HAPPENINGS June 2010
Free Meal: Seven Days a Week -Rain, Shine or Blizzard
They say there is no free lunch. Then comes Free Meal, served to any person with a mouth. Free Meal happens seven days a week at noon, outdoors at Sun Court on Center Street--rain, shine, or blizzard.
Free Meal was started in Moab some three years ago by Brer and Haila Ershadi. Before they met in Moab and fell in love, Brer and Haila had separately worked in other cities on ways to freely feed people. Haila had been involved with One World Café in Salt Lake City while Brer had worked with Food Not Bombs in Houston. They continued the Food Not Bombs model here, yet calling it the less-politically-charged “Free Meal.” Free Meal served three times a week, with the help of many friends. After they married and had a baby girl a year and a half ago, Brer and Haila handed over the reins to August (“Auggie”) Brooks.
Auggie decided, since people have to eat every day, Free Meal should happen seven days a week! Most Moabites know of Auggie, a long-time community volunteer. That gives him the connections to make this vision happen. “Free Meal isn’t necessarily about feeding the under-classes, it’s about changing people’s attitudes about food,” Auggie says. It’s about removing the sense of condescension that comes with charity programs. If you are too proud to join us, or feel you are not “needy” enough, Auggie will tell you to get over it.
Indeed, Free Meal (like Wabi Sabi’s Hands Up brunch during the winter) is for everybody: white- and blue-collar workers on lunch break, desert rats and rock climbers, classic homeless and your usual neighbors. It’s actually more about community than food! Auggie realized Free Meal follows a principle of nature: sunshine and rain fall freely on poor and rich, just and unjust, with zero discrimination. Notice how neither the sun nor a mulberry tree makes you even fill out a form to deem you worthy to receive what it naturally sheds!
Auggie says he prefers people not buy food for Free Meal. It should be food that would otherwise be thrown away--food from schools, restaurants, stores, farms, events, and individuals. Free Meal is also about facing up to the waste of society, actually doing something about it. Nearly half of all good food in the US gets thrown out, according to a USDA-funded study by Timothy Jones at the University of Arizona in 2004 [http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/Supply-Chain/Half-of-US-food-goes-to-waste] From my own observations as a wandering scavenger for the past decade, I’m as sure as the sun rises that all the grocery stores in the US throw away enough perfectly-good food to continually and nutritiously feed the entire world. That isn’t even mentioning other stores and restaurants! Over a billion people in the world are undernourished, according to the latest FAO statistics http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm
The Free Meal spirit isn’t limited to Moab. You’ll find things like Food Not Bombs (an international phenomenon) in most cities and many towns in the US. Food Not Bombs was started in Boston in the early 80s, and is usually vegan or vegetarian. Moab’s Free Meal has something for both carnivores and vegans/vegetarians.
According to Auggie, he wants the ideal to become real—examples, not just talk. “I’m intrigued by this question: what on earth motivates people to serve people, outside of money and government mandate? Isn’t it the natural joy of community, the essence of all life? Such motivation was here long before money, governments and political parties, and always will be. Look how it happens when disasters strike--earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and plague. Yes, suddenly money and governments fail, political and religious affiliations dissolve, and droves of real people wake up and do what’s natural—serving one another! What’s choice about Free Meal is it shows we don’t have to wait for disaster to see such a phenomenon. Yes, it’s more blessed when it’s voluntary, not forced!”
What’s also grand about Free Meal is the enthusiasm and humility of its volunteers who have stepped up to donate, collect, prepare and cook food, wash dishes, and clean-up. They don’t expect or care that their names are publicized, but I will, because it’s fun: besides Auggie, Brer and Haila, there is Stephanie, Isaiah, Scott, Brandy, Michael, Chris, Joel, Pat, Dave, and a host of others sliding in and out anonymously. And we are grateful to those caring individuals who have gotten food donated from their employers: Grand County Public Schools, Ecclectica Cafe, Zax Pizza, Chevron, Eddie McStiff’s, Buck’s Grill House, Soul Food Farms, Creekside Lane Farms, Packard Distributing and various events.