Food Not Bombs Co-Founder Speaks at St. Mary’s

Students pick up materials offered by Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry and give donations. (Photo by Rowan Copley)
Students pick up materials offered by Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry and give donations. (Photo by Rowan Copley)

On Friday, April 17, the co-founder of Food Not Bombs, Keith McHenry, gave a lecture on food and social justice.  The lecture was hosted by the Global Justice League.

Earlier that day, in the spirit of Food Not Bombs, the club handed out bagels that they retrieved while dumpster diving.

Food Not Bombs is an all-volunteer organization that works towards nonviolent social change.  Groups take food that would otherwise be thrown out and use it to make vegetarian and vegan dishes that are then served in public areas.  The organization also serves food at protests.

During his lecture, McHenry described how Food Not Bombs was started in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1980.  McHenry and his friends started having bake sales to raise money for their causes, one time dressing up in military uniforms (they claimed that they were selling baked goods to raise money to buy a B1 bomber) and another time dressing as hobos to serve soup.

They eventually started serving meals to protestors and Food Not Bombs was born. It had become an active organization in Cambridge by the time McHenry moved to San Francisco, where he started the second chapter of Food Not Bombs.

In San Francisco, McHenry began serving food to the homeless in Golden Gate Park.  “We’re one of the worst countries in the world for homelessness,” McHenry said.  However, the police tried to shut down the volunteer efforts.  According to “The Story of Food Not Bombs,” on the organization’s website, the San Francisco chapter has been arrested over one thousand times, “in government’s effort to silence its protest against the city’s anti-homeless policies.”

But nothing has stopped the movement.  McHenry credits part of the organization’s success to the fact that each chapter operates independantly.  “It’s totally been a benefit not to have a hierarchy,” he said.  Aside from enabling each local group to operate autonomously, the structure of the organization means that decisions can be made by consensus.   The movement can’t be disrupted because of the loss of a leader, said McHenry, because there is no single leader.  Nobody is looking to someone higher up for answers, so the ideas of Food Not Bombs can be reproduced anywhere in the world.

And they are.  Food Not Bombs has active chapters all over the world, in areas including Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.  Groups work for different causes in different areas, but the principle ideas are the same.  Whether the chapters are serving food in the aftermath of a natural disaster, assisting anti-war efforts or protesting nuclear facilities, Food Not Bombs serves discarded or donated food to the people who need it and works towards social justice.

“The food has always been donated.  It’s food that’s being thrown away,” McHenry said.  Food Not Bombs has continued to be a nonviolent movement, despite the U.S. government’s accusation of terrorism and the arrests of many of the members.

“We’re organizing against these threats to our future and trying to create a future that we want to live in,” McHenry said.

“Keith McHenry is an amazing person,” said sophomore Aaron French. “One of those people who really have a great story to tell, and the audience at the event here really wanted to hear that story…His talk sparked student discussions about non hierarchical organizations, anarchy as a means of social justice, and most importantly of all: food!”

Ally Moore was the student who brought McHenry to campus.  “I started in September,” she said, beginning with emails as soon as school started.  Eventually, she got in contact with McHenry and, “he let me know that he was going to be on the East Coast in mid-April and gave us a time that he would be available.”

The Food Not Bombs lecture was really the Global Justice League’s first involvement with the organization.

“We had done a couple of dumpster diving trips and gone to D.C. to hand out food,” said Moore, “but since we’re in a rural place it’s harder to find food to distribute in a central area like it is in the city.”

The group is looking to practice the Food Not Bombs philosophy.  “If any other group on campus is having a protest, they can let us know and we’ll provide food for them,” Moore said.

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