Punk, politics and provisions

An anarchistic group feeds poor people in the name of peace

Photo by David Robert

To donate food to Food Not Bombs, contact: (775) 786-6710

“We don’t get paid,” says Adam Foster, 22, a self-described punk sitting under a bare tree at Fisherman’s Park.

Just then a man wearing a pinstriped shirt under a tweed suit walks up to Tress Miller, 29, the woman with technicolor orange hair. “Hey, young lady,” he says and puts a rolled-up $20 bill in her hand. “Keep up the good work.”

“Well,” Foster says, “sometimes we get paid.”

With tattoos galore, tattered clothes and facial piercings, two married couples–Tress and Cam Miller and Foster and Keli Davin–comprise the Reno chapter of Food Not Bombs. They cook vegan food in their homes every weekend and carry it in five-gallon buckets to feed the homeless and hungry at area parks.

At the park, a crowd begins to gather when the Millers’ and Davin’s cars pull up. Nico, a pit bull/Black Lab mix, fetches rocks as the punks serve the hot meal.

“We’ve fed 20 or 25 people today,” Tress Miller says. “It’s typical to serve a whole bucket of food. But it’s a different story if it’s January and snowing.”

They’re out here regardless of the weather, every Sunday at noon, even if it’s too cold for most of the people they usually feed.

“Reno doesn’t have many social services, so a group like Food Not Bombs is needed,” Tress Miller says.

Food Not Bombs began in Boston in 1980. It was envisioned as a protest of war and violence, based on the conceit that a small fraction ($4 billion per year) of the money the U.S. government allocates for weapons could buy enough food to eliminate hunger in America.

Food across the nation

Last summer Foster and Davin toured the nation by hopping trains to the East Coast and back. They stopped in major cities and found the local chapters of Food Not Bombs, on which they relied for vegan food.

“Portland has a really huge one,” Davin says. Tattooed in lush colors below her neckline is a heart wrapped in barbed wire. “They serve on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday.”

“The one in New York serves every day,” Foster says.

“We didn’t have to panhandle for food,” Davin says. “Not at all.”

According to Food Not Bombs, a handbook by the founders of the movement (C.T. Butler and Keith McHenry), from 1992 to 2000 Food Not Bombs grew from 15 chapters in America to 175 worldwide, including chapters in Australia, all over Europe, Japan, Philippines and Brazil.

But in Reno, Food Not Bombs is not what it used to be. Davin, 18, has been active in Food Not Bombs since she was 12. She tells how they used to have a sprawling cloth banner that read “Food Not Bombs, Comida No Bombas.” They–about 10 volunteers–had a folding table and Bunsen burner and cooked food in the park. But, she says, they were hassled so much by police that they gave up on the banner and lowered their profile.

Around the same time, police also hassled the homeless and swept them from the streets. “But they’re not gone,” Tress Miller says. “When I ride to work on my bicycle, I see them along the river path, under bridges. Part of Food Not Bombs is to make homelessness visible to the public. The police don’t want them visible, so sometimes they try to stop us.”

About four years ago, Trader Joe’s and Wild Oats came to town, which eventually drove the Washoe Zephyr Food Co-op out of business and cut into the Food Not Bombs supply.

“The co-op used to donate falafels and tons of vegetables that expired that day but were still good,” Davin says. Food Not Bombs almost disappeared in Reno but is making a comeback. “Now the Bagel Stand makes donations every Saturday. They’re happy to help. We just need to go to more businesses and ask for the food they don’t need.”

Free for all

The dining table at the Millers’ house is piled high with bags of pita bread, scones and bagels recovered from commercial Dumpsters, all good but one-day expired. “It’s disgusting how much food goes to waste,” Cam Miller says. Ten percent of the edible food discarded by the food industry is enough to feed every hungry mouth in the country, he says.

He throws the breadstuffs in a cardboard box as Tress carries the five-gallon bucket to the car.

They stop by Ark-a'ík, record store and music venue, where later in the day a benefit show will be held for Food Not Bombs. Price of admission is $5 or three cans of food. Just before he leaves to distribute food at Bicentennial Park (across Arlington Avenue from Wingfield Park), Cam Miller speaks with some punks who have arrived for the show.

“Do you need people to help out?” asks Danielle, a pale girl with an accent that fits her name. The boy beside her is holding a plastic bag that contains six cans of food.

“Yeah, we can use all the help we can get,” Cam Miller says.

A medley of people begin to gather at Bicentennial Park when the cars approach.

“Hey, you guys hungry?” Miller asks a homeless man and woman sitting together on a bench. They nod their heads.

“How y’all doin’ today?” he says to another group.

“I’m Roger,” one man replies. “I’m hungry.”

Another man sleeps alone on the ground. Miller fills a Dixie cup with beans and rice, takes a bag of bagels, and sets it down next to the man.

He turns his head and rises slowly.

“Sorry for waking you,” Miller says.

This time, no one walks up to put money in Miller’s hand. Food Not Bombs has been largely ignored by society and the media, even in larger cities like San Francisco, where police have made more than 700 arrests in the last decade related to Food Not Bombs because of behavior like Cam’s.

“They’d rather see people scrape for food in the trash than have a hot meal," Foster says.