Formed in Boston in 1980 by activists involved in the anti-nuclear movement, Food Not Bombs has blossomed into a worldwide, grassroots, political movement of over 175 autonomous chapters. Each Food Not Bombs group serves free food to people in need and in support of political organizing efforts.
Food Not Bombs believes that society and government should value human life over material wealth, human need not corporate greed, and that most of its problems stem from this simple crisis in values.
Food Not Bombs recovers healthy, nutritious, vegetarian food that would have been otherwise discarded and cooks and serves it to people in immediate need. The problem isn’t too little production, it’s poor and inequitable distribution. Food Not Bombs is an alternative food distribution organization, intent on building sustainable community food sharing programs.
By giving away free, vegetarian food in public places Food Not Bombs brings the invisible hungry and poor into the public’s eye, forcing passers-by to examine, at least for a moment, their own complicity and involvement in allowing the unaccountable global economic system that oppresses every one of us to continue.
Food Not Bombs calls attention to the inherent contradictions in society’s failure to provide food and housing for each of its members, while at the same time handing out hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for unconscionable wars and state violence.
Food Not Bombs is protest, not charity.
While we are a loosely-knit group of collectives, each Food Not Bombs group shares some basic unifying principles:
1. Non-violence Our society is dominated by violence-economic, political, environmental, and mental. While greedy and short-sighted politicians claim the we will be “protected” by a National Missile Defense, our daily lives on the ground are affected by the constant threat of crime and police violence. The authority and power of the government is based solely on the threat and use of violence at home and abroad. Food Not Bombs is committed to a vision of society that is motivated by love and sharing, not violence and greed.
Poverty is also violence. While our society extols mindless consumerism and pursues the unlimited accumulation of wealth, it relegates millions to hunger and homelessness while turning the other cheek. This, combined with police violence, inadequate healthcare, and countless forms of discrimination, deprive each of us of a vibrant and loving way of life.
The commercial food industry is also predicated on violence. It involves the slaughtering of millions of animals and the poisoning of our planet through the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Tons of usable food go to waste to maintain high profits. More than 70% of the grain harvest in the U.S. is fed to farmed animals, as is 33% of the world’s grain.
While the police have attacked Food Not Bombs (members of San Francisco Food Not Bombs were arrested more than 1000 times from 1988 through the 90s) for its actions, we never respond with violence because we would never want to recreate the authoritative methods of the state in our own actions, and because we are on the streets every day in small numbers supporting people. The police have a constant standing army armed and prepared to use violence at any moment. We cannot jeopardize ourselves or the people we work with through the use of shortsighted acts of violence in the heat of the moment.
2. Consensus Decision Making Rather then relying on a system of winner take all, Food Not Bombs believes that every member of the group should have the opportunity to participate in shaping all the group’s decisions.
The consensus process insures that the will of the majority doesn’t dismiss the values and contributions of everyone else. Consensus process forces us to resolve conflicts through negotiation and compromise rather than overruling and censoring.
3. Vegetarianism Up to 25% of the food in the United States is wasted every year, with an estimated 130 pounds of food per person ending up in landfills nationwide. That’s enough feed 49 million people, twice as many as starve in the world annually.
Over 70% of the grain grown in this country is used feed livestock, which in turn feed far fewer people than the grain would directly.
Factory farms treat animals like commodities, objects to be used solely as profit-making things, while ignoring that they are living, feeling being who feel the tremendous pain inflicted upon them.
Serving vegetarian food exemplfies Food Not Bombs’ commitment to non-violence, as well as the wise and rational use of resources.
Sources U.S. Department of Agriculture, “A Citizen’s Guide to Food Recovery”, 1999 U.S. Department of Agriculture, “World Cereals Used for Feed”, 1997
Interesting History Links:
In-depth article about the history of the SF Chapter.
Email from 1994 about Keith McHenry being held in jail!
The Homeless Peoples’ Network has many archived emails about the work of SF Food Not Bombs, ACT-UP, the IWW and other radical organizations!
Archive.org’s record of our web site from the early 2000s