Story and photos by Theresa Wolfwood
“This slogan requires no complicated analysis. The three words “say it all.” They point unerringly to the double challenge: to feed immediately people who are without adequate food, and to replace a system whose priorities are power and profit with one meeting the needs of all human beings.” – Howard Zinn in the introduction to FOOD, NOT BOMBS by C.T Butler & Keith McHenry
Keith McHenry of the founders of Food Not Bombs (fnb) was in Victoria recently to speak with local activists. He said it is a much misunderstood and persecuted movement, started in 1980, but it continues to spread with the philosophy that there is enough food in the world for everyone; the problem is distribution. The idea that everyone should have sufficient food and that it is available is seemingly too revolutionary for our profit-based system to accept. The amount of food that is wasted daily could feed everyone. So this group started by collecting food that would be wasted – from stores, markets etc. – and preparing free food for the public. Food was and continues to be served free in public places and at public events.
The innovative places and means of presenting fnb are expanding: McHenry was in Nigeria recently meeting and connecting farmers who need help to produce food and urban activists who can serve it. When a new fast food outlet opened in Ankara, Turkey (the first in a predominantly Muslim country) the manger came out and accepted food from fnb and then went inside and told his staff to go out and get the great food. Fnb was serving in Seattle at the WTO events in 1999 and has accompanied activists to major actions at the Nevada nuclear test ranges. It works with all and any group that has non-violent aims, including, homes not jails, free radio and homes not lawns – a movement dedicated to turning lawns into food gardens.
It is not without its dangers. McHenry and others have been arrested many times in the USA for serving food in public parks. Tortured and beaten in San Francisco, he required extensive surgery and face reconstruction after his face was smashed by police. Fnb servers also get attacked by violent people who oppose the aims of the group; people have been killed in the USA and in Russia at a rally against a nuclear facility while peacefully serving free food. However the movement flourishes, groups are often started by young people who weren’t born when it started and have never heard of McHenry or other founders. He said that was fine; it is a movement without structure and hierarchy and every group is autonomous. It does not depend on leaders or stars.
He said that fnb groups strive to serve healthy, local & organic if possible, mainly vegan, food; the original concern about spoilage of meat product was reinforced by the aim not to support corporate animal production and killing. Vegan food is more plentiful and can distribute the plenty for equitably. And by not serving dead animals fnb reinforces a culture of life, not a culture of death.
The connection to militarization is also to understanding fnb. It is a philosophy for life and by rejecting the military it emphasizes a culture of life and peace. Although many fnb activists have been arrested, assaulted, beaten and jailed for giving away food, the philosophy also embraces non-violence in all its activities. Groups accept no government or major corporate funding; small local donations are welcome. Without any outside dependence or individual leadership roles, the groups are less vulnerable and able to continue with whatever resources they can gather. Decisions are made by consensus and every person is respected; those who receive food are encouraged to become involved if they wish.
McHenry says, “It will take imagination and work to create a world without bombs. Food Not Bombs recognizes our part as providing sustenance for people at demonstrations and events so they can continue participating in the long-term struggle against militarism…We work against the perspective of scarcity that causes many people to fear cooperation among groups…we try to encourage feelings of abundance and recognition that if we cooperate together, all will become stronger.”
Distribution of food at peace, environment and social justice groups is one way of making links with other social action groups; Victoria fnb gives extra food collected to shelters and other organizations and often serves at peace and activist rallies; I first encountered them on International Women’s Day in March. A major location of distribution world wide is near the biggest fast food chain outlets (that’s where the new Chinese group sets up in Beijing): fnb in Victoria gives food away every Sunday at 3 pm under the sequoia at Pandora & Vancouver – across from a well known outlet that sells fast ‘food.’ To participate in Victoria – phone and leave a voice message at: 383-5144 x1940