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Food Not Bombs

Food Not Bombs
Food Not Bombs logo
Type Network of collectives

Food Not Bombs is a loose-knit group of independent collectives, serving free vegan and vegetarian food to others. Food Not Bombs' ideology is that myriad corporate and government priorities are skewed to allow hunger to persist in the midst of abundance. To demonstrate this (and to reduce costs), a large amount of the food served by the group is surplus food from grocery stores, bakeries and markets that would otherwise go to waste. This group exhibits a form of franchise activism.


  • Principles 1
  • History 2
    • 1980s 2.1
    • 1990s: Further development 2.2
    • 2000s: Anti-war activism 2.3
    • 2010s 2.4
  • Causes 3
    • Resistance to restrictions on food sharing 3.1
      • 2011 Florida feeding bans 3.1.1
      • 2014 Fort Lauderdale Sharing Ban 3.1.2
    • FNB's involvement in the Occupy Wall Street movement 3.2
    • Occupy Sandy 3.3
    • The Food Not Bombs Free Skool 3.4
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


The group serves free meals.

Food Not Bombs is an all-volunteer global movement that shares free vegan meals as a protest to war and poverty. Each chapter collects surplus food that would otherwise go to waste from grocery stores, bakeries and markets, as well as donations from local farmers, then prepares community meals which are served for free to anyone who is hungry. The central beliefs of the group are:[1]

  • Always vegan or vegetarian and free to everyone.
  • Each chapter is independent and autonomous and makes decisions using the consensus process.
  • Food Not Bombs is dedicated to nonviolence.

Food Not Bombs works to call attention to poverty and homelessness in society by sharing food in public places and facilitating community gatherings of hungry people.

Anyone who wants to cook may cook, and anyone who wants to eat may eat. Food Not Bombs strives to include everyone.[2]



Food Not Bombs was founded in 1980 in Cambridge, Massachusetts by anti-nuclear activists, Keith McHenry,[3] Jo Swanson, Mira Brown, Susan Eaton, Brian Feigenbaum, C.T. Lawrence Butler,[4] Jessie Constable and Amy Rothstien. Co-founder, Keith McHenry has volunteered for 35 years and can be found sharing food almost every week in various cities including Santa Cruz, California and Taos, New Mexico. The members' activities included providing food and marching and protesting. Their protests were against issues such as nuclear power, United States' involvement in the Salvadoran Civil War, and discrimination against the homeless.[5]

The first arrests for sharing free food was on August 15, 1988 at the entrance to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California. Nine were arrested that day including Food Not Bombs, co-founder Keith McHenry. The city went on to make over 1,000 arrests, and Amnesty International declared these volunteers 'prisoners of conscience'.[6]

1990s: Further development

Food Not Bombs grew throughout the 1990s, and held four international gatherings: in San Francisco in 1992 and 1995, in Atlanta in 1996, and in Philadelphia in 2005. The 1995 International Food Not Bombs Gathering took place in and around United Nations Plaza in San Francisco at the same time the world was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations (at a historic conference in San Francisco).

Chapters of Food Not Bombs were involved in the rise of the Homes Not Jails during the San Francisco days.

"Free Soup for the Revolution" illustration

2000s: Anti-war activism

Food Not Bombs supported the actions against the Iraq War by providing meals at protests all over the world. During a presentation to the University of Texas at Austin in 2006, an FBI counter-terrorism official labeled Food Not Bombs and Indymedia as having possible terrorist connections.[7][8]

Orlando enacted an ordinance prohibiting serving food to more than a certain number of people without a permit.[9] In the fall of 2007, Eric Montanez of Orlando, Florida's Food Not Bombs was charged with violating a city ordinance by feeding more people in a public park at one time than the law allows without a permit. On October 10, 2007, Montanez was acquitted by a jury.[10][11] Food Not Bombs and a church for the homeless called First Vagabonds Church of God sued the city over the ordinance[9] on the grounds that serving food is first amendment-protected political speech and religious activity. The groups won and the city ordinance was overturned; however Orlando appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and won.[9] On August 31, 2010, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the decision, barring Orlando from enforcing the ordinance until another hearing before a 10-judge panel takes place.[9]

In May 2008, local business owners attempted to stop the Kitchener, Ontario, Food Not Bombs from serving in a highly visible downtown location,[12] describing the group as supporting meat-free diets, anti-capitalism, and an end to Canada's military intervention in Afghanistan.[13]

In April 2009, the city of Middletown, Connecticut, issued a cease-and-desist order to the local chapter of Food Not Bombs. Prior to the order, the City Health Inspector had cited the organization for distributing food without a license. As of August 2009, the chapter had begun operating out of a licensed kitchen provided by the Middletown First Church of Christ Congregational as state hearings into the matter were held.[14]


A Food Not Bombs chapter serves a meal in a public park.

As of October 2011, there were more than 400 chapters of Food Not Bombs listed on the organization's website,[15] with about half the chapters located outside the United States. Food Not Bombs has a loose structure: every chapter of Food Not Bombs embraces a few basic principles, and carries out the same sort of action, but every chapter is free to make its own decisions, based on the needs of its community. Likewise, every chapter of Food Not Bombs operates on consensus. Besides collecting and distributing food for free, many chapters of Food Not Bombs are involved in community anti-poverty, anti-war, and pro-immigrant organizing, as well as other political causes related to social justice.


