Food Not Bombs Serve Up Local Justice

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Peace is not a relationship of nations. It is a condi –
tion of mind brought about by a serenity of soul. Peace
is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of
mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people.
Jawaharlal Nehru
If more of us valued food and cheer and song above
hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
J. R. R. Tolkien
As I write this contribution to the Public i, the
audio of the first Presidential debate is playing in the
background. To absorb it critically is an exercise in cynicism.
I listen as the incumbent speaks of his profound
respect for human life and desire to help those in need.
I juxtapose his words with his actions, and both with the
weekly actions of a group of community members I
have come to work with.
Champaign-Urbana Food Not Bombs began operating
earlier this year. Every Sunday, volunteers meet at a
local park (after a few hours of preparation) to share a
meal with community members with varying means.
Each week, volunteers collect food that would otherwise
go to waste from various sources in the area. The
Food Not Bombs (FNB) activities rely on a network of
volunteers, food and financial donors, and a seemingly
endless number of hungry people.
There are hundreds of independent FNB organizations
across the world, all of which, with varying mixtures
of the two activities, serve vegetarian meals in
their communities and campaign for causes of peace
and justice. Different local groups operate differently
based on the needs of the community, and the activist
interests of their members. A common understanding of
the uniting FNB principle is summarized nicely by the
San Francisco organization, however:
“We believe that society and government should
value human life over material wealth. Many of the
problems in the world stem from this simple crisis in
values. By giving away free food to people in need in
public spaces we directly dramatize the level of hunger
in this country and the surplus of food being wasted. We
also call attention to the failures of the society to support
those within it while funding the forces of war and
There are a number of regular volunteers that make
Champaign-Urbana FNB happen every
week, with varying backgrounds: some
older community members, some university
students, and even a contingent
of dedicated high schoolers.
I look forward to it every week.
Apart from the wholly rewarding work
of feeding hungry people, the fellowship
of being surrounded by people
who share the simple conjecture that
energies are better spent helping fellow
community members rather than seeking
the accumulation of wealth or waging
of war is a perfect anecdote for the
cynicism that events like Presidential
debates tend to breed. To be in the
presence of people for whom the simple
act of preparing and sharing food is
a powerful political statement is not
simply elevating, but inspiring. I
believe quite strongly that if the
w o r l d ’s political leaders shared the
same dedication to fellow human beings as some of the
high school students I’ve met through Food Not
Bombs, the world would be a far better place.
But FNB isn’t a simple symbolic exercise. I first
became aware of the group at a local community action,
of which the organization was a participant. The volunteers
that make FNB run each week represent a crosssection
of the wide array of community organizations
mobilized for purposes of peace, justice, and equality.
As such, the organization itself represents the very best
the community has to offer in the way of dedication to
these principles, and activism to achieve these ends.
Additionally, the meals themselves allow for dialogue
between segments of the community that would
otherwise not have them. Not only are “we using what
would go to waste in this town, but we are bridging
(societal) boundaries between the homeless, the poor,
and the people with money. Where else can you go to
see a homeless person off of the street striking up a conversation
with a college student or businessman?” Says
Maggie, a CUFNB volunteer.
Food Not Bombs as a new organization is not without
problems. Most pressingly, many of the people who
eat with the group on Sundays are indeed homeless.
Communication between the group and the people who
value its activity the most is, understandably, difficult.
With no phones, internet access, or even fixed avenues
for announcements, it is often difficult for FNB organizers
to judge the needs of this particular segment of
the community. “There’s no way for us to know reliably
what’s happening on the street,” remarks one volunteer.
“Something could happen that effects this whole portion
of the community, and it’s nearly impossible to
keep track, because, after all, who is paying attention?”
Regardless of the difficulties, FNB continues with its
work, and looks forward to expanding its activities and
community interaction. This expansion will be greatly
impacted by the participation of new community members,
whether they simply wish to eat, or additionally
wish to serve or volunteer in some capacity.
Food Not Bombs serves every Sunday at 4:30pm at
Scott Park (corner of 3rd and Springfield). I strongly
encourage you to visit to eat and socialize with the
group, all of whom are remarkably warm and open people.
Also, if you are interested in volunteering, donating
food or money, or have questions, email foodnotbombs@, or visit the CUFNB website at

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