Thursday, November 7, 2013

Cooking with Keith and Food Not Bombs: a route to community or jail?

In August I announced the resumption of Barrie’s monthly Food Not Bombs dinners, featuring community-prepared vegan meals offered free to all. My activities since then have kept me connected to local food security: helping at Rosie’s Thanksgiving dinner and providing the Barrie Food Bank over a ton of fresh fruit in FruitShare Barrie’s pilot season. Like all successful projects, these involve the efforts and donations of many community members, and luckily, these efforts seem to have the support of everyone who hears of them, or at least, nobody seems to speak against them.
But I was surprised to learn, while researching Food Not Bombs, that this is not always the case elsewhere, that the simple act of feeding hungry people can lead to controversy, rejection, even arrest.
A recent story caught my eye: an atheist club wanting to help the poor offered to volunteer at a church-run soup kitchen in South Carolina. They were rudely rejected, told they were in league with the devil! Luckily the group, Upstate Atheists, remains undaunted and has cooperated with other community groups, including religious ones, delivering help to those in need. It disgusts me that any faith organization would rather divide community than bring caring people together.
But at least that was just a war of words. More concerning is people arrested and jailed for feeding the hungry on public property. That often happens to Keith McHenry, founder and organizer with Food Not Bombs for over 30 years. This author and artist has been arrested, jailed, beaten and tortured for his work promoting peace over militarism while addressing poverty, with Food Not Bombs targetted by authorities as a suspected terrorist group!
In San Francisco, the charge was “making a political statement” by providing free food near the Golden Gate Bridge, something it’s hard to believe can be a crime in the “Land of the Free”. McHenry was also arrested in Orlando, Florida for similar activity. In that city, a group must have a permit to distribute food at a park, and can only do it twice per year, before moving to another park. Food Not Bombs counters that people need to eat every day, not just twice a year, and that some locations (including the picnic area they use at Lake Eola Park downtown) are a better fit for that community activity.
If you find this opposition as shocking as I do, come to the next Food Not Bombs dinner at 6 PM this Tuesday, November 12 at the D.I.Y. Arts Collective at 67 Toronto Street and meet McHenry himself, as he will be the keynote speaker of “Cooking with Keith”. As always, literature about various political and community causes will be present, but unlike some programs, you don’t have to take part in the service before you eat! Dinner comes first, followed by what promises to be a very interesting presentation and discussion.
One of the principles of Food Not Bombs is to rescue discarded food that would otherwise be wasted, and redirect it to the hungry. An interesting documentary about food waste called “Dive!” will be featured at an upcoming Green Screen event hosted by Living Green. If you are interested in seeing this, sign up for newsletters at or and you’ll get an alert when the screening is scheduled.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Food Not Bombs finding its way to Barrie"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

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