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Food Not Bombs

 Megaphone (Canada) 11 June 2019

(Originally published: 07/2009) Have you ever wondered what happened to that bruised apple you passed up at the grocery store? Chances are it was thrown away before it had a chance to even go bad. But thanks to the Vancouver chapter of Food Not Bombs, bruised apples may end up in a pot or on a cutting board in a homeless shelter. Food Not Bombs (FNB) is a grassroots activist organization started in 1980 by American anti-nuclear activists who recovered and served food that would otherwise be thrown away as a form of non-violent protest. The organization has since grown into hundreds of autonomous chapters all over the world, each supporting activist campaigns like the anti-war, anti-homelessness, anti-hunger and anti-animal cruelty movements. Katie Hyslop visits the Vancouver branch of Food Not Bombs. (774 words) - By Katie Hyslop

Have you ever wondered what happened to that bruised apple you passed up at the grocery store? Chances are it was thrown away before it had a chance to even go bad. But thanks to the Vancouver chapter of Food Not Bombs, bruised apples may end up in a pot or on a cutting board in the Downtown Eastside.

Food Not Bombs (FNB) is a grassroots activist organization started in 1980 by American anti-nuclear activists who recovered and served food that would otherwise be thrown away as a form of non-violent protest.

The organization has since grown into hundreds of autonomous chapters all over the world, each supporting activist campaigns like the anti-war, anti-homelessness, anti-hunger and anti-animal cruelty movements.

The Vancouver FNB chapter has no specific activist mandate-when I joined FNB in January, I had no idea there was more to the organization than cooking vegetarian meals and serving them to DTES residents. But the group adheres to three basic principles, followed by all FNB chapters: "Reusing or up-cycling food, vegetarianism and consensus decision making," said Lelani Fairweather, a volunteer with the Vancouver chapter since last summer.

FNB gets most of its food donated from Sunrise Market in the DTES, as well as from bakeries in the greater Vancouver area. Volunteers pick up the food every Friday and cook it on Saturday.

Preparation begins at the Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA) building at 16 E. Hastings at 1:30 p.m. and the food is served outside the building at 4:30 p.m.

Participation fluctuates, with close to 20 people cooking one Saturday and only three the next.

Because the food is saved from the dumpster, the quality and variety are not always ideal. 'Don't serve something you wouldn't eat,' tends to be the rule of thumb.

"But in a way it's kind of made me eat more stuff that I would have thrown away [before]. To be like 'you can just cut it off,'" said Fairweather.

"Definitely I try to throw away stuff that's really gross-like if you stuck your hand right through a tomato, then throw it away!"

FNB Vancouver has also served at protests and other demonstrations such as an Olympic Resistance Movement protest in March, the UBC Farm Trek in April, and has plans to serve at the upcoming Vancouver Anarchist Book Fair in June.

But serving in the DTES has set FNB Vancouver apart from some other FNB chapters.

"[Some] activists don't like Food Not Bombs in Vancouver because we're like a soup kitchen, because there's supposed to be no divide between the people that cook and the people that serve and the people that eat, and with us, unfortunately, there is," Fairweather explained. "But also it's a necessity-we can't change."

Other FNB chapters, like the one in Victoria, encourage people to cook the food for themselves-something difficult to do in the DTES.

"We can't do that," said Fairweather, "I saw someone steal a tub of margarine and start eating it one day."

While she accepts the role FNB plays in the DTES, Fairweather wishes the message behind FNB resonated more with its patrons.

"I wish it was more anti-consumerism," she explained. "They just wait to get their food, they don't know where their food is coming from or what's in it really, and they just throw their plate on the ground."

Volunteers estimate they serve 100 to 150 people if the weather is nice, and despite the "soup kitchen" appearance, volunteers stress the food is open to everyone.

"Anyone who wants vegetarian food and is hungry is welcome to it," said volunteer Yifan Li. "We get mostly homeless people from the Downtown Eastside, but sometimes you also see some people who look like they're better off, and that's okay-the whole idea behind the organization is if you're hungry you deserve some food."

But how tasty is FNB food? For some FNB patrons, it's a welcome change from the everyday.

Others, like Portland Hotel resident Sonya McGraw, were more positive: "We get lunch [at the hotel] everyday. This is way better. We've had the same menu for two years."

Volunteers make sure to feed themselves as well, and are encouraged to take home whatever they need-I haven't bought bread in months, and I always leave FNB with a full stomach.

But FNB is not all about food and activism. It's about the people you meet, the conversations you have and the occasional rocking-out to Dance Mix 93.

"Everyone has fun, and it's such an awesome group of people that I would be sad not going to Food Not Bombs now," said Fairweather. "I'd really miss everyone."

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