Keith McHenry has been arrested about 175 times in his 31 years working with the activist group Food Not Bombs, which he co-founded. He has been blacklisted, put on the FBI’s most watched list and been accused of being a terrorist. McHenry and FNB protest nonviolently by sharing literature and handing out food for free. They want to create a society where people have a right to food.
McHenry is the co-author of “Food Not Bombs: How to Feed the Hungry and Build Communities” and he tours around the world to speak about the movement. FNB has been around for 31 years and on April 11, McHenry came to Pacific to speak about the group, his countless arrests and his various experiences in protesting against war and poverty.
In 1980 at the age of 23, McHenry and seven friends started the first FNB chapter in Cambridge, Mass. The group would collect food from grocery stores and markets that would otherwise go to waste and they would share it with the homeless and people in poverty. McHenry said FNB operates under the principles that food must be vegan or vegetarian and free to everyone. Each chapter is independent, autonomous and they are dedicated to nonviolent direct action.
Eight years after McHenry co-founded FNB, he moved to San Francisco to start the group’s second chapter. McHenry has countless stories of protests he was involved with, most of them ended with him being arrested such as in 1995, under California’s Three Strikes Law he faced 25 to life in prison, but was eventually released. McHenry joked that people forgot about him because his trial started the same day O.J. Simpson’s did.
Members of FNB aren’t being arrested for serving free food without a permit, it’s because they are sending a message with literature and banners when they do so. McHenry said that when the public see’s the group feeding people and forming connections, they create the fear that the public will demand money from other things like military spending go toward feeding people.
The FNB co-founder told of events when the group served food at Golden Gate Park, as well as the time when they served food to homeless in front of City Hall for 27 days. Other services included feeding the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, helping feed people after Hurricane Katrina and a protest movement in poverty stricken Nigeria.
Today FNB is in more than 500 cities in the U.S., and foreign countries including Romania, Ireland, Poland, Italy, Serbia and Israel. Those looking for more information or ways to getting involved with FNB, can visit foodnotbombs.net.
The visit by McHenry was sponsored by Pacific’s Environmental Studies and Politics and Government Departments, Center for Civic Engagement, Students for Environmental Action and Pacific for the Dignity of Animals.