Food: A Human Right
By Willow Rudiger
From broccoli to blueberries, tomatoes to avocados, every inch of potential counter space is covered in fresh, organic produce rapidly transforming into voluptuous, vegan fare. Fruit flies, allured by the pungent, earthy smells emanating from the crowded stove, hover over every pile and every dish, avoiding the sticky graves of the dangling fly strips that have already claimed many of their comrades.
Sammy, the 15-pound wonder cat, dances under the feet of the Bellingham Food Not Bombs crew as they slice, dice and stir to the raw punch of punk music playing on the beat-up stereo in the next room. As time passes, three cardboard produce boxes fill with discarded stems, rinds, cores and peelings that eventually will make their way to the compost heap outside.
At 2 p.m. every Sunday in the Food Not Bombs house on North Garden Street, members of the local chapter gather to cook whatever veggies, fruit and bread donations they receive for their weekly food giveaway on the corner of East Holly Street and Railroad Avenue. The majority of donations come from local businesses such as the Community Food Co-op and the Great Harvest Bread Company.
This local anarchistic non-organization works to utilize food resources in the Bellingham community that would otherwise be thrown away. Each week the crew varies in numbers, and they always welcome extra help. Sometimes only one person shows, sometimes a dozen, but the kitchen embraces both old and young, children and parents, and especially college students.
As the time approaches 4 p.m., members load a brigade of bicycles and shopping carts with the steaming-hot meals and parade downtown to the street corner where they set up a community potluck free to anyone who saunters by.
"It's such a simple act," Western junior Kyle Crawford says.
"We're just cooking food and giving it to people. We're not out here to hurt anybody. We're not out here to get money. It just gives all of us an excuse to hang out together and help people at the same time."
Food Not Bombs is not an organization; it is a revolution, a solidarity movement capturing the heart of downtown Bellingham, as well as other cities worldwide. This peaceful movement against war and poverty is rooted in the belief that food is an essential human right, not a privilege. The movement has no formal leaders or founders and rejects the hierarchal order that governs many aspects of Western culture.
Every chapter is autonomous and receives its food either through donations from local businesses, by gleaning produce from local farms or salvaging food from dumpsters.
Brad Sukolsky, 27, an original member of the Bellingham chapter that launched in 2003, says Food Not Bombs holds roots in the 1980s Boston area and originally began as a street performance by anti-nuclear activists.
"Food Not Bombs is more like a dance than an organization," Sukolsky says. "Everyone can learn the steps, and everyone does it a little different."
Brandy Henry, 27, another member of the Bellingham chapter, says community members who encounter Food Not Bombs downtown for the first time often are taken aback by the realization that the group offers food without asking for anything in return and without pushing any particular political, social or religious views on passersby.
"Everyone just helps themselves," Henry says. "A lot of times when you go to places that serve food down on the street, there's that line between 'us and them,' between the people who cook the food and the people who eat the food."
Crawford says the fact that people help themselves instead of someone serving them brings more humanity to the act of sharing food.
"We're taught not to rely on people," Crawford says. "We're taught to make sure we can do it on our own, to suffer before asking somebody for some food. I say take whatever food you want. Take all the guacamole if you want, or all the mashed potatoes."
Robert Lowe, 45, attends the weekly gathering downtown on Sundays, and has for the past three years that it's been in existence, because of the friendly, community feel.
"If you saw any of these folks later on down the street, they would say 'Hi! How ya doing?'" Lowe says as he munches on a veggie stir-fry. "It's not the kind of thing where I'm only supposed to see you at four o'clock on Sundays."
By 4:30 p.m. the food has vanished. People say goodbye, and the cart-and-bike brigade heads back to the Food Not Bombs house. No one knows what mouth-watering meals will be served up next week; donations change each week and so do the soups, stir-frys, dips and baked goodies that materialize. No one is thinking about the food though. Connections were made, and a community was strengthened. That is what it is all about.
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