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Food Not Bombs: Dumpster divers use food to build community in inner Brisbane

Food Not Bombs regular William Hunter has turned around his life after petty crime and mental health problems.
Food Not Bombs regular William Hunter has turned his life around after petty crime and mental health problems.

ABC Radio Brisbane: Kym Agius

A group in Brisbane is turning food thrown out by supermarkets into home-cooked meals which they serve to the lonely, isolated and some who are just plain hungry.

The young men and women gather each Friday in a West End park; they do not have a permit to be there, nor do they believe in asking for one.

They are part of Food Not Bombs, a global movement to reclaim public space and protest against rampant food wastage.

Andy Paine and his friends have been dumpster diving once a week for the past six years.

They hit just one bin, fishing out enough fresh food to feed 30 to 40 people — bags of zucchinis, potatoes, loaves of bread, as well as packaged bananas and donuts.

There are also unopened soft drinks, dumped by the supermarket after one in the pack of four broke.

The usable food is washed off, the damaged turned into sauces, and the too-far-gone composted.

Bags of zucchinis, potatoes and carrots were saved from the dumpster, as well as unopened soft drinks and cakes.
Bags of zucchinis and potatoes were saved from the dumpster, as well as unopened soft drinks and cakes.

ABC Radio Brisbane: Kym Agius

They head to a community house to cook, turning the haul into vegan and vegetarian dinners.

"We are not just about reducing food waste," Mr Paine said.

"Not thinking about what we could be doing with our food, what communities we could be building, how we could be reaching out to people, how we could be using the streets.

After about 30 minutes sifting through the dumpster, the group has enough food for about 30 to 40 people.
After half an hour sifting through the dumpster, the group has enough food for up to 40 people.

ABC Radio Brisbane: Kym Agius

"That is what Food Not Bombs is about; it is about envisioning a different world and a different way of eating."

Forming lasting friendships through food

As part of their weekly ritual, the barefooted group walk their long wooden serving table from the community house to a park on Boundary Street.

The table, laden with food, is carried a short distance from the community house to the park, where it is served to locals.
The table, laden with food, is carried a short distance from the community house to the park.

ABC Radio Brisbane: Kym Agius

Atop the table last week was carrot soup, mash potato with saffron, a mushroom, eggplant and ginger stir-fry, apple crumble and a fruit salad.

They had also made a carrot cake for one of the regulars celebrating a birthday — Paul, who is deaf.

The food rescued from supermarket dumpsters is turned into vegan and vegetarian meals.
The food rescued from supermarket dumpsters is turned into vegan and vegetarian meals.

ABC Radio Brisbane: Kym Agius

"He lives in the area and lives a fairly isolated life," Mr Paine said.

"He has been a real blessing, he has taught us sign language.

"If he doesn't turn up I'll send a text to make sure he's alright."

Paul did not want to be interviewed nor photographed, but those there could see the delight on his face.

The group circled around him to sign "happy birthday" as he blew out his candles.

Sandon and Brendon (on left) met through Food Not Bombs and now go to the cinema and runs together.
Sandon and Brendon met through Food Not Bombs and now go to the cinema and on runs together.

ABC Radio Brisbane: Kym Agius

Brendon Donohue has been a regular at the Food Not Bombs event over the past year-and-a-half.

He is blind.

"I was looking for more social interaction," he said.

"As a blind person it is very hard to get out into the community and go to social places which accept all diverse people.

"It gives me a sense of belonging in the community."

William Hunter, who has had mental health problems, has been coming most Fridays since July 2014.

"I was a bit involved with petty crime and stuff and I was a bit mentally unwell because of drugs.

"They're good people, they're kind and you can have a good conversation.

"I'm on the pension and it helps, it's a free feed."

Mike, originally from Sudan, moved to Brisbane from Tasmania and comes some Friday nights to meet new people.
Mike, originally from Sudan, comes some Friday nights to meet new people.

ABC Radio Brisbane: Kym Agius

Mr Paine said they wanted to create an environment where you could make friends and meet new people every week.

"We welcome strangers and use food as a resource for building community — using food beyond just fuelling our bodies."

Denis comes to Food Not Bombs to talk to people from other cultures
Denis comes to Food Not Bombs to talk to people from other cultures.

ABC Radio Brisbane: Kym Agius