[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #8 in May 2009]
In its twenty-eight years of existence, Food Not Bombs (FNB) has been repeatedly accused of terrorism and remains under investigation by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Pentagon. The offense? Feeding hungry people for free. FNB is a radical movement dedicated to providing nourishment through “re-claimed” food, through its protest of the insidious effects of capitalism (particularly war and poverty) and non-hierarchical and autonomous structures. The belief of the movement is that food should be a right, not a privilege, and to prove this, the groups intentionally take advantage of food that would otherwise be wasted by those who possess the privilege to pay for it. Whether through “dumpster-diving” or collecting donations of “just-expired” items from grocery stores and cafes, the members of FNB manage to create entire vegetarian/vegan feasts without participating in any traditional form of capital exchange.
In Chicago, there are three active Food Not Bombs chapters that serve in Humboldt Park, Rogers Park and Pilsen, respectively. The Pilsen chapter also goes by the name Comida No Migra (Food Not Borders), which acts under the same principles, just with a more specific focus on immigrants’ rights education and outreach. Each collective has a location where they cook their scavangered food, and then relocate to do the serves in a public space, which, as the Rogers Park FNB members tell me, is a deliberate decision.
“We aren’t hiding. We aren’t hiding the people we serve, the food, or ourselves,” states Halle, a Loyola student and Rogers Park FNB member. “By serving in a public place, we force passer-bys to at least temporarily encounter an alternative to non-sustainable, capitalist culture. “
Rogers Park FNB serves under the Morse redline stop on Sunday afternoons. Meals are a result of a combination of dumpstered food, donations and also a collection of left-over food from events at Loyola. It is through this communal sharing of free, accessible food that FNB exemplifies the concept of “solidarity, not charity.” Many chapters explicitly clarify that they are not a “soup kitchen,” but instead act as a space for all those who are impacted by oppressive structural and systemic injustices to come together and share a meal in community. Through this, the act of service is re-appropriated as an act of solidarity, in which the line between the “server” and the “served” is dismantled, and thus allows space for the simple act of “sharing a meal.”
Halle furthers, “The very act of cooking with other peoples’ “trash” speaks a lot about how we move toward a sustainable and non-capitalist society. The problem of hunger is not that there is not enough food; it’s that the food is all in the hands of a few people, and they keep throwing it away.”
The fight against capitalism seems daunting without concrete proof that another world is possible. Food Not Bombs, through their creative struggle for health and human connection, offers us a pre-utopian foundation upon which we can, at the very least, envision what that new world might look like. ◊