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Tue 10 Jan 2017 12:08 PM

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The very different meanings of a person's 'last meal'

We cannot wait for others to act to fight hunger, we must use 2017 to live up to our responsibility to think about the food we waste, says HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein

The very different meanings of a person's 'last meal'
Moral mission HRH Princess Haya has a strong humanitarian presence both on local and international levels.

Twelve fried shrimps, a bucket of original KFC fried chicken, French fries and a pound of strawberries. Quite the order, I think you’d agree. What may surprise you is that this isn’t the order for a family meal, nor a party or special lunch for a work team. It is in fact the last meal of John Wayne Gacy. This is the man who killed 33 young men and boys and buried them under his home in Illinois. During the murders, he sometimes dressed as his clown alter ego and typically sexually assaulted his victims before strangling them.

Two pints of milk and a large bowl of mint choc chip ice cream. Again, not a treat to share at the cinema, but in fact the last meal order from Timothy McVeigh — a man convicted of 168 counts of murder. 168.

Two grilled cheese sandwiches, a pint of cottage cheese, a portion of corn mixture, an entire peach pie, a portion of chocolate chip ice cream and some radishes. An eclectic and calorific order that a house full of students may share one greedy evening, but not so. This is in fact the order of Stephen Anderson, a man convicted of burglary, assault, escaping prison and seven counts of murder.

Back in 1939, the convicted kidnapper and murderer of aviation ace Charles Lindbergh’s baby, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, ate a final meal of chicken, French fries, buttered peas, celery, olives, cherries, and a slice of cake.

A gentleman known as “The Vampire of Düsseldorf”, Peter Kürten, who was convicted of committing a series of sexual assaults and murders around the German city in the late 1920s was given Wienerschnitzel, fried potatoes, and a bottle of white wine as his last meal. To make matters worse, he requested seconds, and was given them.

The list is almost as shocking as the crimes committed. There has been much said about prisoners on death row and their last meal requests. Researchers and academics have studied the choices as a way in which to determine the individual’s state of mind, view upon their own life, signs of remorse — or lack thereof — and ‘readiness for death’. A prisoner’s last meal is such a well-known concept that in January 1985, Pizza Hut aired a commercial in South Carolina that featured a condemned prisoner ordering delivery for his last meal. Two weeks earlier, the state had carried out its first execution in 22 years, electrocuting a man named Joseph Carl Shaw. Shaw’s last-meal request had been pizza.

These criminals, these killers, are entitled to — in many cases — any meal of their desire. These individuals, who have taken the rights of others, the right to not live in fear, and to live full stop, are given more nutrition than the 21,000 people who die every single day from hunger. According to statistics, an astonishing 98 percent of people who do not have enough to eat are in developing countries. We have law abiding and peaceful people in every corner of the world suffering the excruciating pain of hunger and watching their loved ones die.

The money spent by advertising teams using the concept of a ‘last meal’ to run a campaign to sell more pizza could help those who need the food the most. Poverty is the biggest cause of world hunger. The causes of poverty include poor people’s lack of resources, an extremely unequal income distribution in the world and within specific countries, conflict, and hunger itself.

We can do more. We can’t wait for others to act to fight hunger. It is a worldwide epidemic.

As we enter 2017, we see that conflict around the world continues with no sign of abatement and people continue to suffer from displacement and hunger. It shouldn’t take a humanitarian disaster to make us realise that millions of people are suffering and need our help every day.

It is our responsibility to think about the food we waste and how there are those who have never had a meal as large as what we may be throwing away. Think about those mothers who have to watch their children suffer and die before them because they simply cannot feed them enough to survive.

Think about what we can do to help our local communities, our country and the world that we all live in. Then think about how our 21st century sense of political correctness embraces a morality that has created a justice system, where we feel obliged to give the last meal of choice to a convicted murderer, while our world wrings its hands at the starving of millions of innocents.

And then we must act, for we cannot and we must not, stand idly by.

HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, UN Messenger of Peace and Chairperson of International Humanitarian City