Frequently Asked Questions About Food Not Bombs

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Why does Food Not Bombs refer to the meals they share as "picnics"?

We refer to our meals as picnics because they often take place in parks or other public areas where poor or homeless people tend to gather. More importantly, we want people to think of them as a social event and gathering of friends, rather than a simple act of charity. Food Not Bombs prefers not to think of individuals as more or less important, based on their financial situation. Instead we want to instill a sense of confidence and feeling of belonging among those we share food with as equals.

There are numerous reasons for the terminology Food Not Bombs uses to describe what we do and a lot of it is intentional. Among other things, we deliberately invite people to share food rather than portraying it as "serving" those who partake of those meals. One of stigmas of being extremely poor and/or homeless is that very few people treat you as an equal. Even those with good intentions often treat people without houses as if they are different and even as if they are not to be trusted.

Instilling a positive mindset is important for everyone involved. When we go out to hold one of our picnics, we set out to share whatever we have available with friends in need. That includes food, resources, knowledge, and our time. Just as importantly, we want everyone to feel free to do the same with us without fear of being judged or looked down upon. It's not unusual for lasting friendships to develop as a result.

The feeling of empowerment that instills often has a profound effect on the well being of those on both sides of the table from a physical and psychological standpoint. In fact, many of those who have participated in Food Not Bombs chapters started out on the receiving end of that equation.

What do I need to show in order to receive food from Food Not Bombs Las Vegas? Is there some application process? Do I have to be homeless or prove I'm in need? Is some sort of payment expected?

In short, nothing and no to all of that.

We don't require any income verification or sign up process. If you show up to one of our picnics or an event we are providing food for, you are welcome to share what we have. Also, if you wish to donate something in return, either now or in the future, that would be very welcome and appreciated, but is in no way necessary.

We also don't limit who we share food with to those that are homeless or according to some other arbitrary poverty level. Obviously, those without homes are the most in need, but pretty much everyone has times when they come up a little short. In addition, many poor people may have access to a house, but not much more.

If someone is in a position where they will have to choose between paying their power bill or some other household necessity and buying food, we hope to be able to eliminate at least one of those needs. That's not really a choice anyone should be forced to make.

When was Food Not Bombs established in Las Vegas?

The Food Not Bombs Las Vegas chapter was originally started in 2005. It soon became one of the most active chapters in the United States and by 2006 members were consistently sharing food with as many as 100 people per day during "picnics" held at the historic Huntridge Circle Park in Downtown Las Vegas.

However, later in 2006 then Mayor Oscar Goodman passed an ordinance making it illegal to share food with a hungry person in a public place. This legislation was specifically intended to target Food Not Bombs. As a result of arrests and harassment that followed, as well as the closing of Circle Park once the arrests and citations were ruled unconstitutional, FNBLV became inactive as a group in late 2007.

In August of 2008, some of the original members of Food Not Bombs Las Vegas, including founding member Gail Sacco, joined with several new members to re-establish the chapter. Since that relaunch, Food Not Bombs has been continuously active in Las Vegas.

Someone was actually arrested for sharing food with hungry people?

Sounds crazy, but yeah. Several members of Food Not Bombs Las Vegas and other associated groups who mobilized to oppose the ordinance were arrested. Numerous others were given citations by the City of Las Vegas on the direct order of Former Mayor Oscar Goodman. All for the "crime" of handing food to a person that was hungry and wanted to eat.

Gail Sacco, one of the founding members, who cooked the majority of the food served by FNBLV up until her death in 2019, was among those arrested. Shortly after, the ordinance was ruled unconstitutional (partly because the wording of the ordinance stated that nobody could "give food to a person who 'appeared' that they would qualify for public assistance").

A subsequent lawsuit filed by Gail further established that the ordinance was unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds.

Well, at least that's all in the past, right?

Not exactly. Current Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who succeeded her husband Oscar Goodman once term limits forced him out of office, has recently begun a second campaign to criminalize homelessness. Her own contribution to their legacy of cruelty and a lack of compassion consists of two ordinances that effectively make it illegal to not be able to afford housing in Las Vegas.

