Photos by Jack GouldEvery Sunday, members of Santa Ana Food Not Bombs (FNB) serve up monster pots of veggie soup and fruit salad (with bagels cheerfully available on the side) to anyone living on the streets and needing something to eat. But right now, they're feeding one another grass. And wrestling. And pulling one anothers' socks off. And tearing barefoot around the Santa Ana Public Library after one another on this muggy Sunday afternoon, yelling things like, "C'mon, you hippie anarchist! Where's your molotov now?"
This is more than help for the needy. This is dinner and a show, brought to the hungry and the homeless by a rambunctious bunch of county kids who put the active back in activist.
"Oh, there've been times it's much worse than this," says Kym Phan, the group's de facto publicist, as little knots of people sip their soup and watch the entertainment. "Water guns, shaving cream, water balloons—it's a lot of fun. And that's what keeps us together—it's not just work."
But then Food Not Bombs isn't just another activist organization, and Santa Ana's chapter isn't just another little piece of Food Not Bombs. Born in the 1980s out of the anti-nuclear movement, FNB has in many ways become inextricably tangled with the more politically minded wing of independent music: it's the Digger feedings of the 1960s gone do-it-yourself punk, and in the inhospitable desert that is Orange County youth culture, it's a stubborn oasis of selflessness.
"These kids are a good cause," says Eric, a resident at the Catholic Worker house where FNB prepares its meals. "You seldom meet kids this age who are into things like donating food, who won't just give you the cold shoulder."
Santa Ana's chapter started about three years ago, but local activist/musicians like Erik Rez and Resist and Exist's Jae Lee had laid important groundwork before that. "I don't know how Eric and the rest did it," says Phan. "He's somebody I've admired since I met him." But now it's totally in the hands of Phan, Marty Achterhof and the dozen or so other FNB stalwarts.
They're responsible for all the administrative decisions: besides finding the food, they've got to prepare and distribute it, spread the word among the local homeless population, keep the organization's energy and vitality high (hence the water guns and shaving cream) and make sure no one hungry goes unfed. Today, they've taken a short break from cooking to sign one anothers' high school yearbooks. So what if most of Santa Ana FNB might not be quite old enough to vote? They've still carved out a place for themselves in local politics and activism, likely with a fork and a spoon.
"It's a collective, and it's run by kids," says Phan. "It's not like an agency or anything. And I think it's really cool because even though it sounds really cheesy, it's really influential. I brought my brothers, who are 11 and 12, and then they used to come a lot—like every single weekend. We do live in white-town suburbia. When I was that young, if I had had somebody to take me somewhere so I could see that poverty exists . . . It's just about exposure."
Part of that exposure comes through the local music scene. You'll spot these kids at Koo's Art Caf or Chain Reaction (though less for the traditional crusty-thrash shows than for the pop stylings of Rilo Kiley or the Get Up Kids), and you'll spot bands they like playing FNB benefits every few months: it's a chance to connect progressive-minded people as well as to make punk something more than music.
"It's a way of doing something positive with your music," says Achterhof, who's responsible for procuring most of the food FNB serves each week, "and it's a means to get the word out."
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Achterhof spends Sunday afternoon picking up donations from local markets, sometimes supplementing stocks with salvaged day-old breads or produce. "Don't worry," he says. "I wouldn't cook anything I wouldn't eat. If anything, I get compliments." FNB serves vegan or vegetarian meals and never buys food. Besides being more cost-effective, it makes a point about American wastefulness that they're able to feed dozens each week on food that otherwise would have been thrown out. And it's an alternative to the chicken-wing-and-a-prayer fare offered by other organizations, he says.
"There's only so many peanut-butter sandwiches, baloney sandwiches, and beans and wieners you can take," says Mike, a homeless man who's something of a regular at FNB feedings. "At least we're eating healthy."
And then there's the wrestling matches for dessert, says a kid named Stu, panting and covered with grass stains. "It's free food and free entertainment," he explains. "They love it."
Food Not Bombs meets at the Catholic Worker, 316 Cypress Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 558-7478; www.koos.org/fnb/fnb. Every Sun., 1 p.m.; FNB feeds in front of the Santa Ana Public Library, 26 Civic Center Plaza, Santa Ana. Every Sun., 4 p.m.