Mimi Zeiger | Projects

Food Not Bombs

Food Not Bombs
Monica Nouwens, Food Not Bombs, Los Angeles, 2009. Copyright Monica Nouwens.

As local food movements sprout from Brooklyn to San Francisco, one organization towers over them as the perennial of the bunch. Founded in 1980 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by anti-nuclear activists, Food Not Bombs is a loose collection of some 1,000 global chapters seeking to overturn governmental and corporate policies they believe undergird hunger in a world of abundance. Every week, volunteers cook vegan food and donate it to people in public spaces and at protests.

Food Not Bombs uses food to effect change. On October 16, World Food Day, the chapters are encouraged to serve vegan meals outside local McDonald’s franchises to draw attention to industrialized food production. March 26, 2011, marks the 30th anniversary of the first meal dished out by the organization. (Original members, dressed as vagrants, set up a soup kitchen outside a Bank of Boston stockholders meeting to protest financing of a local nuclear power plant at the expense of pressing social issues.) Food Not Bombs will honor the date with an event called Bake Goods Not Bank Bailouts Global Day Of Action, in which members will distribute free vegan meals in front of banks.

A philosophy of nonviolent action for social justice gives the organization a political edginess not always palatable to locavores who are more inclined to fight for the perfect heirloom tomato than against corporate food conglomerates. “It’s urgent that we directly challenge the system,” says Keith McHenry, co-founder of the organization, speaking on his mobile phone as he drove across West Virginia. In his recent travels, McHenry says, he’s seen more and more families — casualties of the mortgage crisis and recession — search out Food Not Bomb’s hot meals.

Every Sunday evening, the Los Angeles chapter dishes up vegetable stew, brown rice and pinto beans. In the afternoon, a volunteer crew of graying activists, cyclist punks and the occasional suburban helper convene in one Silverlake kitchen or another to cook. Ingredients are donated from across the metropolitan region. Volunteers pick up unsold produce from the Hollywood Farmers Market. Whole Foods in Pasadena contributes leftover baked goods. Oh Happy Days, a health-food store in Altadena, has religiously donated 25 pounds of onions, rice and beans each week for the past six years.

Weekly, 200 to 300 people show up for food at two outdoor sites, Pershing Square Park and Skid Row. In Pershing Square — designed by the architect Ricardo Legorreta and landscape architect Laurie Olin in the early 1990s, and filled with colorful features, such as a 10-story purple bell tower — Food Not Bombs volunteers set up a buffet atop a long concrete bench. The simple act of taking over public space to serve plates of stew is not without controversy. In 1999, Los Angeles police arrested volunteers in the park for encroaching on a permit held by organizers of a seasonal ice rink. A successful ALCU suit filed against the LAPD defended Food Not Bombs's First Amendment rights and set a precedent that has smoothed its course of activism.

On St. Julian Street, otherwise known as Skid Row, Food Not Bombs sets up folding tables on the sidewalk outside the Union Rescue Mission. Here, according to a 2009 report by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, 3,800 indigent people, 9 percent of the city’s total homeless population, live in a 50-block area. “Seeing tent cities on Skid Row was shocking. You don’t get desensitized to it,” says Joshua Haglund, a longtime Food Not Bombs organizer. Recently, photographer Monica Nouwens documented members of the Los Angeles chapter as they cooked and served. Her images, shown here, reveal the simple comfort and solidarity a hot meal can offer.

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Politics, Social Good

Comments [4]

Thank you for covering FNB. Ive worked with, eaten with, and supported FNB groups off and on since I was 15. (I'm 32 now). It's a great organization, and does an immense amount of community organizing in the most secular, non governmental method possible.

It's important to stress however, that this isn't food for poor people, it's food for hungry people. It runs off the principle that food is a right, not a privilege. Some of the more successful FNBs that I've been to had homeless people enjoying warm soup with lawyers and bike punks.

Free food is the great equalizer.

Support your local FNB chapter!

Ricardo Legoretto
Laurie Olin,
We are all appauled by the arrest of three active FNB's workers.
Orlando Police think they are doing their duty to inforce civil statutes. However, to inforce civil statutes as law is fraud. We must claim sovereignty arrest the police and take them to a grand jury. We must sue them. You may know that all traffic violations are civil statutes. A law must be made a law by congress. Civil statutes are inacted by state, county, parish,and city principalities. The Miranda Supreme Court decision prohibit civil statutes to be used to set aside our God Given Rights under the State and National Constitution. Lower court judges do not recognize Supreme Court Decisions. They must be forced to do so. For documents to combat this unlawful police action we may purchase affidavits at www.ticketslayer.com.
We do not have any rights today, because we are unable or unwilling to pay the price. The price is that you must be your own lawer. You must arrest judges who hold court martial under the gold fringed flag, sue them, and insist and demand that a Constitutional Flag without gold fringe, gold ball, or gold eagle be used in the courtroom. Under this unconstitutional flag, any defendant is guilty until proven innocent. Under the constitutional flag, one is innocent until proven guilty. Also, you must require a written copy of Oath of Office of each judge and policeman involved. Our crooked courts are holding court martial for nonmilitary personnel in the absence of martial law. Attornies are wards of the court, therefore, they must follow the direction of the judge. As your own attorney, you are sovereign, you are the public, and he is a public servant. He must be arrested and removed from the bench by the bailiff. If the bailiff balks, he must be informed that since you are making a citizen's arrest he must comply and arrest the judge, or he will be charged with direlection of duty and breach of the peace.
I am not an attorney. I cannot represent anyone. We must be our own attorney and stand up for our rights so we can again be the government of, for, and by the people. We must reclaim our original constitution. That is what 911 was about (see www.nesara.us). For the bigger picture see www.fourwinds10.com, and www.AbundantHope.net.
It is Jesse Ventura's, David Ray Griffin's, and my take on 911 that it was an inside job. Please Jesse's book, "American Conspiracies". If I can help further, please email me or call me at 903-642-0413 (leave a message I will call back).

Victor Lynn Jordan,
Victor L. Jordan

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Rusty Dylan

I love the idea of "Food Not Bombs"!. I am a 80% vegetarian and i really believe that eating plant based food can makes you be a better you. I think the FNB is doing something positive for the community. Since nowadays our food industry is not like what it used to be, and all these processed food, drinks, causes problems for us in our daily life and we are not even noticed that. Some people may think that consume meat and refined food is the symbol of being rich. But in fact purchasing fruit and vegetables (especially those organic ones) can be expensive. And in fact they are far more healthy for human beings. In U.S, being overweight is really common and has become a risky factors that can cause many different disease. So i think the FNB brings people positiveness and sense of health awareness. I would love to volunteer at there if there are any opportunities.


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