Canadians’ relationship with food has evolved dramatically throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. From wars over toilet paper to the baking banana bread trend, food has played an incredible role in peoples’ sense of preparedness and comfort in 2020-2021. However, not everyone has the luxury, albeit necessity, of accessible food - let alone healthy options. One local branch of a global movement, Food Not Bombs Peterborough, has offered free food to anyone in need for the last 15 years, and unlike many other organizations who have suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic, they have adapted their procedures to not only continue this vital service throughout 2020-2021, but have improved accessibility to serve those in need during these unprecedented times.
Food Not Bombs is a volunteer-based global grassroots movement which questions and challenges the focus of current federal and global spending, and argues in favour of redirecting those funds towards the eradication of poverty, hunger, food waste, and the promotion of environmental sustainability. The Food Not Bombs website describes the organization as “not a charity but dedicated to taking nonviolent direct action. Our movement has no headquarters or positions of leadership and we use the process of consensus to make decisions.” This method of operation has been successful and well-received by many, with branches operating in over 1000 cities in 65 countries.
Arthur Newspaper had a chance to discuss the history and goals of the Food Not Bombs movement with one of its co-founders, Keith McHenry. Speaking from his office in Boston, McHenry described the motivation behind the formation of this movement in 1980. “Food Not Bombs originally started with, and still has the same philosophy, that the real solution to hunger and homelessness is to divert money from military spending, particularly here in the U.S., where a little over half of the taxes we pay go to fund the military,” McHenry explained. “That money actually could have been used to do things like provide education, healthcare, housing, food, things that people really need.” McHenry reiterated the importance in not only supporting those experiencing poverty, but also those facing challenges due to natural disasters. “We’re most famous for being the principal people that provided food for the survivors of Katrina in New Orleans,” he explained.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with daily case numbers surging and the emergence of the B.1.1.7 variant, we are facing a global health emergency. While this pandemic may not constitute a “natural disaster”, it is a disaster nonetheless, likely with long term repercussions - one of which is poverty. As the World Bank Group explains, the world’s first Sustainable Development Goal - to eradicate poverty - was on the right track, with rates of poverty steadily declining, for almost 25 years. However, with the emergence of COVID-19, this goal is now suffering a major setback. This virus “has unleashed a worldwide economic disaster whose shock waves continue to spread. Without an adequate global response, the cumulative effects of the pandemic and its economic fallout, armed conflict, and climate change will exact high human and economic costs,” with the effects predicted to be felt throughout the next decade.
Much of the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences have been, and will continue to be, felt in the Peterborough-Nogojiwanong area. Even before the pandemic struck Canada, 15% of Peterborough’s population were classified as low income. Food is often the first necessity to be sacrificed when people experience income precarity or low wages. As Peterborough Public Health explains, “in order to cope with insufficient income, people are forced to cut into their food budget. People may skip meals or fill up on cheap foods." Given recent data on food insecurity in the Peterborough-Nogojiwanong area, accessibility to reliable, healthy food options on a low-income is nearly impossible. The data reveals that “the cost of healthy eating for a family of four in the City and County of Peterborough area was $899/month in 2017, this is 28% of the monthly income of individuals making minimum wage.” Taking into account that a family of four can often include dependents with only some or none of the household members able to work, it is understandable yet alarming that “16.5% of Peterborough households are food insecure.”
It is for that reason that Food Not Bombs’ Peterborough branch has become so necessary, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only do they provide healthy vegetarian or vegan options to anyone in need, but they do so using food that would otherwise have been wasted. Arthur Newspaper had a chance to speak with Food Not Bombs Peterborough’s member Myles Conner to discuss the importance of this movement, and how it has been affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking over the phone from his business, Conner described what the Food Not Bombs movement means to him;
“Food Not Bombs is like a verb. It’s to do something...to get food that would otherwise go to waste, cook it collectively, and serve it for free in public to anyone....It is an opportunity for praxis...Most of us could go and make our own dinner, but that’s not the point. The point is to challenge ourselves to think and work outside of the box and defy the status quo to the end of doing something that’s more genuine and more effective...I think the options that the system gives us for making a living are corrupt and untrue and disenfranchise people around the world and disenfranchise people that don’t exist yet...I view Food Not Bombs as an opportunity not to give back, but to take action.”
