Food Not Bombs

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Food Not Bombs
Food Not Bombs (emblem).png
Food Not Bombs logo
Type Network of collectives

Food Not Bombs is a loose-knit group of independent collectives, sharing free vegan and vegetarian food with others. Food Not Bombs' ideology is that myriad corporate and government priorities are skewed to allow hunger to persist in the midst of abundance. To demonstrate this (and to reduce costs), a large amount of the food served by the group is surplus food from grocery stores, bakeries and markets that would otherwise go to waste. This group exhibits a form of franchise activism.


The group serves free meals

Food Not Bombs is an all-volunteer global movement that shares free vegan meals as a protest to war and poverty. Each chapter collects surplus food that would otherwise go to waste from grocery stores, bakeries and markets, as well as donations from local farmers, then prepares community meals which are served for free to anyone who is hungry. The central beliefs of the group are:[1]

  • Always vegan or vegetarian and free to everyone.
  • Each chapter is independent and autonomous and makes decisions using the consensus process.
  • Food Not Bombs is dedicated to nonviolence and sees "food as a right not a privilege."[2]

Food Not Bombs works to call attention to poverty and homelessness in society by sharing food in public, physically accessible places[3] and facilitating community gatherings of hungry people.

Anyone who wants to cook may cook, and anyone who wants to eat may eat. Food Not Bombs strives to include everyone.[4]



Food Not Bombs was founded in 1980 in Cambridge, Massachusetts by anti-nuclear activists Keith McHenry,[5] Jo Swanson, Mira Brown, Susan Eaton, Brian Feigenbaum, C.T. Lawrence Butler,[6] Jessie Constable and Amy Rothstien. Co-founder, Keith McHenry has volunteered for 35 years and can be found sharing food almost every week in various cities including Santa Cruz, California and Taos, New Mexico. The members' activities included providing food, marching, and protesting. Their protests were against such things as nuclear power, United States' involvement in the Salvadoran Civil War, and discrimination against the homeless.[7]

The first arrests for sharing free food were on August 15, 1988 at the entrance to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California. Nine people were arrested that day, including McHenry. The city went on to make over 1,000 arrests, and Amnesty International declared these volunteers 'prisoners of conscience'.[8]

1990s: further development

Food Not Bombs grew throughout the 1990s, and held four international gatherings: in San Francisco in 1992 and 1995, in Atlanta in 1996, and in Philadelphia in 2005. The 1995 International Food Not Bombs Gathering took place in and around United Nations Plaza in San Francisco at the same time the world was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations (at a historic conference in San Francisco).

Chapters of Food Not Bombs were involved in the rise of the Anti-Globalization Movement in the late 1990s, leading to the APEC resistance in Vancouver in 1997; the June 18, 1999, International Carnival Against Capitalism; and the so-called "Battle of Seattle" later that year, which shut down the World Trade Organization meetings. Food Not Bombs helped start the Low Watt FM Free Radio, the October 22nd No Police Brutality Day, and Homes Not Jails during the San Francisco days.

"Free Soup for the Revolution" illustration

2000s: anti-war activism

Food Not Bombs supported the actions against the Iraq War by providing meals at protests all over the world. During a presentation to the University of Texas at Austin in 2006, an FBI counter-terrorism official labeled Food Not Bombs and Indymedia as having possible terrorist connections.[9][10]

In the summer of 2007, the Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs chapter began to receive systematic harassment by local law enforcement until an ultimatum made by the Fort Lauderdale Police for the arrest of those conducting the feedings was met with 100s of supporters the next week and subsequent relenting by local law enforcement until the 2010s.[11]

Orlando enacted an ordinance prohibiting serving food to more than a certain number of people without a permit.[12] In the fall of 2007, Eric Montanez of Orlando's Food Not Bombs was charged with violating a city ordinance by feeding more people in a public park at one time than the law allows without a permit. On October 10, 2007, Montanez was acquitted by a jury.[13][14] Food Not Bombs and a church for the homeless called First Vagabonds Church of God sued the city[12] on the grounds that serving food is first amendment-protected political speech and religious activity. The groups won and the city ordinance was overturned; Orlando appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and won.[12] On August 31, 2010, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the decision, barring Orlando from enforcing the ordinance until another hearing before a 10-judge panel takes place.[12]