The first ordinance, passed in late 2019, made it illegal to sit, lay down, or stand on sidewalks or other public property in Downtown Las Vegas. A second ordinance, passed shortly after in response to the fact that the first had already been ruled unconstitutional when shelter space is unavailable, uses the pretense of cleaning the sidewalks to criminalize homelessness.

Outside of the shallow excuses used to justify them, both ordinances are essentially identical and are quite obviously intended to target those who can't afford housing. In spite of Mayor Goodman's claims that the ordinances are somehow intended to help the homeless, both of them also include identical potential penalties of $1000 fines and/or six months in jail.

The obvious inability of people who can't afford permanent housing to pay such a fine and the impact of a criminal record on qualifying for employment and future housing doesn't really support Mayor Goodman's lies about the "compassionate" nature of this legislation. The reality is that laws such as this and the hateful stereotypes used to justify them do nothing but make it harder for people to escape homelessness and, in fact, make it even more dangerous to merely exist for those facing financial hardships.

When will these new anti-homeless ordinances take effect?

Officially, they went into effect in February of 2020. The city has claimed that they aren't enforcing them, due to the coronavirus restrictions instituted by Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. However, numerous local activists have observed and documented the police detaining and citing homeless people in the downtown area since the ordinances were passed.

Even if the police are not actually ticketing or arresting people under the ordinances currently, the additional opportunities it provides for them to bully and intimidate people who are already vulnerable to their "investigations" is one of the inherent issues with such laws.

On a broader scale, such legislation also creates yet another justification for the police to profile and harass anyone they decide they don't like who happens to be in the downtown area. When simply being on public property at a certain (random) time can be criminalized, that leaves a lot of room for cops to "exercise their discretion" when they feel it is convenient or politicians tell them they've heard enough free speech that day.

What kind of monsters are running the City of Las Vegas Government?

The worst kind. They'd rather spend more (taxpayer) money to arrest and imprison poor people than it would cost just to build all of them a house before spending a fraction of that to create affordable housing and social programs that actually address the issues which cause homelessness.

In fact, in the early days of the covid-19 pandemic one of the shelters was closed down after several positive tests for the virus among workers and those staying there. Mayor Carolyn Goodman's "solution" was to have hundreds of those who were previously staying at the shelter sleep outdoors on the ground in a parking lot. Cashman Field, the huge building that parking lot was built for, sat empty at the time (as did literally thousands of hotels rooms that were unoccupied due to shutdowns resulting from the pandemic).

What is Food Not Bombs Las Vegas going to do about this?

Fight, of course. And that fight has already begun. Back in January, on MLK Day, members of Food Not Bombs Las Vegas, along with several associated groups, held a march from the Las Vegas City Hall to the Fremont Street Experience in Downtown Las Vegas. At the conclusion of that march, participants blocked Fremont Street. In the end, twelve people associated with FNBLV were arrested and Fremont St. was closed down for around two hours in an act of civil disobedience.

Although the cases have been delayed due to coronavirus related closures of the courts, those twelve members are currently still facing charges resulting from the protest. The "Downtown Dozen," as they have been referred to have since stated that they will continue fighting these ordinances and any other similar attacks upon vulnerable members of our community as long as is necessary.

Those who are involved with Food Not Bombs and similar groups know the importance of protecting and advocating for those who are not in a position to do so for themselves. We intend to continue doing so whenever and wherever the need arises.

Will I be arrested if I help Food Not Bombs?

It is very rare that Food Not Bombs volunteers face arrest. Police have only made arrests in a few cities. Most volunteers have little to no interaction with the authorities. You do not need a permit to share free meals and literature, as it is an unregulated activity between people.

In the vast majority of cases (such as those cited above) the few arrests that have been made have been the result of voluntary acts of civil disobedience. In those instances, members of Food Not Bombs have made a conscious decision to allow themselves to be arrested in order to bring attention to injustices and unlawful legislation that they are strongly opposed to.

