By Louise Williams
“Food is a privilege and not a right in this country and that’s a problem,” said Michael Gray, a Pitzer junior and impassioned activist who works to bring awareness to food injustice to the Claremont community.
Alongside Gray, close-knit group of Pitzer College students are uniting under the banner of Food Not Bombs to tackle hunger. Weekly, they recover food to cook and serve in front of Pomona’s City Hall for free. Their aim is to call attention to poverty, homelessness, and wastefulness-matters that aren’t very visible within the college campus bubble. Using resourceful and alternative methods, they are helping to bring this little acknowledged issue to the forefront.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO), hunger remains world’s number one health risk. While in this land of expansive cornfields, 64-ounce sodas and high obesity it may seem as though a lack of food is not an issue, the UNFAO states 20 million Americans struggle yearly to put food on the table.
Food Not Bombs (FNB) is a movement started in 1980 by anti-nuclear activists in Massachusetts. It “is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to nonviolent social change,” which “recovers and shares free vegan or vegetarian food with the public without restriction in over 1,000 cities around the world to protest war, poverty and the destruction of the environment.” They are committed “to the fact that food is a right and not a privilege. With over a billion people going hungry each day how can we spend another dollar on war?” FNB functions more as a doctrine than an official organization. Each collective is autonomous but adheres to the movement’s core principles and carries out the mission distinctly.
The FNB on campus is not an official school club. Instead, it’s an independent collaborative effort that relies on people who are dedicated to this issue. There’s no leadership hierarchy, instead decisions are made based on group consensus. They organize informally via text and email, and meet once a month to check-in. Each member contributes however and whenever they can.
Started by Claremont students in 2004, the Pomona chapter is one of the most active divisions in the Inland Empire. Pitzer junior and volunteer Leora Paradise said that this autonomy is what gives them the freedom to be so effective. “When we became an official club, all the sudden all the bureaucracy that comes with being institutionalized then applied to us.” Having the college association brought on dealings with legal liabilities, health code certifications and complicated their freedom to provide meals at protests, which they also sometimes to do.
No Pitzer ties though means no Pitzer money. Without school funding, they utilize creative and environmentally conscious strategies to gather food. While occasionally they get produce from extra dinning hall meals donated by peers, they usually go straight for dumpster diving.
The term might evoke the image of students muddling in garbage bins, draped in flies and banana peels, hording moldy peaches to dice up and serve to the unknowing hungry; but, the picture painted by Paradise is much more reassuring. Their main dive spot is the local Sprouts supermarket. In the back alley they find crates of food stacked around overflowing dumpsters, shopping carts filled with boxes of strawberries and cartons of eggs. Gray emphasized that you can pretty much find anything you want amongst the hundreds of pounds of food disposed of in the area.
Dumpster diving itself is a national trend. Internet searches will conjure up Facebook groups organizing meet ups that attract people from all walks of life who are dedicated to recycling and acquiring free food. Health code politics and liability issues incline supermarkets to dispose of perfectly fine groceries for their own protection. People are now starting to address these wasteful policies and organizations like FNB have always encouraged it.
This national food waste issue captured headlines recently with a study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council in August. The findings detailed that Americans waste 33 million tons of food which yearly amounts to $165 billion worth and accounts 40 percent of the country’s food supply. They calculated that a mere 15 percent reduction in losses would save enough to feed 25 million Americans.
Further than just working to alleviate hunger and wastefulness in the Claremont community through FNB, the Pitzer volunteers practice what they preach. Members Paradise, Gray and Marc Litcherman live together behind Sprouts, which gives them convenient access to the gold mine of free produce. Gray details how, “we’ve fed out entire house since June 1st all from the Sprouts dumpster and now we provide groceries to ten households weekly, just from food that we dumpster in one night.”
While there are no formal leaders within the group, these three can best be described as those who took the reigns from their predecessors. The movement has been sustained through a social network of people who share a common lifestyle and beliefs. Paradise details that for many, FNB serves as a community for those interested in more radical politics. These political connotations that come with the FNB label further complicate the group’s relationship with Pitzer. “The college isn’t necessarily interested in the political aims of Food Not Bombs,” said Paradise.
With the FNB ideology exhibiting a form of franchise activism, it has always been entrenched in controversy. Chapters everywhere have been faced with resistance from local officials. The organizations heavy involvement in supporting Occupy Wall Street has brewed trouble recently. Marc articulates that, “the institutional and legal barriers to serving free food to people are very high,” and their own collective has also had to deal with hostility. Michael describes that while serving food in Pomona, they are often harassed and faced with a police presence. They have even had homeless individuals arrested for receiving their meals.
The existence of such obstacles is part of what motivates this group to stay committed to their values. As long as there are dumpsters overflowing with food and hungry mouths to feed, they will remain diving.