The talk of sorghum and statistics at yesterday's Presidential World Without Hunger Awards just couldn't compete with the moment when Cliff Robertson, Dennis Weaver and award winner John Denver joined Agency for International Development Director Peter McPherson and others on stage to hold hands, sway and attempt to remember the words of "We Are the World" as Lionel Richie's taped voice filled the air.
With its recurring calls for "an end to hunger by the year 2000," the AID-sponsored event felt less like an awards ceremony than a cross between a pep rally and a testimonial.
"I think there's an aspect, a quality of humanity -- golly, I had a great quote I was going to use in my speech," said Denver after the ceremony. "When there gets to be a purpose in your life that you create for yourself that takes you beyond just being affected by nature and the powers that be -- that is giving. Then you become most human. It does change your life."
More than a decade ago, Denver and est creator Werner Erhard founded the Hunger Project, an organization that combines the "self-realization" ethos of est with a cause -- ending hunger by 2000. Comedian Harvey Korman, awards master of ceremonies, and actor Raul Julia, a participant, are also involved in the Project. All winners received the Project's new book, "Ending Hunger: An Idea Whose Time Has Come."
"Tom Wolfe called the '70s 'the Me Decade,' " said Denver. "People looked at it as a very selfish kind of thing. I think a lot of people missed the point. First of all and most of all, I want to know about who I am, what is this" -- he tapped his chest -- "what makes me different from you. You think about that, and you begin to experience yourself as something that's part of something larger. Then you have to give yourself to that larger thing."
The successes of Band Aid, USA for Africa and Live Aid -- all of which received special awards -- contributed to yesterday's jubilant mood and, McPherson said, "Americans can be proud of the fact that one-half of all the food contributed this year to Africa has been donated by the United States."
The other winners were geneticist and 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, Land O' Lakes Inc., CARE, Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) and Bradford Morse, administrator of the United Nations Development Program.
"I remember flying over Thailand and Cambodia with Dick Holbrooke, who was assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs," said Danforth. "I said to him, 'I don't know what to do about this problem of starvation.' He said, just look at it, and you will know what to do.'. . . When the problem of hunger is brought to the attention of the American people, when they look at the problem, they know what to do."
Brenda Broz Eddy, president of the End Hunger Network, a coalition of organizations that selects the nominees for the AID-sponsored awards, seemed even more enthusiastic than last year, when she just about whirled off the stage in excitement.
"The reason there's euphoria is because all the parts of the community are standing together," she said. "We got 124 nations, we got the press behind us, we got the celebrities, we got the U.S. government -- both sides of the aisle," Eddy continued.
"The amazing thing is people are working together and it's working. Once it starts happening, then it's continuing. Am I talking too fast? People are saying, 'We're in it for the duration. We're going to stick with this and end hunger by the turn of the century.' What does ending hunger mean? Can I tell you? It means ending hunger as the basic, central, driving issue of a country."
McPherson was a bit more cautious.
"We have not taken a position as to whether hunger can be eliminated totally by the year 2000," he said, enunciating every syllable carefully, the way people do when defining an agency's position. "We do feel in the next decade substantial progress can be made."
Several hours later, some of the honorees and about 150 others gathered at the home of American University president Richard Berendzen for a World Harvest Buffet (British shepherd's pie, Peruvian chile, Korean noodles) and what the invitation called "brief presentations about ways to use world communications to help end world hunger."
Among the guests was Beach Boy Mike Love, one of the judges of this year's awards, sporting a suede cap and some thoughts on the need for hunger education.
"The beauty of it is, what with videocassette technology, you can have an entire university worth of knowledge in a trailer," he said. "You can show it on solar-powered TVs on thousands of Micronesian archipelagos. We have the technology to completely eradicate ignorance from the Earth in a few weeks or months."
Rep. Mickey Leland (D-Tex.) was also talking about the future of the hunger movement.
"We have to create a continuation of our communication to the people," he said. "We have to make long-term development aid as novel and interesting an issue as relief efforts have been made."
Flashing on Leland's lapel was a tiny piece of the post-Live Aid future. The pin, a sort of face with two computer-chip-powered lights that look vaguely like eyes, is named "Winkie" and will soon be available at toy stores for $8 to $10, a portion of which will go to the End Hunger Network.
"Winkie is the mascot of the End Hunger Network," said Jennifer Jones, who is vice president of Winkie Electronic Jewelry and was wearing Winkie-earings. "It's a facilitator of communication. If I look across a bus and see a person wearing Winkie, I know he is dedicated to world hunger."