As a member of Food not Bombs Isla Vista, I was really excited for the opportunity to review them in order to see exactly what impacts it has on its surrounding community and as an organization as a whole. FNB is a mutual aid organization that takes donated food or food that would otherwise be thrown out and makes plant-based meals with them in order to combat food insecurity. In Isla Vista, it primarily targets students and the houseless community. There are cooking, cleaning, and serving volunteering shifts that you can sign up for. The organization was started in Massachusetts in the 80’s by anti-nuclear activists Keith McHenry, Jo Swanson, Mira Brown, Susan Eaton, Brian Feigenbaum, C.T. Lawrence Butler, Jessie Constable and Amy Rothstien. It operates primarily in protest of war, poverty, and environmental destruction, and they are dedicated to nonviolent direct action. I started volunteering at during my second year at UCSB and it has been a really great opportunity to use my time to support IV and the people who live in it.
All of the meals made through FNB are plant-based, and consist primarily of food that would have gone to waste. Their mission is that nobody should go hungry when there is such an abundance of food being thrown away. This is what makes their activism model so sustainable. Not only are they prioritizing the consumption of plant-based foods, which in themselves are more sustainable, but they are committed to the recovery of what would be food waste. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, about 1/3 of all foods produced in the world go to waste. Not only does this impact communities in which this food could be incredibly valuable, but uneaten food that is then sent to landfills to rot contributes greatly to the release of greenhouse gases — primarily methane — in to the atmosphere. WWF states, “About 6%-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stop wasting food.” Since they only provide vegan and vegetarian meals, this means they are allowing animal products that are being thrown out to go to waste. However, they mentioned on their website that if someone donates meat, they try to redirect the donation to a charity that is able to serve it. This is for multiple reasons. Not only is it less safe to recover meat and dairy as they may have gone bad, but a large part of their anti-violence message applies to violence against animals, and in turn, the environment.
In this review, I will primarily be talking about the actions of the Isla Vista branch of FNB, but will also mention aspects that are shared by branches nationwide. At the beginning of the chapter, unspoiled food that would otherwise go to waste was collected from dumpsters. Now, FNB receives donations from many booths from the local Goleta Farmers Market, the Isla Vista Food Co-op, and the UCSB AS Food Bank. There are designated pick-up times at places such as the Farmer’s Market where volunteers go and pick up any unsold food. The food is then brought back to Merton Co-op in Isla Vista, where members of the Co-op have allowed FNB to use their kitchens to prepare the food. Pre-COVID, the food would be served buffet style, but nowadays the food is packaged in biodegradable single-use takeaway containers. While this is obviously less sustainable then a buffet with silverware that can be washed after, I don’t believe this has as big of an impact because after COVID, FNB will likely return to their previous distribution methods.
FNB is a franchise activism group, meaning it operates in many locations under individual leadership, however it all supports the incentive of the organization as a whole. There is no leadership, meaning anyone who gets involved is a vital part of the organization, and it operates solely based on volunteers. The IV branch recently received a grant from the Fund for Santa Barbara, which is a, “non-profit community foundation that advances progressive change by strengthening movements for social, political, economic, and environmental justice in the Santa Barbara County region.” FNB was started in 1980 as a protest group against the Seabrook Nuclear power station in New Hampshire in order to, “protest the exploitation of capitalism and investment in the nuclear industry.” Since then, it has grown in protest of war and poverty, under the notion that military spending should be redistributed in order to feed the struggling US population.