Hungry for Peace?

One of the reasons I’m a staunch opponent of reformist techniques is because they inevitably increase your opportunity costs. To paraphrase Larken Rose, most “activism” does less than no good because it usually tends to actually feed the beast that is the government. Despite this, there have been freelance propagandists who have benefited greatly from what could be described as “franchise activism,” if for no other reason that to reinforce the society of the spectacle.



Food Not Bombs (FNB) began in 1980 when eight friends decided to stage a Great Depression-era soup kitchen line outside the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire. Not long after, FNB began supplying protesters at various marches and rallies with vegan and vegetarian meals collected from surplus food. Feeding the mind as well as the body has been a staple of FNB from the beginning, as can be observed from their flyers that they usually place on the same table they serve their food from.

Throughout this manual, Keith McHenry (one of the eight co-founders) very repetitively claims that half of the federal income tax is allocated towards the warfare state; ergo, what we need is food and not bombs. He bases his assertion on the War Resister League’s annual Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes pie chart, which itself relies upon the Budget of the United States Government as written by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Unfortunately, WRL measures the allocation of total federal outlays differently than OMB does, and since one of the core goals of Food Not Bombs is to delegitimize military spending, I think detailing the truth of the matter is necessary, especially in light of the constitutional limit on the United States Congress to always be transparent about the federal budget (pursuant to Art. I § 9 cl. 7).

WRL distinguishes between the federal funds from the “trust funds” of welfare handouts such as Social Security; their reasoning is that the funding for these handouts are collected from taxes different from the federal income tax, and so therefore skew the percentages of total federal outlays. According to the WRL, total federal outlays for FY 2013 were $2.8 trillion, 47% of which went to the military. While this is the figure McHenry uses to justify his Food Not Bombs literature, I doubt how this is even mathematically possible.

Chiefly, the problem appears to be that among the various government budget data sets, none of the amounts are the same, regardless of whether they are receipts or outlays. For instance, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)’s budgetary projections, OMB’s Budget of the United States Government, and the Bureau of the Fiscal Service (BFS)’s Financial Report of the United States Government clearly stated that individual income tax receipts for FY 2013 are $1,316,405,000,000, $1,359,000,000,000, and $2,196,000,000,000, respectively. Total military outlays were $626,000,000,000, $851,000,000,000, and $930,300,000,000, respectively.

When measuring either the receipts or outlays of the federal budget, it all comes down to how you are measuring it; yet, if the very same line items turn out dissimilar figures, it becomes noticeably harder to draw conclusions from them. For instance, the CBO, OMB, and BFS data sets showed that total federal outlays for FY 2013 were $3,455,000,000,000, $3,803,000,000,000, and $3,656,600,000,000, respectively. Converting total military spending relative to total federal outlays into a percentage was nowhere near half, not even if I factored out Social Security, as WRL did. The percentage range I calculated was that total military spending was anywhere between 18 – 25 % of total federal outlays, and 23 – 33% if you factored out Social Security alone. How WRL got 47% I literally have no idea, unless they also factored out Medicare and Medicaid, which is arguably possible, but unlikely. Had McHenry said in his manual that a quarter of the federal budget is spent on the military, I think he would have held the government dead to rights all the while holding any misinformation at bay.

If FNB were to be described as anything, it would be a friendly society, perhaps even mutualist in nature. McHenry says:


“Food recovery is a core feature of the Food Not Bombs project. One of the byproducts of our program is the reduction of waste in our society…[s]tudies show that over $100 billion dollars worth of edible goods was discarded in the United States every year during the first decade of the 21st century. As much as 40 percent of all food is wasted in the United States. The United Nations reports that there is enough discarded food to feed all one billion people that go to sleep hungry each night.”


Although I think that 40% figure is an exaggeration, I will abstain from broaching that right now for the sake of brevity; suffice it to say, if FNB’s reliance on WRL’s interpretation of OMB’s budgetary tables are as badly skewed as I have expressed concern over, then why should I suspend disbelief when McHenry pulls out yet another very questionable statistic? McHenry continues:


“It is almost never necessary to dive into dumpsters, and doing so deprives your group of developing a relationship with people that work in the food industry. There is rarely any reason to rummage through dumpsters because there is so much better food available by talking with those responsible for discarding the surplus food.”


Wow, what a slap in the face towards your fellow comrades there, McHenry. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say McHenry was more worried about the public image of FNB rather than successfully delegitimizing the very government that is dropping bombs on people in the first place. As he says:


“Because we have always approached our work as theater, it has always been easy to adapt to various situations. Our theater is designed to help the public recognize and value the interconnectedness of all progressive issues. We try to expose how the policies of consumerism, militarism and imperialism affect our everyday lives from our diet and the items we choose to buy, to the policies supported by our taxes like the use of nuclear weapons for ‘defense,’ promotion of genetically modified foods, and a police system that imprisons millions while denying millions more access to education. Our theater also encourages the public to withhold its cooperation and support of the dominant political and economic system while participating in nonviolent direct action and other protests. When we participate in an event highlighting a particular issue, we try to show how it connects with the other issues Food Not Bombs is organizing around. Food is often an excellent way to show the connections between our daily choices and their relationship to the government and corporate policies that are threatening our future.”


