In February, the city of Middletown served our local Food Not Bombs chapter with a cease and desist order, telling Food Not Bombs that we had to immediately stop serving food or face legal action. Acting in the tradition of Food Not Bombs since its founding in 1988, last Sunday we ate as usual at 12:45 P.M. outside the Buttonwood Tree at Main Street and Liberty Street. (In the interest of full disclosure I am a member of Middletown Food Not Bombs, and this article is purely my opinion on the matter).
The city has issued this order at the time when the free, healthy meals provided by Food Not Bombs are more important than ever. Food Not Bombs is an international organization, dedicated to redistributing food, and cooking free meals for anyone who wants them. However, Food Not Bombs is not just another charity organization. Rather, we function within a wider ideology of social justice that supports fairness, autonomy, and direct action. We see food security as an essential part of a fair and just society.
With foreclosures up 30% in February and an unemployment rate nearing 10%, people are hurting. Many could use a free meal to help them through the week. As people lose their jobs and are forced to buy food on a tighter budget, they, rationally, end up buying food with the most calories per dollar. Sadly, these foods are usually the most unhealthy, made primarily from corn and soybeans (and meat from animals fed corn and soy), which are heavily subsidized by the government. Food Not Bombs serves exclusively vegetarian food, including the surplus leftover from the Wesleyan veggie co-op. We also give out any leftover food we have, often handing out dozens of grapefruits, apples, or bunches of greens, allowing people to cook with fresh organic food throughout the week at no cost. Yet it is in the midst of this recession that the city decides to crack down on a group that has been operating effectively, with no problems, for years.
The regulations that Food Not Bombs has been accused of violating (serving food without a food serving permit) were created to regulate larger scale operations, especially for profit ones. No one believes that restaurants that sell food should be unregulated and allowed to serve any food they want, but Food Not Bombs functions in an entirely different way. We are not selling food for a profit, and we do not benefit in any material way from our actions. We view Food Not bombs as a system to share food with our friends that would have gone to waste, and we have developed relationships with many of the regulars that we feed every Sunday. All of the members of Food Not Bombs eat the food we cook — it’s generally better than Usdan brunch.
In other cities such as Orlando, whose Food Not Bombs chapter has faced a great deal of repression, the issue was not focused around food distribution. It was instead reactionary indignation over the fact that they brought poor and homeless people into the public eye, instead of keeping them hidden and ghettoized. This is part of the reason Food Not Bombs groups around the country have generally refused to cooperate with local governments. The other reason Food Not Bombs refuses to be a permitted activity is that we do not believe that we need permission from the government to share food. Sharing food is one of the most basic elements of a community and should not be restricted or regulated. However we have agreed to take certain steps in line with regulations because we believe that the action of redistributing food is more important than our ideological stance.
Please come out and support Food Not Bombs in our simple mission of feeding people. We eat at the corner of Main Street and Liberty Street at 12:45 P.M.. Come help us cook, or just come share a free meal. Either way, we’d love to see you and share some food!