While it is important to oppose the oppressive acts of those in power and stand up for vulnerable people that are affected by such acts, Food Not Bombs activists understand that not everyone is able to face the hardships associated with arrest. Therefore, Food Not Bombs Las Vegas makes every effort to minimize any danger of arrest for participants and attendees who cannot or simply don't want to put themselves in that situation.

When was Food Not Bombs founded Internationally?

Food Not Bombs started after the May 24, 1980 protest to stop the Seabrook Nuclear power station north of Boston in New Hampshire in the United States. The people that started Food Not Bombs shared their first full meal outside the Federal Reserve Bank on March 26, 1981 during the stock holders meeting of the Bank of Boston to protest the exploitation of capitalism and investment in the nuclear industry.

Where was Food Not Bombs originally founded and who were the people that first started the movement?

The eight people that started Food Not Bombs lived in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts in the United States. Their names are Jo Swanson, Mira Brown, Susan Eaton, Brian Feigenbaum, CT, Jessie Constable, Amy Rothstien and Keith McHenry.

Photo: Founders at 195 Harvard Street, Cambridge, MA

How did Food Not Bombs initially get started?

One of our friends, Brian Fieganbaulm, was arrested at the May 24th Occupation attempt of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station. We needed to raise money for his legal expenses, so we started holding bake sales outside the student union and in Harvard Square. We didn't raise much money. I had a moving company called "Smooth Move," and we moved a family that was throwing out a poster saying "Wouldn't it be a beautiful day if the schools had all the money they needed and the air force had to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." This gave us the idea to buy used military uniforms at the Central Square Army Surplus Store. So we dressed as generals and propped the poster up next to our bake goods and told people we need then to purchase our cookies and brownies so we could buy a bomber. This caught people's attention and while we didn't raise much money we did reach a lot more people. The First National Bank Project asked us to design a brochure about how the board of directors of the Bank of Boston also sat on the boards of the Public Service Company of New Hampshire that was buying Seabrook Nuclear Power Station and the board of Babcock and Willcox that was building the power station. We were already distributing produce that couldn't be sold from Bread and Circus Natural Grocery so we decided to take some of this recovered food, prepare soup and dress as Hobos and set up a soup kitchen outside the stockholders meeting of the bank with the message that their policies were similar to those of the banks that caused the Great Depression. The night before the March 26, 1981 action we became worried that we would have gallons of soup but not enough people to eat all of it and make it look like a real depression era soup kitchen so a couple of us went to the Pine Street Inn and told the homeless men at the shelter that we would have a protest the next day at noon outside the Federal Reserve Bank at South Station. To our surprise, nearly 70 people arrived. Soon, business people passing by were sharing food and conversation with the homeless talking about the investment policies of the Bank of Boston and the dangers of Seabrook Nuclear Power Station.

What is the concept behind Food Not Bombs?

We recover food that would have been discarded and share it as a way of protesting war and poverty. With fifty cents of every U.S. federal tax dollar going to the military and forty percent of our food being discarded while so many people were struggling to feed their families that we could inspire the public to press for military spending to be redirected to human needs. We also reduce food waste and meet the direct need of our community by collecting discarded food, preparing vegan meals that we share with the hungry while providing literature about the need to change our society. Food Not Bombs also provides food to protesters and striking workers and organizes food relief after natural and political crisis.

What is Food Not Bombs trying to achieve?

Even though we provide meals and groceries to thousands of people, we are not a charity. Food Not Bombs is trying to inspire the public to participate in changing society and focus our resources on solving problems like hunger, homelessness and poverty while seeking an end to war and the destruction of the environment. We are also showing by example that we can work cooperatively without leaders through volunteer effort to provide essential needs like food, housing, education and healthcare. When over a billion people go hungry each day, how can we spend another dollar on war?

By your current estimate, how many groups are there and how many countries have a practicing chapter of Food Not Bombs?

