In Cambridge in the 1980s, a group of anti-nuclear activists who were protesting the nearby Seabrook power plant began spray painting the slogan “Money for Food Not Bombs” on local buildings. This slogan was later shortened to “Food Not Bombs” and adopted by a local activist group that supports homeless people.
As an activist group, Food Not Bombs (FNB) first put its slogan into action by distributing free food outside of a meeting of bankers in Boston who were financing the nuclear industry. They distributed vegetarian food including soup, beans, vegetables, fruit and bread to over 300 homeless people following the rally. This community action was so successful and well received that the group began to pass out hot meals regularly. Thus Food Not Bombs’ mission of feeding people on the street was born.
FNB collected surplus grocery store food to prepare their meals. They distributed food to several public housing projects in Boston and Cambridge. FNB also established a hot meals program on the Cambridge Commons. This program was later expanded to include the Boston Common.
Some thirty years later, these meals programs continue to serve local people who do not have a place to cook home meals. With the reconstruction of the Cambridge Commons, the Cambridge meals site moved to the public park at River Street and Massachusetts Avenue, in Central Square.
Food Not Bombs Boston got its start in the anti-nuclear rallies of the 1980s, like the one at Seabrook described earlier. A core of group of five people provided the initial leadership for FNB Boston through the 1990s. One of its core leaders was the late Civil Rights activist Eric Weinberger.
Eric was a Civil Rights activist who joined Martin Luther King Jr. in the marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. A decade later, Eric protested the 1977 construction of Seabrook nuclear power plant and the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. Mr. Weinberger worked at FNB for over two decades cooking and sharing food, as well as teaching community non-violent social change to the hungry of Boston.
Eric met several people at the protest who joined him in founding FNB. For instance, Weinberger collaborated with Keith McHenry, a man who studied with BU professor Howard Zinn. McHenry became active with the Clamshell Alliance, who also protested the opening of Seabrook. McHenry also founded the Independent Media Center (Indymedia). Furthermore, Weinberger partnered with C.T. Lawrence Butler, an independent theater producer and author of hunger and consensus building books. After his work with FNB, Butler organized non-violence and formal consensus workshops. The fourth member of the FNB core group was artist Brian Feigenbaum. Feigenbaum was a dancer who later went on to organize dance companies and teach workshops at several venues, including the Lawrence Academy and the Granite State Ballet School. The fifth member of the FNB core group was artist and actress Susan Eaton. Eaton developed a freelance artist business working with children in Cambridge, and later led weekend workshops and the summer camp at Dance New England.
2000 to PRESENT
Following the turn of the millennium, the FNB core members all left to pursue outside person and career interests. These people continued to work towards their focus of non-violent social change, but on an individual level. By this time, Weinberger was the only FNB core member who continued to cook and share food with the homeless.
Keith McHenry and his wife traveled south and then settled in San Francisco. McHenry became active on the west coast protesting Desert Storm, along with the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. He was arrested three times by the S.F. police between 1990 and 2000. C.T. Lawrence Butler was appointed to the Commission of Peace Education and Nuclear Disarmament by the City of Cambridge. In 1987 he wrote his first book, “On Conflicts and Consensus.” These two former FNB core members recruited people to start chapters of Food Not Bombs outside of Boston.
Unfortunately, in 2006 the FNB organization lost a great leader with the death of Civil Rights and community activist Eric Weinberger. Eric died in Boston, the city that he called home for over 30 years.
I went to the Food Not Bombs Central Square meal site on a recent Sunday. There I talked with the new group of the Boston chapter’s core leaders: Brandon, the site coordinator, and Jeff, who served hot food. During the visit, I also spoke with a meal program member.
Robert: How many sites does FNB operate?
Brandon: We operate two meal sites. We run a site located at the public park at River Street and Massachusetts Avenue. We move across the street, under the entrance to Leader Bank in winter. We also operate a meal site at Park Street station.
Robert: How do these sites differ?
Brandon: Park Street is a cozier space and attracts over 30 people weekly. People feel more receptive since it is not directly near auto and truck traffic. We sometimes have music accompaniment. Central Square is right next to the traffic and serves more homeless or low-income people.
Robert: How do you prepare and transport the food?
Brandon: We have two spaces utilized to prepare the food. The Park Street food is cooked at a community center in JP. The Central Square food is cooked at an Allston community house. In the near future we will be looking for a Cambridge co-op house where we can prepare food. We prepare the food early the same day and transport it by large bikes that have a unit on wheels. We usually come to each site with 4 to 6 people on bikes that carry food and equipment.
Robert: Can you describe your group?
Brandon: We are a non-violent social change organization. We are committed to helping low-income and homeless people. Our meal sites consist of men and women working together in a non sexist environment.
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Robert: How has Food Not Bomb’s focus of cooking and sharing food with people changed?
Jeff: Our food focus has shifted to food sustainability. This means implementing strategies that cover farm production [on national-state levels] that goes directly to FNB. We have shifted away from grocery surplus food to new locally grown food.
Robert: What are your food sources now compared to when you first started?
Jeff: We have shifted towards locally grown food. We have two partnerships with Red Fire Farm and the Cambridge Food for Free. Food for Free supplies us with surplus Massachusetts grown produce and potatoes. Food for Free provides us with surplus from several sources including fresh bread, fruit and vegetables left out for site members to take home. They also supply us with organic surplus vegetables from Amherst-based Enterprise Farms.
Robert: Do you still use grocery food?
Jeff: We have cut back grocery foods and use them more in the winter and in soups and stews.
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Robert: How do you like the Food Not Bombs meal program?
Site Visitor: FNB serves everyone who wants food. They never turn anyone away and serve all races. Some of our local churches turn people away.
Robert: I understand that many churches have rules that turn people off. Many church programs have an attitude that is counterproductive to their philosophy of helping people.
Site Visitor: The food is simple and generally very good. I like the food here better than some of our local churches.
Food Not Bombs provides an essential service, cooking and sharing food in a no-violent environment for homeless and low-income people. FNB serves all people and does not turn anyone away. They also leave out quality surplus bread and pastries, along with seasonal vegetables for people to take home.
In the midst of the Sunday hustle of auto traffic, I share a very high quality, tasteful, and simple lunch meal of mashed potatoes seasoned with salt and pepper along with an excellent cabbage and red-orange bell pepper stir-fry. Chef Sondak gives FNB in Central Square a thumbs up for creating and serving a high quality meal while utilizing locally grown and in some cases organic vegetables, with minimal grocery store food. The potatoes and stir fry vegetables came from Red Fire Farms, which represents a very large Cambridge-based Community Support Agriculture (CSA), along with Enterprise Farms, which has a large CSA capacity for organic vegetables.
While selling Spare Change News, I have met several people who belong to Enterprise Farms and have like their food selection very much. I am very impressed that FNB has shifted its food focus concentrating on sustainability and locally grown produce. I have written this article to better inform Spare Change readers and the general public about how FNB is cooking and sharing food with homeless and low-income people. In my professional opinion, their food is of very high quality, maybe even better than that served by some of the Cambridge churches’ hot meals programs.
Robert Sondak is a Spare Change vendor and writer. Robert studied Food Science and Dietetics at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Robert also worked as a nutrition intern for the old Boston Food Bank in Jackson Square. Currently, Robert serves as the Executive Director of the Nutrition Education Outreach Project.