"There is enough food for everyone, everywhere. There is no scarcity," said the program for Saturday night's "End World Hunger Benefit."
That was certainly true at the Pension Building where the dinner, inspired by Werner Erhard's Hunger Project, was held. Shortly after the last of the chicken stuffed with spinach and ricotta, the fish mousse and pasta salad were cleared away, actor Roy Scheider, the guest of honor, introduced a slide show.
It wasn't just any slide show.
There were pictures of emaciated children, babies with bloated bellies and matchstick limbs. A strange thing to serve up in between the main course, and the walnut tart, perhaps, but this was no ordinary dinner, rather a feast to end world hunger.
After the slide show, Scheider took the stage again. "I always thought hunger and starvation were supposed to be always with us, like death and taxes," he said to the crowd, which was sitting in post-repast repose. "The end of world hunger -- what a cocka-mamie idea, right?
"Even the words feel strange in the mouth at first," Scheider continued. "So say it with me. Come on, say it with me. The end of world hunger. The end of world hunger."
The crowd of 300, in long dress and black tie, repeated the words. "The end of world hunger, the end of world hunger," they said solemnly, like a group of well-dressed yogis.
Rep. Mickey Leland (D-Tex.) was at the dinner because he's starting a congressional caucus on world hunger. "My constituents know that world hunger impacts on them."
"We've got tourism caucuses, export caucuses and black caucuses, so why not one on world hunger?" said Anne Howard, the niece of Hubert Humphrey.
Many of the people at the dinner were est graduates and already contributors to The Hunger Project. The dinner's sponsors said they expected the benefit to raise $30,000. Two-thirds of that was for UNICEF and Africare, and the rest for est tycoon Erhard's Hunger Project, which dispenses information about the starving and believes the only real obstacle to ending world hunger if a lack of determination.
Critics of The Hunger Project say that the millions spent on telling people that hunger exists would be better spent buying food for people who don't have it. The Hunger Project people don't agree, of course.
"People have been buying food for years," said Joan Holmes, the project's executive director and Erhard's right-hand woman. "And it hasn't ended the problem. We have to create a global will to end world hunger. If enough people make hunger a priority, the leaders of the world won't dare wage wars or spend money on atomic bombs."
"As an individual, I am now demanding that people respond to world hunger," said Pat Kogod, one of the chairwomen of the dinner, and the hands-down winner of a Luci Johnson look-alike contest should there ever be one. "We came up with the idea last winter. We'd joined The Hunger Project and planning this dinner is how we're fulfilling our responsibilities."
"We wanted the dinner to be purposeful and pretty but not radical chic," said Kogod's partner, Claire Rosenberg. Rosenberg is married to Erchard's brother, Nathan Rosenberg, which made the benefit a family affair.
"We wanted little touches that would be nice but not too much," Rosenberg said as she surveyed the candle-lit room. She pointed out the Third World table linens, imported from Ecuador.
Scheider sat at his table after dinner, as guests fox-trotted around a portable wooden dance floor. Taut and tanned, he sat on the edge of his chair like a tightly coiled spring. He rapped the table with rigid fingertips to emphasize his points.
"He's often cast as the hard-boiled type, the cynic, the doubter. He's been a smuggler ("The French Connection"), a pimp ("Klute"), a spy ("Marathon Man"), a police chief ("Jaws"), a driven director ("All That Jazz"). He is known as a disciplined actor. He runs, he lifts weights. He looks it. So what was a tough guy like Scheider doing at the Pension Building Saturday night?
As it turns out, he is an est graduate -- "the two most interesting exhilarating, exciting weekends of my life." So are his wife, and 17-year-old daughter. "They thought it was terrific."
Like all the World Hunger people, Scheider does not believe the problem is political. "Why are people starving? It's something in human nature -- the envious part, the protective greed. We often blame political leaders for what goes on in the world. But what they are is no more than a worse reflection of us. "Look," he says, "you can take all your atomic bombs, and Jungian and Freudian psychologies and technological wonders! What if we could say, 'In my century we ended world hunger. How's that? Wouldn't that be great?"
It was actor Raul Julia, of "Dracula" fame, who told him about The Hunger Project. According to Scheider, Julia and Erhard traveled around the world together, "to India and Tibet -- to find the religious and political leaders that really move people, to find out how they do that. That really fascinates Werner. I've studied him enough to know that's how he gets his kicks."
Scheider had to interrupt the shooting of his new film in New York to come down to Washington. "The film's called 'Stab.' Sensational title, but it's a good film. Meryl Streep is in it, too. I play a psychiatrist, she plays the mistress of my dead patient. It's what John Schlesinger used to call an ice-box movie."
An ice-box movie?
"Yeah, you know. You leave the theater liking the film, think you've got it all figured out. You get home and you open the ice-box, and you say 'Hey, wait a minute. Who was the guy with the gun?' That's an ice-box movie."
This is the second time Scheider has made a public appearance for The Hunger Project. "Now that they've got me on the hook, I'll never be able to say no again. But that's good. Maybe we can get the whole world on the hook for world hunger."
In front of the stage, couples were dancing to soft-rock melodies and jazz. The fountain made peaceful sounds, the coffee was served.
"Of course I'm aware of the irony in all this," said Scheider, lighting a cigarette. "I believe we can end world hunger by the year 2000. It's a startling idea, even revolutionary. I say it and people think I'm a crackpot." He paused.
"I find that reaction absolutely normal." CAPTION:
Picture, Roy Scheider; by Joel Richardson