Food Not Bombs (FNB) is an anti-war, anti-nuclear, anti-poverty, anti-capitalist alliance of decentralized, independently run, local organizations which believe that “food is a right, not a privilege.” Their mission is to procure vegan or vegetarian food that otherwise would have been discarded by grocery stores, bakeries, and produce markets, and to distribute it free-of-charge, in the form of hot meals, to homeless people and left-wing activists such as anti-war demonstrators. The overriding objective of these efforts is to draw maximum public attention to the problems of “war, poverty, and the destruction of the environment.”
FNB was first established in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where it grew out of a May 24, 1980 protest rally aimed at stopping the construction of the new Seabrook Station nuclear power plant in nearby New Hampshire. The group’s founders included C.T. Butler, Keith McHenry, and six other Cambridge-based activists “dedicated to nonviolent social change.” Specifically, these activists and a contingent of their supporters stationed themselves outside a conference hall where bank executives were meeting to dicuss the financing of the Seabrook project. There, FNB volunteers—emphasizing the moral bankruptcy of spending government money on a potentially dangerous nuclear-power initiative at a time when many Americans were in poverty—handed out free food to a crowd of 300 people who claimed to be homeless. Soon thereafter, FNB began duplicating such campaigns on a regular basis in cities across the United States. Today FNB boasts over 1,000 chapters in more than 60 countries throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. More than half of these chapters are based in the U.S.
FNB originally derived its name from the slogan “Money for food, not for bombs,” which co-founders McHenry and Butler spray-painted in a number of local places when protesting the Seabrook nuclear facility. Over the years, FNB food donations have gone to such notable recipients as: Cindy Sheehan‘s supporters at “Camp Casey” (near President Bush’s Texas ranch) in the early to mid-2000s; demonstrators at a two-month Peace Camp on the West Bank “in Palestine,” as FNB calls it; and activists who participated in the infamous and violent Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1999.
With a number of its local chapters belonging to the Abolition 2000 and United For Peace and Justice anti-war and social-justice coalitions, FNB contends that if governments around the world would only curtail their excessive spending on military projects—and “redirect” those funds instead “to human needs”—hunger and poverty could be swiftly eradicated. “With over a billion people going hungry each day,” asks FNB, “how can we spend another dollar on war?”
The principal causes of global poverty and hunger, says FNB, are militarism and capitalism—particularly as practiced by the United States, which FNB characterizes as an “empire” guilty of waging a worldwide “assault on human rights, the environment and dignity.” Indeed, FNB’s quest to “change society” via “nonviolent action” is rooted in a multi-pronged effort to “encourag[e] alternatives to the failure of capitalism.” In late 2011, for instance, FNB supported the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement. Two years later, the alliance administered a “Smashing Hunger, Squashing Capitalism/Poverty” speaking tour by Keith McHenry. And over the years, various FNB chapters have participated in petitions and campaigns denouncing globalization and the WTO. FNB’s contempt for capitalism is further reflected in its calls for “ending the domination of corporate power,” and its derisive reference to bankers as “banksters” (a play on the word “gangsters”).
FNB regularly works in coalition with the Anarchist Black Cross, Anti-Racist Action, Earth First, the Farm Animal Rights Movement, the Free Radio Movement, Homes Not Jails, In Defense of Animals, the Industrial Workers Of The World, the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, and other organizations “on the cutting edge of positive social change.”
Today, FNB’s major programs include the following:
Because FNB is not a centralized organization, but rather an alliance of independent chapters, it has no formal national leadership structure. Its various chapters “striv[e] to include everyone in [the] decision-making process.”
It is not uncommon for FNB activists to be arrested when their food-distribution efforts escalate into civil disobedience. Between 1988 and 1997, for instance, FNB members were arrested more than 1,000 times.