters for Share Our Strength, a cause with urgency.
Share Our Strength is a non-profit organization that develops strategies for helping to feed the hungry. In its seven brief years, Washington-based SOS has instituted a number of programs to attack hunger from many directions.
By far, its biggest event each year is a national eating bash -- "Taste of the Nation," a party that stretches from coast to coast. Top restaurateurs get together and put on a spread as fine as any you could taste in their renowned establishments.
But this time, every penny of what you pay goes to feed the hungry. Everything is donated -- space in hotels, wines, food and service, printing, in short any cost involved has been met by some benefactor. This means 100 percent of the money raised goes directly to feeding the
hungry. Not many charitable organizations do as well.
This offers a two-fer opportunity to have a good time with friends and know you are also contributing to a worthy cause. Between April 21-29, more than 2,500 chefs in more than 75 cities will be cooking up a storm for your delectation. But don't enjoy it all by yourself, get together a party and make a real good-fellows night of it. (Baltimore is not one of the cities participating, but other nearby cities are.)
Cities of all sizes are participating and each does it differently. After all, this is a very diverse land and what works in New York City might not in Morgantown, W.Va. New Yorkers will board a luxurious ship, the New Yorker, for a dining cruise around the island.
Charlottesville, Va., will offer a taste of Southern cooking with 20 chefs stirring together. And San Diego is going for a jumbo event -- "the world's largest brunch" with 100 restaurants serving up specialties to an expected 5,000 guests. A lot of eggs will have to be broken for that one.
All right, you haven't read about it in your local newspaper and you'd like to taste along with everyone else. Call the Visa Ticket Hotline at (800) 348-1948 (in the Washington area --  393-1948) and ask for information about the Bon Appetit magazine's Taste of the Nation, which is also sponsored by Martell Cognac.
Tickets range from $20 to $250, depending on the event you wish to attend. Better still, if you charge your ticket on a Visa card, the credit card company will donate $1 for every ticket. That's making your money go farther still.
The 1991 Taste of the Nation is only the fourth. But it has already grown. In 1988 with 25 cities participating, $250,000 was raised. The next year, 47 cities joined in and about $750,000 was collected. But last year, only the third year, mind you, 66 cities held events and more than $1.3 million was brought in to fight the war on hunger.
Why do the chefs work so hard for this cause?
As Stephan Pyles of Routh Street Cafe in Dallas says, "We who make a living from feeding the public should become more committed to those in the community who cannot afford to feed themselves."
Jean-Louis Gerin of Greenwich, Conn.'s Restaurant Jean-Louis echoes that, "Bon Appetit magazine's Taste of the Nation is the best way we in the food business can give something back to our communities."
SOS, founded by Bill Shore in 1984 in response to Ethiopia's famine and renewed concern about hunger at home, has reached into the homeless communities in more ways than one. In more than 60 communities, programs are in place to collect left over perishable food from restaurants, food markets and caterers, and expedite it to the tables where it is needed. This project is called Fight Food Waste.
Other programs teach basic cooking skills to many of these destitute people and make it possible for them to earn money of their own. Mr. Pyles has had huge success with this training program in Dallas. It is taking hold in other communities as well.