Baked potatoes with apples, stuffed peppers with rice, vegetable stir-fry and fruit salad. This is the free fare that a Rogers Park anti-war group offers to passersby on a Sunday afternoon. It is available to anyone who is hungry.
Food Not Bombs is a worldwide movement made up of local and international chapters that spreads a message against war and proclaims food is a right, not a privilege.
Loyola students in Rogers Park founded Chicago’s first Food Not Bombs chapter in 2006 but the group lost momentum. Last fall, the residents of Koinonia House owned by The United Church of Rogers Park decided to relaunch the chapter.
Nell Seggerson, 21, a Loyola student and volunteer for Food Not Bombs, said the chapter consists of people who want to and work together.
“Food Not Bombs just makes sense to me; it’s something good to do. It shines light on the contradiction of war, that we are spending millions of dollars on killing people around the world when people in our community need resources,” said Seggerson.
There are many people here that are hungry in our communities. We also shine light on how much wasted food people throw away.”
Food Not Bombs recovers food that would otherwise be discarded and uses it to make all vegetarian dishes that are shared with the neighborhood under the Morse train station on Sunday afternoons.
Kelly Stewart, 24, a resident in the house and volunteer said she likes to feel she is part of something great. Stewart grew up in Washington watching many people not have food and realized so much food goes to waste and waste should be stopped, she said.
“I believe that food is not a privilege, and everyone should have food to eat. If the government spent less on bombs, they would have more money to feed the hungry,” Stewart said.
The Koinonia House describes itself as an intentional community where residents live and work together. All eight residents living in the house do some type of community work for the neighborhood, explained Stewart. Every Sunday at 11 a.m. the house residents open their home to anyone who wants to volunteer to cook and distribute the food.
The group receives donations from people as well as daily donations from Whole Foods every Friday and Saturday. Whole Foods gives them the food it will no long use. It donates everything from slightly bruised apples and strawberries to bread and dented cereal boxes. Some volunteers have also gone dumpster diving to collect discarded food, but it’s not the group’s main resource for collecting food, said Seggerson.
Jamie Sutton Shifley, Director of Accredited Nutrition Programs in the University of Illinois at Chicago, is concerned that the volunteers can’t tell when food is bad. She said there are real risks when eating or cooking food beyond its expired date.
“Food has a date of expiration for a reason. Many expired food can grow bad organisms, bacteria or mold which causes foodborne illnesses that people mistake for a stomach ache,” said Shifley.
Foodborne illness can also occur when food is not washed correctly or handled at proper temperatures. Poor sanitation of kitchen utensils and, cutting boards also poses a risk, she said.
“When you’re dumpster diving, it’s very risky because, first of all, garbage carries bacteria and you don’t know what other things are in the dumpster, or how long the food has been in there and by that time, the food has already started to mold without you noticing,” Shirley said.
Seggerson and Stewart both admit they haven’t received any type of food safety certification but do follow basic rules of cleanliness. Volunteers must wash their hands before cooking and make sure the fruits and vegetables are washed. They also make sure food is cooked and baked at its right temperature.
“Since Food Not Bombs is international, we have many resources on food safety and precautions that we follow, plus it makes it less risky that we only serve vegan food and no meat,” Seggerson said.
On a recent Sunday, seven volunteers arrived to help cook the food, stopping first at the church to pick up supplies. . The room is filled with boxes of fruits, vegetables, seasonings, bread and pastries. From there the ingredients needed are taken back to Koinonia House. The rest of the food left in the room will be distributed at 3:30 p.m. in the church to around 50 families. After cutting apples, oranges and vegetables, the meals are prepared and the group of volunteers walk over to the Red Line transit station on Morse with a cart of food to hand out.
Mike Marino, 74, a resident in the neighborhood, has been coming to get a plate of food every Sunday afternoon for about a year and said he has benefited from the service.
“I really like the food; it’s very good and healthy. I use to be around 300 pounds and now I’m 150 and this food helps my health since its all vegetarian,” said Marino. What I also like about it is that you can tell they take the time to cook the food and it’s always good plus I have never gotten sick from the food.”
Despite the happy faces of people waiting in line to receive food, Elisabeth Rangel, a resident in the Rogers Park community, believes the cause is worthy but suggests the people serving the food should go through proper food preparation classes. Then if police questioned them, they would be certified and would have proper permits to show, she said.
“I totally support what they are doing but it would probably be a good idea to carry some sort of licenses with them,” said Rangel.
Seggerson and Stewart said they have never had problems with the police apart from a minor misunderstanding of the group’s purpose. Over all, the police have been very nice and supportive, they said..
Mistead Sai, 22, a volunteer for Food Not Bombs. said he came to Chicago for a two year missionary program and wanted to do God’s work helping communities.
“I love the message advocating for peace and working together making it about everyone. The best thing about Food Not Bombs is that you build friendships with people and the community,” said Sai.
Every Sunday about 40 people passing through the food line to, share a vegetarian meal.
“ This is about creating new ways to help the community, connecting with the people in the neighborhood and getting to know all types of people around the world from just sharing a simple meal,” Seggerson said.