“When a billion people go hungry each day, how can we spend another dollar on war?”
This is the motto of Food Not Bombs, a global, decentralized food-sharing movement that works with local restaurants and grocery stores to collect, cook, and distribute discarded food that would have otherwise been thrown away to feed food-insecure people.
Food Not Bombs’ first food share took place in Boston in 1981 to protest investment in the nuclear industry rather than social services. Fast forward, and as of 2020, there were over 1,000 chapters in more than 60 countries worldwide. Their program can be adopted locally by anyone.
The United States government labeled Food Not Bombs “America’s Most Hardcore Terrorist Group” after the organization’s first arrest in 1988. The Food Not Bombs website explains this by stating, “Since we will provide food wherever and whenever it is needed, this interferes with the government’s ability to use food for social control.” They believe the government sees community organizing as a threat to its power.
According to the Food Not Bombs blog, in 2017 seven people from the Tampa Food Not Bombs chapter were arrested “for feeding hungry people in a park. Some were arrested still wearing the plastic gloves with which they served food.” In many cities in the United States, permits are needed to serve food. While these permits are advertised as protecting food safety, in reality they criminalize feeding those in need. No arrests have been made in Tampa since, but these laws hurt food shares around the country and criminalize the act of communities caring for themselves.
The Food Not Bombs chapter in St. Petersburg, Florida (SPFNB for short) has recently experienced an upgrade. According to Karla, the powerhouse behind this rebrand, the chapter has been around for five years. The upgrade happened as a bit of an accident; Karla started to recruit their friends, who then recruited their friends, and now there’s a rotating cast of about 30 volunteers.
Originally the group only had food shares on Mondays. This has been updated to three food shares a week- Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. This decision was made by surveying houseless “comrades” on what they needed. All decisions are made with community input. On Tuesdays and Thursdays these houseless comrades get food from someone they call the “Bologna Man,” and on Sunday there is a food share by a religious group at Mirror Lake. So SPFNB wanted to step up and fill in the gaps.
In addition to increased food shares, SPFNB has had an increase in digital presence- largely thanks to Maya and Maria. Maria has been helping SPFNB since the protests against police brutality in June, where she networked and eventually found the chapter. She explained, “Designing flyers and graphics has always been a hobby of mine…I offered my help alongside my friend Maya, who is also interested in social media work. Since we felt like our skills would be a good use in that role, SPFNB collectively decided that Maya and I could assume that responsibility.” She loves that Food Not Bombs is able to organize and help others “without the need of leadership or authority.”
Similarly, Devonte assists with mobile and text outreach. This is unusual for Food Not Bombs chapters, and is a great example of the innovation of SPFNB. Devonte urged, “In order to maximize our potential for the community, we have to make sure we can reach the community anytime they need us.”
Staying true to Food Not Bombs’ goal of sharing literature along with food, Eldon’s favorite part of working with SPFNB is setting up information tables. The Juneteenth table especially stood out to him. Jenna reminded, “We are a mutual aid, not a charity- which means anyone in our community either has something they can lend (time, resources, etc) or receive for their own good. The more people that join, the more our community can heal.”
SPFNB certainly stays true to these values. Everyone seems to agree that getting to know their houseless neighbors is the best part of volunteering. By rolling up their sleeves and stepping up to the plate, SPFNB has made sure there is food available to their neighbors every day of the week. A newfound online presence has reached more people- both volunteers and those in need.
But the concept of mutual aid is that there is no distinction between those two groups- both are working in collaboration to create something beautiful. If there is a Food Not Bombs chapter near you, stop by and meet everybody! And if not, don’t be afraid to start one. Every city could use less war and more sharing.
START A LOCAL CHAPTER
The Food Not Bombs website has a lot of resources to start your own chapter here, including sample agendas for first meetings, food safety information, literature to share, samples flyers, and more. In addition, they have this seven-step guide to seamlessly start your own chapter!
- Create Contact Information: Start a group chat to organize meeting times and places. You can also make social media accounts to promote your group. Register your chapter to the Food Not Bombs website.
- Advertise Your Chapter: Make flyers to advertise the new chapter, both to recruit volunteers and notify those in need. Encourage people who may rely on the food to participate in the meetings. The agenda for your first meeting should include food collection, cooking location, food share location, and outreach.
- Arrange Transportation: You need enough car space to move both people and food! There might be enough vehicles amongst volunteers. If not, a church or similar organization might let you borrow their van or truck. Some groups use bicycles, shopping carts, or public transportation.
- Find Food: Approach local food co-ops, produce warehouses, farmers markets, organic food shares, and bakeries. Explain your mission and arrange a regular time to pick up extra food from them.
- Deliver Food: Start by delivering your collected food to established housing projects, shelters, and local meal programs. Learn as much as you can about these projects, as it will help you plan for your own food shares.
- Prepare Meals: Prepare meals to serve on the street along with literature about Food Not Bombs as well as current issues. It can be helpful to start serving at rallies and demonstrations first for networking, as well as to support those causes.
- Share Your Meals: Once enough people are involved, you can start your weekly shares! Choose a time, day, and location where you will reach the most people. Pick a location where a diverse population will walk past your food and literature.
Creating a new chapter is quite the feat, but with the help of others, it is completely possible! It will directly impact lives in your community and build human connection across economic, racial, and generational divides.
“Food Not Bombs supports sharing, respect, peace, cooperation, dignity, a nurturing of the environment, and most of all, optimism at a time when many are in despair. We encourage a “Do It Yourself” feeling of empowerment and a rejection of the need to solve problems through violence – violence of war, violence of poverty and violence against animals and the earth. We show that it is not necessary to waste so much of the food that we work so hard to grow, but organizing a voluntary system of food recovery and redistribution. No one should need to rely on a soup kitchen or charity when we have food in great abundance.”