I consider feeding people to be one of the most profound acts of love. I have always thought that part of its power is that it’s done time and again with care in buying, preparing, and cooking the food while keeping up a ‘happy-to-do-it-with love’ state of mind and heart. I am constantly reminded of the film "like water for chocolate" that captured that so well. That secret ingredient of one’s state when preparing the food and how it can reach its full potential to nourish. I loved that film so much when I first saw it so long ago.
Another equally meaningful act of love and care is feeding the hungry. When service is mentioned, I think orphans, kids, the elderly, the sick, the hungry and the cold. I have always been curious about soup kitchens. And, finally, the opportunity knocked on my door through a beautiful sister at the mosque I go to in California, where I attend its Saturday class. We brought up the idea of service and a sister explained how she goes every week either on a Saturday or Sunday to Santa Cruz with a huge pot of pasta with veggies to feed the homeless as part of an organization called Food Not Bombs.
I promptly asked her if I could join the following weekend, to which she replied with a gracious yes, and her daughter drove us. I felt so blessed as there was something magical about this soup kitchen. My heart told me so. It went like this, Keith The Co-founder of Food Not Bombs, and volunteers started cooking the food they got from the Second Harvest Bank. The food bank gets the produce from supermarkets, and Keith also gets produce from local farmers. The produce is still good to eat but not fresh enough for customers to buy.
They prepare the food, from 1 - 4 pm in the kitchen of an Indian restaurant down the street from where they set up tables and service. It's literally smack in the middle of downtown in front of the main post office in Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, we arrived only for the serving part of it, I would have loved to have been part of the cooking too! My station was the bread pudding with fruits and granola thrown in for better nutritional value. The spread was an impressive one. A meal I would have any day between soups, salads, rice and lentils, beans, vegetable, and fruit salad and bread pudding. There is also plenty of water, juice and bread. Keith is a good cook so the food always turns out yummy and just right!
What was as equally touching as the care put into the meal and its preparation was the people coming to the table. It was a mix. Most were homeless, but then I could tell that some were people who couldn’t afford decent meals all the time between rent or school. And what was truly humbling was the gratitude and immense politeness of most of those coming to eat. We were showered with: “thanks so much”, “we really appreciate you coming out”, “you are so kind to me” and every form of thanks you can think of. I wish this level of appreciation and politeness was there in normal everyday relationships. What a world it would be, sigh.
It was something to see different people light up at seeing different foods. Of course, the pasta was a favorite for many. The bread pudding was a lovely station too, hehe. Many of the diners didn’t fill the big bowl they were given but opted for a healthy, more balanced combination and a smaller amount. Others piled it up and came for more. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to be in any small way part of nourishing someone, both with food and more importantly, by showing up and smiling and having a light, kind chit-chat both ways. My heart felt like it was being watered to bloom with love and compassion.
I spoke to my nieces about this and they wanted to go too. And on the weekend of their birthday, one of them was able to join me and off we went. I saw her being affected in just the right ways, bless her soul. She would comment on different people describing their idiosyncratic gestures and with that capturing a sense of their essence. Like the tall young man who came wrapped in a blanket hugging five books to him as if they were good friends. She caught, from the corner of her eye a man who had brought his table and was giving massages for free. Another delight was to see how the organizers had also brought a plastic portable water station for those who wanted to wash their hands. There are times, I was told, when they bring portable showers. The blessing of water - imagine that - depending on the kindness of others for access to water in a country like America.
We spoke to Keith afterward to get the story of how Food Not Bombs developed and how it works. He shared with us that they had started off in the 80's as a live theater group in the streets of Boston, raising awareness about issues such as immigration. They would have food as part of the set-up for the group and the homeless would come to eat. It was the Reagan era, which saw increased spending on weapons and consequently, an increase in the number of homeless. The group eventually started realizing that the real way they could provide service was by feeding people and decided to start Food Not Bombs.. and they continued, purposefully setting up the food tables outside so that the problem was brought out onto the street and its solution into sharp focus.
Towards the end of our chat, Keith recognized the Palestine necklace on my niece’s neck. He mentioned that he had visited Palestine and had drawn an art piece of it. It turns out Keith is also a well-respected artist and he showed us some of his work, explaining the different details. Any detail he drew was something he had seen, like a farm or the Dome of the Rock. He also drew his friends who are part of an organization focused in tearing down the wall. It is beautiful to encounter humanity that recognizes truth and champions it as a way of life. Blessed are the true peacemakers through justice and compassion.
This magical door opened up to us because Islam calls for service, yes service of other Muslims but also service locally. It is important to be part of and nurture a diverse community. Bless that lovely sister in faith who understands that and shows up every week with her daughter to serve. Now that is the true representation of Islam and its values of what love, grounded in faith look like.
I pray that I see this kind of service grow in our own communities and from us to others.
DISCOVER Food Not Bombs, Santa Cruz
Food Not Bombs is gaining momentum throughout the world. There are hundreds of autonomous chapters sharing free vegetarian food with hungry people and protesting war and poverty. Food Not Bombs is not a charity. For over 30 years the movement has worked to end hunger and has supported actions to stop the globalization of the economy, restrictions to the movements of people, end exploitation and the destruction of the earth and its beings.
MEET Keith McHenry, co-founder of Food Not Bombs
Artist, activist, and author Keith McHenry co-founded Food Not Bombs in Boston with seven friends in 1980. He has written three books including "Hungry for Peace - How you can help end poverty and war with Food Not Bombs." and "The Anarchist Cookbook." Keith lives in Santa Cruz, California. He enjoys tending his garden, sharing meals with the hungry, maintaining one of the movement's websites and helping coordinate logistics for Food Not Bombs globally. He is an experienced public speaker giving presentations at colleges and conferences all over the world. Keith also draws, paints, and writes about social justice issues.
ENJOY Keith McHenry's Art
These are high quality prints of the original gouache paintings done by Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry over the past 35 years.
Each one was painted to illustrate Food Not Bombs gatherings, tours or other actions. The original paintings are one of a kind and represent over 3 decades of history. You can buy a copy of his full color, 20 x 24 inch posters on the website. The proceeds go to supporting Food Not Bombs.