The national Food Not Bombs website lists over 500 chapters, but we believe there are many groups that have not asked to be listed. We think there are over 1,000 chapters of Food Not Bombs active in over 60 countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. We are active in nearly 500 cities in the United States and have groups in another 500 cities outside the United States. We have been told that there are over 60 groups in Russia but only have 15 listed. The same is true for many other countries.

Does Food Not Bombs get its food from dumpsters?

Food Not Bombs does not get food out of dumpsters. We arrange the collection of produce, bread and other food that can't be sold from grocery stores, bakeries, and produce markets. They put this food to the side and we pick it up at a scheduled time. This way, we build personal relationships with local food providers and are able to collect larger amounts of better quality food with more regularity. In some cities, the groceries and bakeries are not willing to help and we may seek some of our food from dumpsters, but this is not generally the case. Volunteers can show grocery workers the law demonstrating they will not be liable if they donate the food.

Why do you think Food Not Bombs has become so widely popular?

Food Not Bombs has grown for many reasons. One reason is that people see there is a need. Also, we have provided a simple way for people to get involved by publishing the Seven Steps to Starting a Food Not Bombs Group. Other reasons are that each group is independent; we have no leaders and an agreement that the food is always vegan and vegetarian and free to anyone without restriction; and we are dedicated to nonviolent direct action. Everyone can start a group with their friends and classmates – it does not rely on a famous person or leader. Food Not Bombs is also a simple concept, and because we have no paid staff or directors and the food is recovered, local groups do not need to raise huge amounts of money to operate. Finally, the idea that you can be part of a global network seeking to change society for the better and can use your many interests and skills makes volunteering fun and interesting.

The arrests of Food Not Bombs have inspired many to participate. Also helping are the facts that many bands support Food Not Bombs and that you can find us on the streets in public space; we are visible to people that might never otherwise know how to get active for change until they run into our food and literature table.

Is Food Not Bombs labeled a terrorist organization by the United States government?

The United States government started to claim we were "America's Most Hardcore Terrorist Groups" soon after we were first arrested for sharing free vegan meals in Golden Gate Park in the fall of 1988 – a year before the end of the Cold War. All we had done was claim we had the right to feed the hungry in protest to war and poverty. Military contractors are worried that we might influence the public to realize our taxes could be spent on human needs instead of war, and that this could threaten their billions of dollars in profits from arming the United States government. The U.S. government was also concerned that our failure to stop sharing food as directed would threaten their ability to manipulate the hungry by moving food programs to more desirable locations or by threatening to withhold food if the public didn't cooperate with the authorities. Since we will provide food wherever and whenever it is needed, this interferes with the government’s ability to use food for social control.

Why do you think that Food Not Bombs is so controversial?

The government and corporations find our message – that we could redirect the taxes that currently are used on the military to fund things like education and healthcare – a threat to their profits and power. They also worry that our sharing of food with the hungry shows that we can end hunger. They fear that the sharing of food and literature with the message Food Not Bombs in high-visibility locations is an effective way to inspire public pressure for change to our political and economic system. In 2009, two U.S. State Department officials gave a lecture at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy in Medford, Massachusetts comparing the group that shares vegan meals in parks and al-Qaeda; they said the people sharing the food were a greater threat than al-Qaeda because people visiting their meals would be influenced to support policies diverting tax dollars from military spending towards education, healthcare and other social services.

How does Food Not Bombs benefit people?

Food Not Bombs provides more than free, healthy vegan and vegetarian food. We provide an opportunity for everyone to participate in solving the most important problems facing our world. We empower the public to take action and resist corporate domination and exploitation. We also provide food and logistical support to often marginalized people and social movements by feeding striking workers and their families, people participating at protests, and organizing community projects.

What ideals does Food Not Bombs spread?