Action before the COVID-19 pandemic included free community feasts on Monday nights throughout the year (held every Monday since November 15, 2005), and a weekly potluck on Wednesday evenings from May to November. It could also include food being prepared for social justice events. Beyond the food being prepared, these events were an opportunity for people to share their knowledge, experiences, skills and partake in discussions surrounding the values of the movement. However, the emergence of COVID-19 in Ontario, and subsequent lockdown in March, meant a new plan had to be devised for keeping food accessible, while abiding by public health protocols. This involved speaking with the church they work with to ensure the church and kitchen would be vacant when the Food Not Bombs team would be present. The team was then divided into two groups of four that would work alternating shifts to ensure social distancing could be maintained in the kitchen. With the production of the food sorted, the organization then had to determine how to distribute the food safely.
One of the main priorities in the distribution process was ensuring the meals were accessible to all those in need. Conner explained how they adapted their delivery to accommodate “people who are immunocompromised...because they have the least power in this situation, because they could get killed by this thing...[we are] trying to focus on how to make things as easily accessible and as safe for marginalized people as possible.” In order to do so, the organization created a registration system; “we made a form,” Conner explained. “We post it to our Facebook group...people can call that number on Sundays at noon until Monday at 1, and we would get their order to increase accessibility.” A fellow member of the Peterborough Food Not Bombs group also created posters with the phone number and distributed them throughout the Peterborough-Nogojiwanong area, as many individuals do not have access to, or are not familiar with, social media. Meals are then prepared, and delivered to addresses in reusable food containers. If individuals are uncomfortable with the delivery or do not have a permanent place of residence, the organization also offers two pick up locations; All Saints United Church, and Confederation Park. In doing so, “we’re widening the scope of access for people” Conner explained.
When asked how the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent changes to the operations of Food Not Bombs Peterborough has affected the demand for meals, Conner described it as “a lot more consistent and an increase.” On average, throughout the pandemic, the number of meals Food Not Bombs has been providing on a weekly basis ranges between 60 and 80. Demand reached an all-time high in August and September when upwards of 100 meals were prepared every week. While the organization is pleased they are able to help so many individuals, Conner explained that the restrictions pose a problem in being able to keep up with demand. “We like 80, because we can’t have more people in the kitchen...we just have to roll with the punches.”
Gathering of food has presented another opportunity for the team to roll with the punches. Conner explained how produce is often collected from the farmer’s markets, which close in the winter months. While donations have been smaller, the organization has “a lot of community partners...we’ve been managing to fare quite well. Our bank account is pretty stable, even though it costs us more because we’re doing to-go containers.” There is an advantage to using these containers, as they can be reused; “[volunteers] take it to the church and sanitize it and then we’ll have bags of sanitized, [reusable] containers. Maybe it’s not good value for time, but we want to exist outside of that.”
What Conner does want for the Food Not Bombs movement is creativity and courage. “We need to think outside of the box and have courageous actions and courageous ideas.” He elaborated on the need for individuals who;
“...interrogate our own motivations for why we do what we do and we need to attack all structures of corrupt power, whether they exist in our heads as actions or in external systems. We do a simple action, but it expands into a whole brainstorm of things that could be done differently, which is why Food Not Bombs has started the free store movement...they do Bikes Not Bombs, Homes Not Jails, all these aspects of mutual aid, economics. Food Not Bombs has an economic aid model that supports all aspects of life. That’s what I want. For people to be imaginative and take direction from Indigenous peoples and people of colour and sources of knowledge that are not the ivory tower and people that benefit so much from our corrupt financial system. Those are the biggest things you can do. It’s a movement...We just have to come together to work on these goals together because we share the same values.”
If this movement is of interest to you, or you would like to sign up to receive meals from Food Not Bombs Peterborough, further information on the Food Not Bombs movement and its Peterborough branch can be found below:
The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.
A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!
"Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system."