In May 2008, local business owners attempted to stop the Kitchener, Ontario, Food Not Bombs from serving in a highly visible downtown location,[15][full citation needed] describing the group as supporting meat-free diets, anti-capitalism, and an end to Canada's military intervention in Afghanistan.[16][full citation needed]

In April 2009, the city of Middletown, Connecticut, issued a cease-and-desist order to the local chapter of Food Not Bombs. Prior to the order, the City Health Inspector had cited the organization for distributing food without a license. In August 2009 the chapter began operating out of a licensed kitchen provided by the Middletown First Church of Christ Congregational as state hearings into the matter were held.[17]


A Food Not Bombs chapter serves a meal in a public park

As of October 2011, there were more than 400 chapters of Food Not Bombs listed on the organization's website,[18] with about half the chapters located outside the United States. Food Not Bombs has a loose structure: every chapter of Food Not Bombs embraces a few basic principles, and carries out the same sort of action, but every chapter is free to make its own decisions, based on the needs of its community. Likewise, every chapter of Food Not Bombs operates on consensus. Besides collecting and distributing food for free, many chapters of Food Not Bombs are involved in community anti-poverty, anti-war, and pro-immigrant organizing, as well as other political causes related to social justice.


Resistance to restrictions on food sharing

The most widely publicized restrictions on food sharing involving Food Not Bombs were the 2011 feeding bans in Florida. Similar laws have been enacted in other jurisdictions, including Philadelphia[19] and Houston.[20]

2011 Florida feeding bans

On April 20, 2011, an en banc panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Orlando ordinance as a valid "time, place and manner" regulation,[21] reversing the initial ruling of First Vagabonds Church of God, An Unincorporated Association, Brian Nichols v. City of Orlando, Florida and removing the permanent injunction against the Orlando ordinance that was first attempted in 2007.[22]

On May 18[23] the 30-day stay ended and the ordinance would soon be enforced on June 1 resulting in the arrest of co-founder Keith McHenry and Orlando FNB volunteer Ben Markeson. Each successive sharing saw arrests, with four arrests on June 6, five on June 8, three on June 13, and six on June 21. That same week the lawyer for Orlando FNB issued a cease and desist to the city,[24] saying that violating the ordinance was not an arrestable offense, and hackers claiming to be affiliated with Anonymous began issuing threats to the city of Orlando. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has also received heavy criticism for referring to Food Not Bombs activists as "food terrorists."[25][26][27]

On Monday, June 20, no arrests were made at Food Not Bombs' breakfast in Lake Eola Park, however Ben Markeson was cited for holding a sign without a permit, with much confusion among city officials about procedure and the violations of civil rights. The city later issued a statement reversing their interpretation of the sign regulations. On the same day hackers carried through with their threats and took down the Orlando Chamber of Commerce site and a Universal Studios website in "Operation Orlando," issuing a video statement later declaring a 48-hour cease fire on the condition that the city arrest no one for feeding the homeless, presumably on June 22.[28][29]

On June 22 more arrests took place including a second arrest of McHenry, resulting in a 17-day stay in jail. "Operation Orlando" soon went into full attack resulting in many websites going down in subsequent days. Orlando and Dyer were soon inundated with national and international attention and outcry. On July 1, OFNB took the Mayor up on his offer to move sharings to City Hall, which stopped arrests and resulted in a new, stable arrangement for OFNB.[30][31]

Homeless hacktivist Christopher Doyon, also known as "Commander X", was eventually arrested for "Operation Orlando" and other activity. Soon after his arraignment he held a press statement where he admitted to all charges, but argued that the distributed denial of service attacks constituted acts of cyber-civil disobedience.[32][33]

Fort Lauderdale has been pondering a feeding ban for some time. In 2011 FNB activists complained about unjust surveillance and arrest and claimed to be victims of an unwarranted police raid due to their home having their electricity cut off; they were harassed by police asking if they were "terrorists." Activists have also been arrested while playing a game of capture the flag.[34]

Pinellas County is not only trying to ban feeding but is also banning sleeping in public. This means that homeless people in the St Pete area must either move into the "Safe Harbor" homeless facility or get out of the town.[35]

