The 30th Anniversary Of The First Food Not Bombs Soup Line

It was the first spring-like day in Boston when eight young anti-nuclear activists set up a soup kitchen outside the March 26, 1981 stockholders meeting of the First National Bank of Boston. Ronald Reagan had just come to power promising to dismantle many of the programs that had been benefiting average Americans, transferring the nation's resources to his wealthy banker friends. By contrast, we were attempting to build popular support against the nuclear industry, seeking to stop the board of directors from investing their depositor's money on risky and dangerous projects that could lead to nuclear meltdowns, and ecological collapse. Members of the board of directors of the Bank of Boston sat on the board of Babcock and Willcox, the company that was building Seabrook Nuclear Power station and many of them also sat on the board of the Public Service Company of New Hampshire, which was buying the power station.


As we prepared our huge pot of soup, we became concerned that there would not be enough people participating to represent a Depression-era soup line. So I went to the Pine Street Inn and told the assembled homeless that we were planning a protest at noon outside the Federal Reserve Bank at South Station. They responded with excitement about the protest and we were surprised when over 50 people showed up to participate.



Food Not Bombs march to Draper Labs in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1981 to protest nukes—photo from FNB

Nine FNB volunteers arrested in 1988 for sharing meals at the entrance to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California—photo by Greg Garr

Hartford FNB packs Katrina aid—photo from FNB

FNB volunteer in Bangkok, Thailand—photo from FNB

Thirty years later on March 26, 2011, the world is facing a lethal nuclear disaster as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station verges on melting down. The global economy is in crisis due to the policies of bankers investing for their own benefit. Experts might call it the "Great Recession," but for billions of people it feels more like a Great Depression. Food prices are increasing at the fastest pace in 30 years as speculators move to invest in commodities. Replacing failed social structures with a sustainable system may be more difficult than overthrowing governments, but still there is an urgent desire to bring democracy, dignity, basic necessities, and, if nothing else, some sanity to our world.


The richest 2 percent already own over half the world's wealth and resources. They claim ownership of billions of suffering animals farmed in factories, the genetics of our food seeds, millions of acres of ancient forests, billions of gallons of fresh water, oil, gas, and tons of minerals all treated as products to be sold to a world of passive consumers. Now we are becoming a world of consumers without money, shelter, food, or dignity, consuming war, radioactive fallout, near slavery, and toxic "food."


While ladling soup outside the stockholders' meeting 30 years ago, we were concerned that we could face a future of nuclear disasters, environmental catastrophes, and a global economic collapse. We urged those visiting our first Food Not Bombs meal to join us in building resistance to the policies that could bring ruin to our world. Our literature and speech invited them to withhold their support of the "culture of death" and join us in transforming society.


Thirty years later, it is clear that our concerns were well founded and the need for change couldn't be more urgent. What we could not have seen was that our tiny theatrical soup line would be joined by thousands of others seeking to end their own painful hunger and join our effort to stop the web of disastrous policies. Each crisis has inspired another wave of volunteers eager to take a stand and feed the hungry, rushing to participate, having been forced into poverty or inspired to insurrection by untenable conditions. We welcome you to our table. There is enough for everyone if we withdraw our support for the system of exploitation and instead implement a nurturing community where everyone's ideas are respected.


Keith McHenry is a founder of Food Not Bombs (,               800-884-1136         800-884-1136) and is preparing a new handbook Cooking for Peace: Cultivating Community, Reaping Revolution.