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Food not Bombs’ Keith McHenry Visits Peterborough

Food Not Bombs founder Keith McHenry visited Peterborough on the 11 and 12 of October before moving on to Barrie, other Ontario chapters, other North American chapters, and chapters all over the world as part of his Elect To End Hunger and Poverty Tour. He spoke to a large, engaged, and well-fed audience at Sadlier House’s Hobbe’s Lecture Hall on Thursday and was a guest on the Trent Radio programme Conscientious Objector on Friday.

At his Sadlier House seminar, McHenry spoke to the well-standing reputation of the “legendary” Food Not Bombs chapter here in Peterborough. Food Not Bombs Peterborough turns 7-years-old this November 17 and will be having a celebratory community feast. Food Not Bombs Peterborough, according to local community organizer Rachelle Suave, serves “reclaimed” food every Monday at 6:30pm in Confederation Park, across from City Hall. While the seminar was not about the struggles and triumphs the Peterborough chapter has had trying to feed people in public, it was about the struggles and triumphs of the Food Not Bombs movement across the world.

According to McHenry, Food Not Bombs is “not a charity, [it is] an action trying to change society.” It began for him in 1980 when he was a Fine Arts student at the age of 23, studying at Boston University. A professor of his, social activist and noted American intellectual Howard Zinn (once referred to as a “happy warrior”), started protesting against nuclear power in Seabrook, New Hampshire and brought McHenry (amoungst other students) with him. One of McHenry’s classmates, Brian Feigenbaum, was arrested and the rest of the class had a series of bake sales in order to pay their classmates legal fees. This sparked McHenry’s interest in social activism and food.

As well as helping out with the moving company, as a student, Keith worked as a produce manager at a local organic grocery store where he had to see the mass amounts of perfectly good food being thrown away. He would take the throw-outs and make soup to bring to protests and housing projects. Eventually he quit his job at the grocery store so he could take the Smooth Move van around and collect food to repurpose. The name came from a protest of a weapons manufacturer’s bazaar outside of Boston University where they shared food.

This was the genesis of Food Not Bombs. They would have Boston area community feasts as well as street theatre, drumming, puppet shows and the filming of movies on Super 8 cameras.

In 1988 McHenry moved to San Francisco and started a Food Not Bombs chapter there. Eventually Long Beach, California wanted to start a chapter. This made for chapters in Long Beach, San Francisco and Boston.

The San Francisco Food Not Bombs would setup at the entrance to the Golden Gate Park and one day they were arrested for feeding people outside. The San Francisco Chronicle was there to capture the incident and thus exposing the work of Food Not Bombs to the Bay area. More people started showing up and contacting Keith, saying: “How can we get arrested with you guys?” video of the second set of Golden Gate Park arrests was broadcast by the newly formed Cable News Network (CNN). This footage went worldwide and Keith started a pamphlet on how to start a Food Not Bombs chapter in your area.

Subsequently, Food Not Bombs chapters started sprouting up all over the west coast of North America and the police would arrest people at every one. In order to avoid this, they would send out the food in waves so that when the first couple of waves were arrested, the other waves could continue feeding people. More chapters started in Canadian cities as well as Prague and Melbourne.

In October of 1992, Keith wrote a book on Food Not Bombs based on several gatherings of the chapters over the years. The book was to solidify some of the shared values across all of the chapters: reclaimed food, no restriction to how much someone could eat, always vegan, local chapters are autonomous, and all decisions were to be made by consensus.

Since his beginnings with the grassroots, decentralized social action, Keith McHenry has written more books and continued to tour and help setup worldwide chapters in: Ireland, where Protestants and Catholics eat together; Poland, where FNB has movie theatres, a punk record label, and abandoned factories; Tel Aviv, where ex-Isreali soldiers come to eat peacefully; Serbia, where they had “Food Not bombs while they were being bombed”; Addis Ababa, where old political conflicts were set aside when they helped the Mogadishu chapter form; as well as chapters in Singapore, Nigeria, South Africa, The Netherlands, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, and many more. Food Not Bombs helped feed people after hurricane Katrina and helped setup kitchens for the Occupy movement. Keith McHenry has been put on the FBI’s terrorist watch list and FNB has been banned in 38 US cities post-Occupy.

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