Created in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1980, Food Not Bombs (FNB) is the brainchild of Keith McHenry and seven other activists. “We came out of the Clamshell Alliance,” says McHenry, which was “trying to shut down Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. It was a collection of mostly anarchists, but also included Quakers and the Red Clams, who were socialists.”
With roots in a variety of social causes, it’s not surprising that McHenry describes the FNB project as essentially “the food wing of a movement that includes anti-authoritarian music, art, unlicensed radio, zines, squatting, needle exchange, bike and hemp liberation, info shops, computer networking, autonomous decentralized non-hierarchical organizing, consensus decision-making and sharing a philosophy of tolerance, joy and free expression.”
By linking the national problem of homelessness with the larger issue of rampant militarism, McHenry’s goal is to address “the inhumane agenda of the government at both the personal and international levels” as a path towards beginning a nationwide debate. He works towards this goal not only with commitment and passion, but also with creativity … often in the face of massive police repression. I recently spoke with McHenry:
Mickey Z.: Why do you believe Food Not Bombs has endured while other radical groups and movements fizzle?
Keith McHenry: I think Food Not Bombs endures because it has the component of seeing results and that people are changed when they see that they can collect food and have direct impact on people’s lives by sharing meals and groceries. Another aspect that promotes its longevity can be found in our principle of having no leaders and encouraging each group to strive to make decisions using consensus. Volunteers don’t feel they are being ordered to do something or feel someone in the office is getting paid while they are doing the work. They take personal responsibility for making Food Not Bombs happen. Another reason we are continuing to grow after 30 years is the political, economic and environmental problems we started to organize around are even more horrific today than back in 1980. Many volunteers also understand that by organizing a local Food Not Bombs they are able to support a wide range of actions and see it as one of the more positive actions they can take. Our model is very simple, based on our three principles and seven steps to starting a group, so it is easy for people to organize and see results right away.
MZ: Where is FNB at today and what has you most excited about it?
KM: Food Not Bombs continues to grow – starting groups in new communities and adding meal times in existing cities. The movement is flourishing in the Russian, Spanish and English speaking areas of the world and active in many other areas as well. The Homes Not Jails squatting aspect is starting again in the United States, and, with the foreclosure crisis, we are reaching mainstream Americans with what once were thought of as pretty radical ideas about their rights to food, housing and other needs. Many groups have also added Food Not Lawns community gardens, Really Really Free Markets, Bikes Not Bombs and many other projects to their work with their local Food Not Bombs groups. We are also seeking to make our inter-group communication more reliable and working to organize global days, weeks or months of actions. We are also busy uncovering information about the methods being used by the intelligence community to disrupt our work.
MZ: The police repression seems to never stop.
KM: We have a federal lawsuit pending before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta defending our right to free expression that grew out of the arrests for sharing vegan meals in Orlando, Florida. Food Not Bombs volunteers across the United States continue to resist efforts to shut down their meals. Police in Concord, California, Flagstaff, Arizona and Ann Arbor, Michigan have been the most recent cities that tried to stop our meals, banners and literature. Our volunteers resisted in each city and authorities gave up on their campaigns. We also have a couple of volunteers in jail in Minsk, Belarus accused of fire bombing the Russian embassy and several prisoners in the United States that we are working on campaigns to win their freedom.
MZ: How else are you getting the word out?
KM: I am busy writing a new book about how to do Food NotBombs called Cooking For Peace. We sold the last of at least 8,000 copies of our first book, Food Not Bombs, in September. I am on tour this fall baking bread in a solar oven and speaking at colleges. The emails and calls from people seeking assistance with food and housing as well as from people excited about getting involved continue to increase. Food Not Bombs is needed more then ever, with food prices growing, hunger increasing and more people finding themselves unemployed and homeless while billions are being wasted on the military.
MZ: Are you really listed by the U.S. State Department as one of America’s 100 most dangerous people?
KH: I learned I was listed by the U.S. State Department as one of America’s 100 most dangerous people from several reporters who were shocked I was sharing food at the protests against the World Trade Organization in Cancun in 2003. I sure am having a great deal of trouble that might be organized by the authorities.
MZ: You studied painting many years ago at Boston University. What do you do today to nurture that creative side of you?
KM: I still draw and paint often. I never go anywhere without my sketchbook and drawing materials. My drawing consists of landscapes that I draw on-site or watercolors of the future I am striving to create. One such painting is posted on the first page of the FNB website. Another creative endeavor is gardening; I swim most days, and love riding my mountain bike. In the past two years, I have taken to baking bread in a solar oven. I am also enjoying the process of writing Cooking For Peace.
MZ: What’s next for you and for FNB? How can readers learn more and get involved?
KM: Once I finish writing my new book, I intend to spend more time during the summers gardening and working on a place to live on my little piece of land in Taos, New Mexico. In the winter I still intend to speak at colleges and support local Food Not Bombs groups. I have been focusing on strengthening the Washington D.C. groups as I discovered by baking solar bread outside the White House two summers ago that we can reach people from all over the world with our ideas and there is a growing subculture that is very exciting to participate with.
Food Not Bombs is planning to organize a gathering on each continent to discuss building a stronger network and better inter-group coordination and communication. We are also preparing to respond to the continued collapse of the economy, political systems and the environment. Groups are starting new Food Not Lawns gardens, organizing more concerts and protests. Others are gathering nonperishable food and supplies to supplement the food they already collect. Other groups are providing meals at actions against mining, clear cutting, the abuse of civil rights of immigrants, Roma gypsies, the homeless and indigenous people. We are also participating in protests against the World Bank, trade agreements and other forms of economic exploitation. Local groups are also active in supporting efforts to end cruelty to animals and working to slow the causes of climate change. Also on our list of issues is ending factory farming and Monsanto’s control of our food and the harmful effects of their genetically engineered seeds. And Food Not Bombs continues with our effort to end the wars and squandering of our resources on the military.
You are invited to help. We need as many volunteers as possible. You can join an already active group or if you find that we are not already organizing in your community you can start a local chapter of Food Not Bombs. Visit our website and look up your local group. You can also click on Start a Food Not Bombs and download the flyers and other resources. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. We would also be happy to talk with you. Call us at 1-800-884-1136. You can make donations to Food Not Bombs through our Dollar for Peace program.