This article is guest posted by freelance writer and Nation intern Jennifer O’Mahony.
In an age of increasing food insecurity, more than one billion people today woke up not sure where their next meal is coming from.
This is not solely the fate of those in poorer, developing countries. According to the Department of Agriculture, 14.6 percent of Americans regularly have to limit the amount they eat near the end of the month for reasons of cost. With the added stress of epidemic levels of home foreclosure and mass unemployment, the numbers of people unable to adequately sustain themselves is on the rise.
Fortunately, there is one organization that will feed you whether you are rich or poor, drunk or sober, homeless or a property magnate. There’s just one catch: don’t ask for any meat with your dinner.
The present moment would seem to reinforce the central mission of Food Not Bombs, which in thirty years has grown from a small idea in which eight young antinuclear protesters cooked for their friends in Harvard Square to a global food movement dedicated to the principle that access to food is a right, not a privilege. Beginning as a protest against military and nuclear spending while the basic needs of so many Americans were still unmet, Food Not Bombs now boasts more than 1,000 chapters worldwide.
The group’s co-founder Keith McHenry has reason to be proud of the steady growth of his "franchise collective," which allows anyone to set up a Food Not Bombs group and run it completely autonomously. He explained to The Nation that there are just a few preconditions to starting a chapter: serve vegetarian meals to all equally; use the abundance of wasted food in our society to redistribute it to those in need; and try to end war and poverty while you’re at it!
Consequently, each chapter provides free meals—activists collect food from bakeries, grocery stores and restaurants who agree to give them any surplus, and then cook in visible outdoor locations, keeping regular hours so that their most frequent customers, often mothers with children, know when to find them—but also organizes around local issues like affordable housing, transportation alternatives, joblessness and militarism and supports related radical initiatives being staged by other groups.
As McHenry explained, Food Not Bombs is often the first to provide food and supplies to the survivors of disasters. During the first three days after the 1989 earthquake, Food Not Bombs was the only organization in San Francisco providing hot meals to the survivors. The group says that it was the first to provide hot meals to the rescue workers on 9/11 and among the first to provide food to the survivors of the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. (The group’s international presence is impressive, with a particularly active presence in both Europe and Africa, with Nigeria alone home to nine branches, and numerous chapters in Southeast Asia.)
The actions and activities of the chapters vary widely, as this list suggests, but the core values of nonviolent social change on behalf of economic equality binds the disparate chapters together around the vision of the organization’s founders.
Food Not Bombs has been making a visible difference for thirty years. Its independence is its strength, and in the year of its thirtieth birthday, grassroots activists could do a lot worse than to follow its (collective) lead.
If you would like to get involved with or support Food Not Bombs, this list will tell you if there’s a chapter near you. If not, you can start your own group by e-mailing [email protected], or by following these seven simple steps. Money is also desperately needed so, if you can, please donate a dollar for peace here. You can also sign up for the Food Not Bombs listserv to keep abreast of all of the group’s initiatives and activities and help spread the word by e-mailing, printing, posting and generally distributing these flyers.