Food Not Bombs says 'Yes, Free Lunch!'
James Schmidt
January 1997

Food Not Bombs in Gainesville is planning a Speakout and Sleepout for Affordable Housing on Thursday, November 16. The Gainesville chapter, which was was formed this spring, last month hosted San Francisco Food Not Bombs activist Keith McHenry's "Rent Is Theft Tour" at the Civic Media Center. McHenry's multi-media presentation included videos, a food-prep demonstration, and a micro-power radio demonstration. In addition, every Sunday Food Not Bombs serves a free lunch at 3:30 p.m. at Lynch Park (S. Main St. and W. 4th Ave.)

What is Food Not Bombs?
The original Food Not Bombs chapter was a small group of activists from the Boston area who came together to live and work collectively as part of the Clamshell Alliance, a grassroots network of anti-nuclear activists who took action against the nuclear power and weapons industries in the early 80's. The first Food Not Bombs action took place at the First National Bank of Boston. The Food Not Bombs crew set up a soup line outside the bank and fed hundreds of homeless and hungry folks during First National's annual stockholders' meeting. The action was designed to protest the Bank's investment in the Seabrook Nuclear Power Facility, drawing a direct connection between this investment and the elitist politics the bank practiced in the Boston area. Out of this action Food Not Bombs quickly grew into a food recovery and distribution network that delivered food to shelters and served food on the street and at political actions all over the Boston area. Their network grew and became very well-known, in activist circles as well as in the community at large. People recognized the power of Food Not Bombs' simple, direct message about our society's misplaced priorities, coupled as it was with a grassroots attempt to help meet the most basic of human needs. Eventually this Food Not Bombs group became the official food distribution group of the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the years that followed some of the original collective's members relocated to San Francisco and started a second chapter, and from there Food Not Bombs has spread out across the continent, with chapters in communities all over the US and Canada.

The Food Not Bombs philosophy stresses direct action and self-empowerment. Food Not Bombs as a national organization is a loosely federated network of autonomous local chapters. There are no paid positions and no hierarchies of internal power. Our "tribal elders" (members of the original collective and other long-term activists) serve as national organizers and advisors by publishing literature and traveling to promote the cause, but they have no institutional authority over the local chapters, nor is their word final for Food Not Bombs as a whole. The decision-making power in Food Not Bombs is within the local chapters themselves and in cooperative efforts such as discussion bulletins, newsletters, and the yearly International Gatherings. Local groups are usually self-starting and each chapter finds its own unique way to fit into its home community, based on the political climate and the needs that its members perceive.

Food Not Bombs is not an end in itself, rather it is a means to an end. Doing Food Not Bombs work is a way of getting into the serious work of building viable grassroots counter-institutions. Food Not Bombs people build coalitions with other community groups, organize protests and demonstrations, participate in squatting and housing takeovers, help organize free radio stations, help build community gardens, volunteer at shelters, and of course, serve free healthy food on the street. This food is always vegetarian, often vegan (no animal products at all), and is made with organically-grown ingredients whenever possible.

A Food Not Bombs meal is conscious political action. Every serving of free, nutritious food is an act of resistance against our nation's power elite and the fast food death culture that their corporate and government institutions promote. Serving free food collected from excess that would otherwise end up in dumpsters and landfills emphasizes the reality of abundance, and the community fostered in the act of sharing that food is proof that our society's politically and economically enforced scarcity is a lie. It is a brutal lie that has many of us convinced that people suffering and starving on our streets is an inevitability, even a necessity, while those who benefit from the reality of abundance and excess continue to stick it to the rest of us with everything from new taxes and new laws to an increase in the rent and a decrease in the Christmas bonus.

Gainesville Food Not Bombs
The Gainesville group first got started in the Spring of 1995. We held one food serving/speakout action in May and then lay quiet a while, as some of us went to San Francisco for the Food Not Bombs International Gathering and many of our student volunteers went home for the summer. We got started again this fall and have been serving free food and organizing side projects since early October. We work in conjunction with Gainesville Second Harvest and St. Francis House to collect and distribute excess food on Saturdays and Sundays, and we share a hot healthy vegetarian meal with anyone who wants to eat at Lynch Park on S. Main Street every Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Come picnic with us!

Some of our other projects include a Freebox for collecting and distributing clothing, shoes, and blankets; a Homeless and Hungry Guide to Gainesville, detailing available public assistance and services; a Food Not Bombs community garden plot; and the continued expansion of our food distribution.

Food Not Bombs in Gainesville is planning a Sleepout and Speakout for Affordable Housing to coincide with the U.F. volunteer group G.I.V.E.'s annual Speakout on Hunger and Homelessness on Thursday, November 16. The G.I.V.E. speakout will take place on the Reitz Union lawn starting at 8 p.m. followed by a March for Affordable Housing around 11 p.m. (shortly after the G.I.V.E. Speakout concludes). People interested in marching should either attend the G.I.V.E. speakout and leave from there, or meet at the Civic Media Center at 11 p.m. and proceed downtown to the Plaza. The speakout and sleepout on the Plaza will follow. This action is being organized by Food Not Bombs and the allied organization, Homes Not Jails, in solidarity with other groups across America who will be doing protests and rallies throughout the Thanksgiving holiday season to raise consciousness and promote action on hunger and housing issues.

In addition, Food Not Bombs, in conjunction with Homes Not Jails, Freedom Coalition, and other community groups, hold a preliminary press conference and street theater action at 6 p.m. on the Downtown Plaza, also on November 16th, to address affordable housing issues.

For more information on Gainesville Food Not Bombs and/or the Homes Not Jails Sleepout, call 373-7465 or 378-1489. Regular meetings are 5 p.m. on Saturdays at 116 NW 7th Terrace, and there will be a Homes Not Jails action planning meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 9th at the Civic Media Center.

Photo captions:
Keith McHenry of San Francisco Food Not Bombs demonstrates food preparation at the Civic Media Center, Oct. 21. McHenry also set up a micro-power radio station and showed video of San Francisco Food Not Bombs activities. The stop in Gainesville was part of his national "Rent is Theft" tour.

Gainesvillians attend Keith McHenry's presentation on Food Not Bombs at the Civic Media Center. McHenry also showed a video, which is now available at the Center.

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