An ordinance in Sarasota currently requires gatherings of 75 or more people to obtain a special event permit. Local residents are currently petitioning to lower that number to 12, as well as to require feeders to obtain the same permit necessary for people who sell goods in public places (a $150 fee). There have been numerous other ordinances in recent months targeting the homeless, including the banning of smoking and removing park benches.[36][37] Since 2009, homeless shelters in Gainesville could feed only 130 people at a time, leading to the formation of the Coalition To End The Meal Limit.[38] Two years later, due to pressure from the local Democratic Party, the meal limit and other rules were significantly changed, resulting in a victory for the Coalition to End The Meal Limit.[39]

On August 19, 2011, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer held a press conference to announce that charges against food sharers arrested in Lake Eola Park, Orlando, were dropped, resulting in a new state of compromise between Buddy Dyer's administration and Orlando Food Not Bombs.[40]

2014 Fort Lauderdale sharing ban

In November 2014, Fort Lauderdale finally enacted a sharing ban, drawing a similar flurry of media attention as in Orlando.[41] Several Food Not Bombs activists were arrested sharing food and other acts of civil disobedience, for which they received "Civil Liberties Arrest" medals from the Broward County ACLU.[42][43][44] Other FNB activists went on hunger strike against enforcement of the law.[45] A court injunction stopped enforcement of the sharing ban in early December 2014 pending several court cases. In late December the injunction was extended until February.[46] On January 29, 2015, Food Not Bombs filed a 29-page federal lawsuit against the City of Fort Lauderdale to strike down the sharing ban ordinances as unconstitutional.[47]

FNB's involvement in the Occupy Wall Street movement

Food Not Bombs groups have been heavily involved in supporting occupation camps across the US during the Occupy Wall Street movement. The use of consensus, supporting urban homeless communities, and mass feedings through donations are all specialties of Food Not Bombs that has now seen an unheralded demand.[48]

In a case of history repeating itself, a Food Not Bombs kitchen was removed in a late night police confrontation with Occupy San Francisco in mid-October.[49]

Co-founder C.T. Lawrence Butler came back to the Boston activism scene to join Occupy Boston.[50]

Co-founder Keith McHenry, who spent much of the year encouraging the advent of American occupation camps during his touring, has been an enthusiastic participant in many camps[51] even as he has released a new Food Not Bombs handbook.[52]

A Food Not Bombs World Gathering took place August 20–26, 2012, in Tampa, Florida - the week before the Republican National Convention.[53] In conjunction with Occupy Tampa and many other organizations, Food Not Bombs activists collected and prepared food for hundreds of RNC protesters and offered workshops, cultural events, and protest activities from August 20–30.[54]

Occupy Sandy

Near the end of 2012, Food Not Bombs activists, in particular, Long Island Food Not Bombs, fed countless thousands of people in the wake of Superstorm Sandy alongside "Occupy Sandy." [55] The outpouring of food going to waste and support for disaster-stricken, impoverished communities culminated in the "Largest Food Not Bombs Ever" at the "Hempstead Food Share Bonanza" on Nov. 18th.[56]

The Food Not Bombs Free Skool

Keith McHenry and other long-time Food Not Bombs activists announced in 2012 the opening of the FNB Free Skool in Taos, New Mexico. The first year of classes started in summer of 2013. Topics covered by the course are an analysis of current social issues, community organizing, nonviolent social change, cultural events which support social change and sustainable future for communities.[57]

Anarchy against capitalism

Effect on the economy

Food not Bombs has established itself as one of the most rapidly developing social movements against containment politics.[58] The growth in social development from Food Not Bombs was apparent through the 1980s. As more and more cuts were being drawn from social welfare programs and attacks on the labor force deepened, Food Not Bombs developed a revolutionary intent.[59] In the words of two Food Not Bombs organizers, they explained, "unable to address the real causes of social and economic inequality, business leaders and politicians increasingly felt that if the homeless can be permanently contained within the homeless shelters and rehabilitation programs, then the economic problems of retail businesses and the tourist industry will be miraculously solved."[59] Serving their food was a public struggle against such ruling classes.[citation needed] By recycling food, Food Not Bombs brought food back to their original use-value, which in turn, ruined their exchange-value. Through their stance of minimizing environmental impacts, they hold a very direct threat to capitalism.[citation needed]

