the well-meaning but clueless youth director who recently sent home a flyer to parents in her church describing an upcoming activity for middle-schoolers titled "Hunger Feast!" This activity, which was described as "strongly encouraged," involves middle schoolers going without food for 30 hours in a lock-in at the church to "raise our awareness of hunger in the world and in our midst." The flyer goes on:
"Many of the activities we do during the lock-in focus on food (preparing food for and sharing it with others, doing volunteer tasks in the pantry, etc.); so we feel the ache of knowing that food is available to some, but—for this brief period of time—not to us. Experiences like this deepen our understanding of and increase empathy for the real human suffering that underlies the statistics.
There is, however, another aspect to this time of fasting. Fasting is a spiritual discipline, defined as “the voluntary abstention from an otherwise normal function—most often eating—for the sake of intense spiritual activity”. In addition to our hunger awareness activities, we also experience worship and prayer. It is always touching to observe the tender reactions of youth when they experience worship after having gone without food for a whole day. It is a powerful experience."
My recommendation: If you want your middle schoolers to develop empathy for those who are hungry, educate them--and yourself--about eating disorders. Celebrate food as part of life--a holy part of life, if you will--and have your kids volunteer at a food bank or soup kitchen. But for god's sake--and theirs--don't make self-starving holy or exalted.