Food Not Bombs supports sharing, respect, peace, cooperation, dignity, a nurturing of the environment, and most of all, optimism at a time when many are in despair. We encourage a "Do It Yourself" feeling of empowerment and a rejection of the need to solve problems through violence – violence of war, violence of poverty and violence against animals and the earth. We show that it is not necessary to waste so much of the food that we work so hard to grow, but organizing a voluntary system of food recovery and redistribution. No one should need to rely on a soup kitchen or charity when we have food in great abundance. We work to end the domination of corporate power and provide access to participation in making decisions that affect our life and future. Food is a right, not a privilege!

Does Food Not Bombs have a president or headquarters?

No, each Food Not Bombs group is autonomous or independent and uses the process we call consensus to make decisions. We encourage each Food Not Bombs chapter to invite those relying on our food to participate in the regular meetings.

How much food is wasted?

Americans discard over 40 percent of the food that is produced. 1,400 calories worth of food is discarded per person each day, which adds up to 150 trillion calories per year. The United Nations reported in 2010 that all one billion people that go hungry could be fed by the food that is wasted every day.

Can I start a Food Not Bombs group in my community?

Yes, you are welcome to start a local Food Not Bombs group. Organize a meeting with your family, friends, classmates and others in the community, and follow the seven steps to starting a Food Not Bombs. Please email us your contact information and schedule of meal and grocery distribution and we will post it on our contact list.

Do you ever share meat?

No, we never share meat and try to avoid sharing dairy. It is not safe to recover meat as it can make people ill. We also want to stop the exploitation of not only people, but animals. As part of our work for peace, we do not want to support violence against animals. A plant-based diet is important to protecting the environment and an important way to provide as much food with as little impact on the Earth as possible. Food Not Bombs seeks to introduce the vegan or vegetarian diet to the public. If someone donates meat to Food Not Bombs, we redirect it to a charity willing to serve it.

Is Food Not Bombs a racist white group.

Food Not Bombs has worked against racism since the beginning. The first collective provided food to the people protected by the Black Liberation Army at Columbia Point Housing Projects in Boston at a time when people of color were under attack by white gangs in South Boston.

The first group also organized a multi-racial free concert in Cambridge and provided food to the Mohawk nation in New York. Food Not Bombs has many volunteers from all backgrounds, races and cultures. Most volunteers in Africa are black and volunteers in Asia are Asian, and so on.

Food Not Bombs volunteers have even been killed while sharing food because of their work against racism. On November 13, 2005, Timur Kacharava was stabbed to death by racists as he was packing up the weekly meal in St. Petersburg because Food Not Bombs provides food at anti-racists actions. Several other Food Not Bombs volunteers have been murdered by racists in Russia since Timur was killed.

Food Not Bombs also organizes a People of Color Caucus at our gatherings and seeks to include all in the work of ending racism. This is the statement published by the People of Color Caucus published the statement: Food Not Bombs activists in Asia are mostly Asian. Our volunteers in Africa are African and volunteers in Latin America are from Latin America.

Who designed the Food Not Bombs logo and can I use it?

Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry designed the Food Not Bombs logo in 1981 while living at the first Food Not Bombs house at 195 Harvard Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Keith did not copy-write the logo so that it can be used by anyone to support the ideas of Food Not Bombs. The leaves of the carrot were drawn to represent the torch of liberty and the fist idea was a symbol borrowed from the left idea of united we are strong as in the logo of Students for a Democratic Society. The hand is purple to represent all the races of the world. Food Not Bombs co-founder Sue Eaton suggested that the fist be purple for that reason while making a banner for the October 31, 1981 protest against George H. Bush at MIT.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Everyone is urged to contact Food Not Bombs to participate. There has never been a more important time to volunteer with Food Not Bombs. The United States government reported that over 17 percent of the people went hungry every month in 2010 and the United Nations is warning of a huge increase in hunger in 2012. U.S. Census data show that nearly half of all Americans struggle to survive. The United States is not alone. The global economy is in crisis. Hunger and poverty are increasing in every area of the world. When over a billion people go hungry every day, how can we spend another dollar on war? Why do we spend fifty cents of every federal tax dollar on the military when millions go hungry and are forced out of their homes here in the United States?