Lack of nutrition in neoliberalism

Food Not Bombs operates under the assumption that a lack of food quality in the neoliberalism era has led to large populations of malnutrition and undernutrition.[60] Despite available government assistance, there is a large percentage of Americans who are unable to effectively feed their families. This lack of support is connected a larger neoliberal and racialized system that prohibits the accurate distribution of food production by limiting access to public transportation and grocery stores, creating a heavy reliance on market mechanisms to feed people.[60] As problems with undernutrition grow, so do the levels of malnutrition. More unhealthy foods at a more affordable price has created a large diet deficiency. The trends of these increasing health concerns are tied to the capitalist political economy of food production, by producing cheap food despite the environment and health ramifications.[60] The importance of food sovereignty has been established to challenge the neoliberal centered lifestyle. This idea would give the people the right to have healthy and well grown food through sustainable methods. Due to the focus on individual and community autonomy, the idea of food sovereignty is thought to risk US marginalization.[61] Through class solidarity, an organizational outcry was formed, leading to the challenging of national and global institutions. Operating at a plurality of political and social scales, grassroots were established and a local resistance was built. Food Not Bombs participants feeding themselves is resistance against food insecurity and also considered citizenship.[62] "One of Food Not Bombs long-term goals is to help communities see what they can do in terms of increasing food self-sufficiency and security".[63] Through the use of donated, community and locally grown food, Food Not Bombs attempts to prove that a sustainable and healthy diet for low income families who cannot always afford to eat a nutritious meal is possible by giving the tools to do so to the community. Food Not Bombs attempts to demonstrate the self-sufficient capacity among the poor through preparation of a variety of free and healthy dishes.[64]

The large public concern of mass consumerism and awareness of food models and practices put a pressure on civil society groups. By forming links between food practices and social movements, a framework was built. With this new, active role of civil society, as is seen with Food Not Bombs, comes new policy initiatives. Many civil societies had felt that the developing institutional frameworks failed in their ability to provide and support the community. Some authors considered that growing interest from certain local institutions was needed as a supportive expression of a neo-liberal model of potential urban development.[65] However, the building dissatisfaction with the ability and work of legal institutions and of consumerism provoked large opposition.

In anarchism

Food Not Bombs holds similar ideological values as anarchists. The average anarchist is a criticizer of modern-day consumerism and believe there are alternative options in the development in consumption, production, and culture.[66] Anarchists attempt to build a lifestyle that focuses on less purchasing and more re-using. Since Food Not Bombs has several chapters, it is difficult to place the group's specific action. However, it is certain that the Food Not Bombs group does agree with the anarchist social theory and is part of a larger Anarchist political action group.[67] Anarchist "freegans" use dumpster diving to oppose capitalist ideas. Many of these divers believe that the mass consumerism produces too much waste, leading to a misuse of natural resources and lack of social understanding. According to freegans, this lack of preservation allows the continuation of mass redistribution of income between the poor and working class to give their wages to much more powerful corporations.[68] Focusing on the consequences of consumerism, they build the idea of "freeganism" by participating in a "no-sumption", or the avoidance of direct consumption.[65] Just as the freegans had done, the Food Not Bombs members use their platform to go against the "throwaway" accessibility of the modern era of mass disposable consumerism. Participating in the practice known as dumpster diving, the group hopes to give waste utility and to help provide the poor with rich excesses. By bringing a voluntary association together to provide an alternative to the modern waste system, Food Not Bombs has moved against neoliberal urban development models. On a social level, the group is able to challenge the land by politicizing public spaces around the issue of inequality and hunger.[60]

See also


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Further reading

  • "Politics: Food Not Bombs Book". Retrieved 2007-06-22.
  • "Food Fight," New Times Broward-Palm Beach
  • "Free Lunch," Houston Press
  • "Diving for Dinner," Washington Post

External links

  • Official website
  • Account of Food Not Bombs in Be’er Sheva, Israel
  • A Critical History of Harrisonburg Food Not Bombs by Peter Gelderloos
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