By Gonzalo Vizcardo
May 27, 2010
This past Monday, Food not Bombs, the international anti-hunger movement started in Cambridge, Mass., celebrated its 30th anniversary. Around the world, over 400 autonomous, all-volunteer Food not Bombs chapters, including over 200 in the United States, collect food that would otherwise go to waste — whether through donations from grocery stores, bakeries, etc., or salvaging it from dumpsters or other ways — and provide free meals in public places.
It seeks to highlight how hunger can persist amid vast wealth, especially when so much of it is directed toward destructive purposes like war, and the group argues that food is a right, not a privilege. By using food that would otherwise go to waste, Food not Bombs tries to bring attention to the pervasive waste of food around us that could be feeding the hungry. A May 2008 United Nations report estimated that American consumers and retailers throw away $48 billion worth of food per year. Timothy Jones, an archeologist at the University of Arizona, puts the figure at around $100 billion.
In February 2006, inspired by the original Cambridge Food not Bombs, as well as Florida Food not Bombs chapters in Gainesville and Orlando, some friends and I decided to start a chapter of our own. We began dumpster-diving and collecting food donations and holding public feedings at the gazebo at Stranahan Park in front of the main library in downtown Fort Lauderdale every Friday at 4 p.m. While small at first, more and more people began showing up, either asking for food or with food donations.
As has been the experience of several Food not Bombs chapters across the country, the city government eventually tried to shut us down. On July 27, 2007, a Fort Lauderdale police officer informed us that providing “social services” in city parks without a permit violates a city ordinance, and that if we did not leave, we would be arrested. We left, but the following Friday, Aug. 3, after an outpouring of community support where over 100 people showed up with banners and instruments, the city backed down, alleging that no such arrest threat had been made the week before and that we were welcome in city parks.
Later, as the “Great Recession” unfolded, we began seeing more people asking for food, including newly laid-off and even homeless former professionals. This highlighted the fact that even though the city had tried to shut us down, it had inadequate resources to help its indigent population. Indeed, Broward County built a homeless shelter a few years ago, only after a landmark lawsuit that prohibited the police from arresting the homeless if no shelter was available.
We continue to serve free meals every week, but still hope and work for a world where our services are not needed. Until then, this and every Friday, we invite you to join us, with food donations or just your appetite.
Gonzalo Vizcardo, a founding member of the Food not Bombs Fort Lauderdale chapter, lives in Boca Raton.