Resistance to restrictions on food sharing

The first extremely publicized restrictions on Food Sharing involving Food Not Bombs were the 2011 feeding bans in Florida. Similar laws have been enacted in other jurisdictions, including Philadelphia[16] and Houston.[17]

2011 Florida feeding bans

On April 20, 2011, an en banc panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Orlando ordinance as a valid "time, place and manner" regulation,[18] reversing the initial ruling of First Vagabonds Church of God, An Unincorporated Association, Brian Nichols v. City of Orlando, Florida and removing the permanent injunction against the Orlando ordinance that was first attempted in 2007.[19]

On May 18[20] the 30 day stay ended and the ordinance would soon be enforced on June 1 resulting in the arrest of Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry and Orlando FNB volunteer Ben Markeson. Each successive sharing saw arrests, with 4 arrests on June 6, 5 on June 8, 3 on June 13, & 6 on June 21. That same week the lawyer for Orlando FNB issued a cease and desist to the city,[21] saying that violating the ordinance was not an arrestable offense, and hackers claiming to be affiliated with Anonymous began issuing threats to the city of Orlando. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has also received heavy criticism for referring to Food Not Bombs activists as "food terrorists."[22][23] [24]

On Monday, June 20, no arrests were made at Food Not Bombs' breakfast in Lake Eola Park, however Ben Markeson was cited for holding a sign without a permit, with much confusion among city officials about procedure and the violations of civil rights. The city later issued a statement reversing their interpretation of the sign regulations in question. On the same day hackers carried through with their threats and took down the Orlando Chamber of Commerce site and a Universal Studios website in "Operation Orlando," issuing a video statement later declaring a 48 hour cease fire on the condition that the city arrest no one for feeding the homeless, presumably on June 22.[25][26]

On June 22 more arrests took place including a 2nd arrest for Keith McHenry, resulting in a 17-day stay in jail. "Operation Orlando" soon went into full attack resulting in many sites going down in the next several days. Orlando and Mayor Dyer were soon inundated with national and international attention and outcry. On July 1, OFNB took the Mayor up on his offer to move sharings to City Hall, which stopped arrests and resulted in a new, stable arrangement for OFNB.[27][28]

Homeless hacktivist Christopher Doyon AKA Commander X was eventually arrested for "Operation Orlando" and other cyber-crimes. Soon after his arraignment he held a press statement where he admitted to everything he was being charged with but argues that these DDOS attacks constituted acts of cyber-civil disobedience.[29][30]

Fort Lauderdale has been pondering a feeding ban for some time. In 2011 FNB activists have complained about unjust surveillance and arrest and claimed to be victims of an unwarranted police raid due to their home having their electricity cut off, where they were harassed by police asking if they were "terrorists." Activists have also been arrested while playing a game of capture the flag on May 1, 2011.[31]

Pinellas County is not only trying to ban feeding but is also banning sleeping in public. This means that homeless in the St Pete area must either move into the "Safe Harbor" homeless facility or get out of the town.[32]

An ordinance in Sarasota currently requires gatherings of 75 or more people to obtain a special event permit. Citizens are currently petitioning to lower that number to 12, as well as require feeders to obtain the same permit necessary for people who sell goods in public places (a $150 fee). There have been numerous other ordinances in recent months targeting the homeless, including the banning of smoking and removing park benches,.[33][34] Since 2009, homeless shelters in Gainesville can feed only 130 people at a time, leading to the formation of the Coalition To End The Meal Limit.[35] On November 1, 2011, due to pressure from the local Democratic Party, the meal limit and other rules regarding sharings of food affecting St. Francis House were significantly changed, resulting in a decisive victory for the Coalition to End The Meal Limit.[36]

On August 19, 2011, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer held a press conference to announce that charges against food sharers arrested in Lake Eola Park, Orlando, were dropped, resulting in a new state of compromise between Buddy Dyer's administration and Orlando Food Not Bombs.[37]

2014 Fort Lauderdale Sharing Ban

In November 2014, Fort Lauderdale finally enacted a sharing ban, drawing a similar flurry of media attention as in Orlando.[38] Several Food Not Bombs activists were arrested sharing food and other acts of civil disobedience, for which they received "Civil Liberties Arrest" medals from the Broward County ACLU.[39][40][41] Still other FNB activists went on hunger strike during enforcement of the law.[42] A court injunction stopped enforcement of the sharing ban in early December 2014 pending several court cases. In late December the injunction was extended until February.[43] On January 29, 2015, Food Not Bombs filed a 29-page federal lawsuit against the City of Fort Lauderdale to strike down the sharing ban ordinances as unconstitutional.[44]

FNB's involvement in the Occupy Wall Street movement

Food Not Bombs groups have been heavily involved in supporting occupation camps across the US during the

  • Food Not Bombs
  • Account of Food Not Bombs in Be’er Sheva, Israel
  • A Critical History of Harrisonburg Food Not Bombs by Peter Gelderloos
  • Across From City Hall

External links

  • “Food Fight,” New Times Broward-Palm Beach
  • “Free Lunch,” Houston Press
  • "Diving for Dinner," Washington Post

Further reading

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See also

Keith McHenry and other long-time Food Not Bombs activists announced in 2012 the opening of the FNB Free Skool in Taos, New Mexico. The first year of classes started in summer of 2013. Topics covered by the course are analysis of current social issues, community organizing, nonviolent social change, cultural events which support social change and sustainable future for communities.[54]

The Food Not Bombs Free Skool

Near the end of 2012, Food Not Bombs activists, in particular Long Island Food Not Bombs, fed countless thousands of people in the wake of Superstorm Sandy alongside "Occupy Sandy." [52] The outpouring of food going to waste and support for disaster stricken, impoverished communities culminated in the "Largest Food Not Bombs Ever" at the "Hempstead Food Share Bonanza on Nov. 18th.[53]

Occupy Sandy


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