Wait, did McHenry really just say that FNB’s food sharing is nothing more than a theatrical street performance? If so, that would seem to imply that “sharing meals” is simply a recurring propaganda of the deed. Even so, this would also mean that FNB’s food sharing is also a vehicle for their leafleting, as a sort of freebie come-on. McHenry goes on to say that:


“The impact can be profound. Even the impression made on a pedestrian seeing a line of 200 hungry people before a banner stating ‘Food Not Bombs’ can be so powerfully felt that the witness will have a deep and lasting understanding of our message. So strong is the impression that they are more likely to take action. So strong, that the state is worried that the experience could lead to public outrage or worse, rebellion and an end to their control.”


Apparently, McHenry is all about “getting the message out,” but how important is that “message” if its laced with misinformation? But I digress.

The legality of food sharing is just like the legality of dumpster diving; it is a legal grey area because it greatly depends on a combination of municipal ordinances, county ordinances, & ultimately state code. Redundantly telling the tale of the 1988 San Francisco arrests, McHenry points out that the three most common legal grey areas FNB has encountered in her history were vending food without a permit, distributing literature while sharing food, and being unjustly profiled as so-called “domestic terrorists” by the American secret police. Typically at some point, the local American gendarmerie would claim that FNB was violating food safety standards, which were usually inapplicable anyway because FNB was not selling the food, at all!

One of the three core principles of Food Not Bombs is their absolute commitment to pacifism, or as they prefer to call it, “nonviolence.” As McHenry explains:


“It has been a common strategy of the powerful to project themselves as unreasonable and so disrespectful that their opponents believe them to be so evil that any action is justified in resisting their policies. If they succeed, your group will lose its sense of dignity, take extreme actions that can be used to justify repression, and cause your campaign to lose its self-respect. If the community sees that your group is maintaining respect and taking persistent dignified action, even though it is facing violence, dishonesty, and even prison and death, you will undermine the power of your opponent and draw popular support for your cause. It is often at the point when an opponent is most brutal and is unable to undermine the self respect and dignity of your group that the opponent believes it must capitulate to the demands of the campaign.”


Here, just like his earlier paranoia about police informants, McHenry believes that speaking truth to power alone is sufficient for resistance because he thinks it is inevitable that they will be converted. Nothing could be more laughably absurd, and reveals a dangerous ignorance of the lessons from history that humanity should have learned by now. Speaking truth to power is certainly useful in the early stages of a conflict, but it didn’t save those who were relentlessly tortured at Abu Gharib.

If McHenry’s claim that a “campaign of violence” scares people into the arms of their rulers, then therefore all of the guerrilla warfare literature (as well as those works on just war theory) are all completely wrong. McHenry’s advocacy of strictly peaceful direct actions brazenly contradict the operations of the Irish, French, and Polish underground resistances from last century when well in excess of over 144,000,000 people were murdered by their own governments, not including war. It is almost as if McHenry, much like the Free State Project Board of Trustees, is trying to propagandize the notion that anyone who merely talks about the use of force, including self-defense, is automatically an agent provocateur who is “advocating violence.” The truth of the matter here is that a paranoid habit of overly strict peaceful direct action in fact socially engineers and indoctrinates people to avoid self-defense, even in the face of imminent death. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like freedom to me.

Keith McHenry’s Hungry for Peace: How You Can Help End Poverty and War with Food Not Bombs is a nearly complete waste of time. Sure, there are organizational and advertising tips that could be beneficial to a local Committee of Safety, and the cooking recipes themselves looked quite appetizing, but other than that, this manual is designed for people who appear to tacitly support the welfare state. Interestingly enough, McHenry also said that:


“In general, Food Not Bombs believes that our work does not require any permits. However, the city or the police often use the permit issue as a way to attempt to harass your chapter into shutting down your meal. Therefore, it is sometimes a good idea to have a fully equipped field kitchen to take away their excuse that you may be violating a food sanitation law. There may still be attempts to shut you down, but you can point out that it is not a health but a political issue which they are raising. It is the Food Not Bombs position that we have a right to give away free food any time, in any public space, without any permission from the state.”


Now, while McHenry might have sounded like a philosophically grounded anarchist of some flavor, I sincerely doubt that to be the case due his overly pedantic cries for increased spending on “education” and “healthcare.” If he thinks that the government schools and the individual mandate are what he would consider as pushing forward the evolution of human liberty, then he’s going to get a rude awakening once he gets around to pulling his head out of his ass.

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