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How Jersey Shore Food Not Bombs reduces waste and feeds the public

“It’s important that Food Not Bombs is accessible to everyone. It’s why we have it at the train station so that you don’t need a car to get here. It’s why we don’t ask for ID or proof of looking for a job in order to receive food.”

In 1980, a group of anti-war protesters were demonstrating outside a nuclear power facility in Cambridge, MA. This group of protesters were also aghast at the size of the military budget in the U.S., which at the time was $143 billion dollars. As part of their protest, they handed out free food.

Fast forward 33 years, and the military budget has grown to $847 billion, and Congress recently passed a military budget with $43 billion more than what President Biden asked for. There are still a group of anti-war protesters in Massachusetts giving out food, but the movement has since grown nationwide.

The group is called Food Not Bombs, and the goal is to give out free meals in public spaces, and not turn anyone away. The mutual aid group also works with local grocery stores, restaurants and food collectives to make sure no food goes to waste. A big part of the group’s mission is to show how much is wasted under our capitalist system.

You’ll find a group of people similar to the ones in Massachusetts at the Asbury Park train station every Sunday, rain or shine. The Jersey Shore Food Not Bombs group has been around since 2014, and has recently expanded to Lakewood as well.

There is no leadership structure to Food Not Bombs, and decisions such as the timing of the food shares are based on the collective and availability. One of the members of Jersey Shore Food Not Bombs is Dorris Lin, who has been with the Jersey Shore chapter from the start. 

“We had a couple meetings and then we did a food share at the Asbury Park train station in March of 2014 and we have been here every Sunday since,” Lin says.

Lin was drawn to Food Not Bombs because of the sense of community it brings every Sunday, and she agreed with the organization viewpoint about food waste. 

“Food Not Bombs is about saving food waste,” explains Lin. “We make sure that food goes to the people instead of the garbage. We get donations from stores, restaurants and farmers, and we share it with the public. I also love that our chapter is vegan.

Not only is vegan food healthy, but there is a moral benefit to giving out vegan food as well. 

“Veganism is about avoiding the harm and exploitation of animals,” says Lin. “Also an important issue is climate change. Animal agriculture is one of the main drivers of climate change, and animal agriculture is violent and exploitative of the animals, workers and communities of where the slaughterhouses are located. It is also one of the main drivers of tropical deforestation.” 

The people who pick up food at the food shares also appreciate the fact that there are vegan options available as sometimes food banks may not have vegan or organic options available. 

“Over in Lakewood we had someone come up and say, ‘I’m diabetic and when I go to the food bank, they give me food I can’t eat,’” says Allie Wilson a Howell native, and Food Not Bombs volunteer. “That’s just a common occurrence.”

Wilson was drawn to Food Not Bombs as a way to branch out into her community, and help tackle food insecurity. Growing up in a suburb like Howell can be “isolating,” as Wilson puts it. 

She didn’t start with Food Not Bombs until December of 2020 as she was in Brazil getting a graduate degree. In Brazil, Wilson learned more about the importance of food sharing.

“I came back to the United States in December of 2020,” recalls Wilson. “It was the peak of the pandemic and I quarantined for one week coming back to the States. The first day I got out of quarantine happened to be a Sunday and I came to the share. Food Not Bombs has helped me become more connected to the area.  Growing up around here can be isolating so having this community has helped me stay in this area.”

Food insecurity was also a big reason why Opal, another Shore resident, decided to help out with Food Not Bombs. They hear comments from people at the food share about having access to healthy food.

“Over the years I noticed people will come here and be like, ‘I haven’t been able to make a salad in 10 years because I haven’t had access to fresh produce that is affordable,” says Opal. “Food insecurity affects every facet of people’s lives. If people spend all their money on food, they don’t have money for medicine, or for car repairs. It’s one bad day away from not having money to pay for food.”

Other volunteers such as Arlo Kortedala, another Shore area native, got more interested in Food Not Bombs by reading zines at cafes. Kortedala handles the clothing table at the food share.

“I would go to this coffee shop and they had a zine library in the back,” explains Kortedala. “I would read zines about animal liberation and saw old advertisements for Food Not Bombs. I had no idea what it was at the time, but the more I read the more I was like, ‘Wow this is really cool.’ I didn’t know there was one in Asbury, and now I don’t work on Sundays and can actually start volunteering.”

The location of the Asbury Park Food Not Bombs food share is at the train station, and it’s intentional that the group chose the location since it’s a focal point in town.

“It’s important that Food Not Bombs is accessible to everyone,” says Wilson. “It’s why we have it at the train station so that you don’t need a car to get here. It’s why we don’t ask for ID or proof of looking for a job in order to receive food.”

Even though the mission of Food Not Bombs is admirable, they have received some criticism from different sides. Lin remembers one time an Asbury Park native came up to the table and said, “Don’t come back, whatever you have we don’t want it; we take care of our own,” and she would like to see more Asbury Park involvement with the group. 

There’s also the criticism of local passersby in Asbury Park; in fact, you see it in any city with a significant unhoused population—think the, “Get a job” type of comments. But food insecurity doesn’t discriminate, and inflation has only added to the struggle. Over half of Americans can’t afford a $1,000 emergency. We’re all one bad day away.

Recently, Jersey Shore Food Not Bombs expanded more inland to Lakewood. Lakewood is Ocean County’s most populous city, and one of the most diverse cities in the Garden State. Lakewood is home to a strong Orthodox Jewish community, and sizable Black and Latino populations as well. Zach Ackermann, an Ocean County native helped organize the Lakewood share.

“I was tabling for the Light Brigade Collective in Asbury,” says Ackermann. “I was engaging with two people who came up to the table and we all lived in Ocean County.  We were like, ‘We should do Food Not Bombs in Ocean County.’ I don’t know where the spark came from, but it all made sense.”

It all happened pretty fast, and the food share in Lakewood turned into a reality. The share is in the town square. Last summer Raymond Coles, the mayor of Lakewood, defended a decision to cut down trees in the town’s square to discourage the unhoused population from camping. The mission of Food Not Bombs stands in contrast with what happened in the square last summer.

“We have a great group of people,” explains Ackermann. “I can only continue to hope that we can move in the right direction.

Similar to Asbury Park, the Lakewood group gets food from bodegas, farmers, restaurants and shops. Food recovery is essential for the mutual aid group’s mission, but is also an act of resistance. 

“Food recovery works in a couple different ways,” explains Ackermann. “We’ll talk to stores, vendors or farmers and pitch it to them. Sometimes you have people who are like, ‘I’ll sell my excess food,’ while others are like, ‘Let’s do it.’ One of our biggest food recovery sources was Berry Fresh Farms in Brick. We got a lot from them and they were very supportive. … I would like to get more roots in Lakewood in terms of food recovery though. While bringing in food from the outside is great, I’m hoping that we can build together with the local community. If we are going to be in Lakewood doing this and serving the community, we need to not get ourselves in the position of being the ‘white saviors.’

“Food recovery is minimizing food waste, sharing, and giving food out for free with no strings attached. And I think of it as a form of resistance as well.  It’s subverting the system of our economy and repurposing the waste. Something that has no value to capitalism can still be something that nourishes a friend or a neighbor or can be cooked into a meal, or donated to a food pantry.”

Jersey Shore Food Not Bombs has shares at the following locations:

– Asbury Park Train Station on Sundays, 3:30-4:30 p.m.
– Long Branch Train Station on Wednesdays from 6-7 p.m.
– Lakewood Town Square on Fridays from 6-7 p.m.