Food is a right, not a privilege, says Amanda Sisenstein of the New Paltz branch of Food Not Bombs. The group organizes a community meal on Main Street in front of the parking lot across from Wells Fargo Bank every Wednesday at approximately 5-5:30 p.m. (When winter arrives, the gathering is inside Snugs bar.) Organized in 2012, the local group has been on a break for purposes of reorganization but is back now, and looking for more people to help source food and cook in order to continue sharing food at the weekly gatherings.
The community meals are for everyone, not just the needy. “We just enjoy each other’s company, and share some food,” says Sisenstein. “If you happen to be in need, or if you just happen to be hungry at the moment, that’s cool, too; come hang out. It’s about community and just the direct action of feeding people in public.”
As many as 25-30 people generally stop by for the meal. The food on a recent Wednesday evening included hot and cold dishes. There was hummus-like Baba Ganoush, crackers and bread and a cold cucumber, beets and dill salad among the offerings. All the events are alcohol and drug-free.
Sisenstein works full-time as a farmhand at Huguenot Street Farms. She and another member of the Food Not Bombs network, farmer Alex Krusen, collect the leftover produce from the farm for the community meal during the farm season, after the members of the CSA take their food shares. In addition, food is obtained through donation from a variety of resources. Sometimes it’s prepared food from an event that went untouched that would have been discarded otherwise, collected by a volunteer for distribution to the group. In other cases it’s still-edible food from a bakery or store with a “use-by” date or damaged packaging that prevents it being sold.
Restaurants are often leery of donating leftover food because of liability concerns, says Sisenstein. But, she adds, there is a “Good Samaritan” law that protects individuals or businesses who donate food with good intentions. The law she is referring to is the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act signed on October 1, 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton, enacted to encourage the donation of food to nonprofit organizations for distribution to the needy. A copy of the law is available under the “FAQ” tab at www.FoodNotBombs.net. The law protects food donors from civil and criminal liability “should the product donated in good faith later cause harm to the needy recipient.”
But the community meals are not just for the needy and the literature for the group states that it’s about “solidarity, not charity.” While Food Not Bombs is not acting for profit in any way, they are also not a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt organization. According to their website, the group is not interested in being regulated by the IRS as an official nonprofit limited by government regulations. Rather, they operate independently to recover surplus food from the waste-stream and redistribute it “in protest to war, poverty and the destruction of the environment.”
Statements on the national group’s website elaborate. “Food recovery is the backbone of the Food Not Bombs operation. Every business in the food industry is a potential source of recoverable food, from wholesale to retail and from production to distribution. We recover food that would have been discarded and share it as a way of protesting war and poverty. With 50 cents of every U.S. federal tax dollar going to the military and 40 percent of our food being discarded while so many people are struggling to feed their families, we can inspire the public to press for military spending to be redirected to human needs. We also reduce food waste and meet the direct need of our community by preparing vegan meals that we share with the hungry while providing literature about the need to change our society. Food Not Bombs also provides food to protesters and striking workers and organizes food relief after natural and political crisis.” According to their literature, those past events have included feeding relief workers in New York after 9/11 and supporting Occupy Wall Street kitchens as well as those of other “Occupy” endeavors.
Food Not Bombs is an all-volunteer movement first initiated by eight anti-nuclear activists in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1980. When one of the group was arrested at an anti-nuclear rally in New Hampshire that May, bake sales were held to raise money for his defense. A year later, the group shared food at their first Food Not Bombs protest action against the local nuclear industry, “dressing as hobos and setting up a soup kitchen “ outside a Bank of Boston stockholders meeting with the message that “their policies could cause another Great Depression.” More than 50 people came to eat.
Sharing food amongst themselves and with others while protesting became a regular occurrence for the group. The “Food Not Bombs” designation was made in 1981. By 1992, Food Not Bombs established three principles they continue to live by: free vegetarian or vegan meals for anybody, without restriction; dedication to nonviolent direct action; and every group remaining autonomous without leaders, using consensus to make decisions.
New Paltz Food Not Bombs is a project of the De Facto Community Center Project. More information is available on Facebook or by contacting email@example.com.