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Food Not Bombs combines feeding the hungry with political activism, nourishing both bodies and souls around the globe. Writer Elizabeth Nelson talks with members who are making a difference in their communities.
Text: Elizabeth Nelson
Countries: Canada

ood Not Bombs is a community of people who set out to share one meal a week with the hungry. Inspired by the soup kitchens of The Great Depression, Food Not Bombs (FNB) is an active, edible protest against food waste and hunger in countries with the ability to feed everyone, but it is not the official incentive. For Tasha Leiah Stansbury from the Toronto FNB group, what began as a summer of volunteeringturned her whole life around, kick-starting a career in activism, and prompting her to switch majors and schools”.

FNB creates and prepares hot, vegetarian and vegan food — half donated and half “recovered”. Members “dive” into dumpsters to collect food, but, Tasha says, “it’s a lot less gross than people assume. We dive from local grocery stores that get their garbage picked up regularly, so the stuff we’re finding is still totally fresh, and there’s no gross mystery slime at the bottom (I get asked this a lot!). Usually the food items we recover will have been rejected because they’re slightly misshapen, bruised, or wilted — but still totally useable.”

FNB is an active political group with a mission: “We are seeking to end hunger and poverty, not just feed it.” For this reason, members insist on the use of literature and their banner at every meal. The Toronto group sets up directly in front of a bank, and for Tasha, “just the act of handing out food is inherently political, because eating a free meal made from rescued food means that much less money spent on an overpriced meal somewhere else. It brings into people’s awareness the potential of what we consider waste, and what waste really means, and makes people re-evaluate their relationship with their own waste at home.”

Because politics are such a key factor in the core principles for the group, it may not be a surprise to know that they are on the FBI’s list of terrorist groups in America. Run-ins with the law are not unusual for the members of FNB. Despite the local and federal laws against feeding the hungry, the group perseveres even through arrests. In 2008, in Orlando, Florida, a federal judge stated that sharing food with the hungry in public places is, “expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment”. Yet, on May Day 2014, volunteers were arrested in San Francisco while sharing food at a march against police brutality.

Tasha isn’t worried about being arrested in Canada because sharing food there is legal, but the radical edge still persists north of the border, as she defiantly states, “I refuse to cooperate with laws that forbid me from helping and connecting with my community in harmless and helpful ways.”

Keith McHenry, a co-founder of the group, discusses the group’s origins and evolution:

As the co-founder, how do you feel about this global community that you’ve been a part of creating?

… I am amazed by the people volunteering with Food Not Bombs. Those that depend on their local group for food will share inspiring stories with me about volunteers standing up against the police or a vegan meal they had after days of going hungry. I learn of groups sharing meals in cities I would never imagine we would reach. I was 22 years old when we started Food Not Bombs. The Soviet Union was behind the “Iron Curtain,” out of reach to Americans and part of the world where it was impossible to imagine anyone volunteering with Food Not Bombs, but now there are chapters all across Russia and the other former communist countries.

Do you believe being a part of the group is at all dangerous?

Not really. Even though we are considered a “terrorist” group by officials in the United States, you are not likely to get into trouble as long as you make it clear you are dedicated to nonviolence.

The group is into its third decade. Has the direction of the group’s advocacy work changed over that time?

Food Not Bombs activists have always provided meals at protests, but the focus of those protests has changed some. When we started we supported and helped organize around the nuclear arms race and wars waged in Latin America and the Middle East, the U.S. war on drugs, logging, mining, as well as the human rights of native peoples and other people of color. Climate change, the globalization of the economy and threat of genetically altered food were not such important issues thirty years ago but are often the focus of the protests we support today.

Keith’s message? There has never been a more important time than today to volunteer with Food Not Bombs to help end war, poverty and the destruction of the environment.

Information Box

Each group generally raises its own funds for its local work. The global coordination office also provides funding to groups in places like Africa or support for relief efforts, or special projects.

The group co-founder, Keith McHenry, has been arrested approximately 150 times.

Food Not Bombs was the principal organization providing food to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

In many towns and cities across America, it is illegal to give out food.

How to get involved:

Go to www.foodnotbombs.net for more information on the organization. The website has links to local groups listed by continent, country and then city. Contact the group to ensure the information is up to date. If your area isn’t listed, check Facebook and other social media. The website also has information on starting your own group.





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Fighting For The Right To Feed

Food Not Bombs (FNB) is a community of people whose aim is to share one meal a week with the hungry. The group was inspired by the soup kitchens of The Great Depression. It is an active, edible protest against food waste and hunger in countries with the ability to feed everyone.

FNB creates and prepares hot, vegetarian and vegan food for the homeless. Half of the food they serve is donated and half of it is “recovered”. Members get food that has been thrown out by local grocery stores. The food is sometimes slightly misshapen, bruised, or wilted, but still totally usable. FNB is an active political group with a mission: to end hunger and poverty.

Tasha Leiah from the Toronto FNB group says the act of handing out food is political because it makes people aware of how much we waste and makes them re-evaluate their relationship with their own waste at home. Since politics is so important for the group, they have often had encounters with police and are listed as a terrorist group by the FBI.

 

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Fighting for the right to feed

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