Sarah Fessenden

Research Key Words:

Urban ethnography, food(-waste), activism, direct action, transnational social movements, applied anthropology, Spain, U.S., Canada.

PhD Research:

In protests, food is used pragmatically as a source of nutrition, symbolically to draw attention to a withdrawal of subsidies, and concretely as in when it is destroyed in order to subvert flows of commodities. For over thirty years, Food Not Bombs chapters worldwide have used food as the center of their protest. My dissertation asserts that Food Not Bombs should be understood as an anarchist-inspired project that uses food not only as a symbol during protest but as a direct action tactic. Therefore, I focus on the concrete and symbolic potential of food to be used in Food Not Bombs’ protests. In order to sympathetically understand this anarchist-inspired, food-centered project, I ask what are socio-cultural and sensory qualities of food in general and how are these qualities used in this anarchistic protest? Through ethnographic description, this dissertation replaces the stereotypes of anarchism and anarchists with an image of an eclectic group handing out vegetarian foods with the idea, “We just wanna warm some bellies.” During my work with the Vancouver-based chapter of Food Not Bombs, I found that this chapter works in ‘invisible’ spaces so their direct action tactics are less pronounced than those who confront police but no less poignant. This observation led me to look more closely at other less ‘militant’ components of food acquisition, preparation, and distribution. In their weekly food distributions, Food Not Bombs challenges capitalist wastefulness, the violence of industrial food production, and the business of charitable giving. With the “newest” social movements, asserting “food, not bombs” is to claim basic necessities of life (e.g. food, shelter, land) in the face of violence (e.g. privatization, homelessness, environmental degradation, policing, and corporate capitalism). The food of Food Not Bombs concretely and symbolically encapsulates Food Not Bombs’ principles of solidarity, egalitarianism, and non-violence. Food Not Bombs recovers wasted food and recycles it with new meaning, serving it to anyone in want or need of it. Gathered on the sidewalk for an anarchist dinner party, this food is not charity but, rather, “punk rock DIY belly feeding.”

Recycling wasted food in Vancouver

For over six years, I have participated and researched with an anarchist-inspired food justice network, Food Not Bombs, who recovers food that would otherwise go to waste and serves that food to people in need. While my research with this movement has taken me from California to Spain, over the last two years I have worked with Food Not Bombs in Vancouver. While looking at how unwanted food becomes an anarchist protest, I have come face to face with the fact that there is a lot, literally hundreds of pounds, of produce and bread that is destined for the compost bin when it could be eaten. Specifically, there is a lot of edible food that local distributors would like to donate but do not do so. This project is an extension of my current research and involves looking at the connections between food distributors and those organizations to whom they choose to donate in order to find out why food that is waiting to be given away does not get donated. The goal of this project is to channel this food to groups such as collective kitchens that offer empowering alternatives to emergency food relief.

BA Anthropology / Department of Anthropology / Biola University / 2007

Honour’s title: Identity and Community at an LGBT Church in West Hollywood

This project looks at Metropolitan Community Church as a place of identity-formation and community building for the local LGBT community.

M.A. Cultural Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, California State University, 2011

Master’s Thesis:  Recycled Identities: Anarcho-Punx, Organization, Style, and Reciprocity in Barcelona, Spain

In order to explore the anarchist logics that inform Food Not Bombs practice, I carried out comparative research with the Barcelona chapter of Food Not Bombs for my Master’s thesis. For this research, I focused mostly on counterculture and style (‘style,’ conceived here as music, dress, and lifestyle) within the international, anarcho-punk squatter context that Food Not Bombs existed within in Barcelona, Spain.

PhD Supervisor: Dr. Charles R. Menzies



2015 The Voice of the Voiceless: Limitations of ‘Empowerment’ and the Potential for Engaged, Insider Research Methodologies with Anarcho-Punk Youth. In Youth ‘At the Margins’: Critical Perspectives and Experiences of Engaging Youth in Research Worldwide. Bastien, Sheri and Halla B. Holmarsdottir, eds. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

2012 “Militant Ethnography” and Its Complications among Anarchists. In Telling Stories: Analysis, Interpretation, and Narrative. Proceedings of the Southwest Anthropological Association, 2012 Volume 6. Erickson, Barbra, ed. California State University Fullerton.


Conference Presentations:

2016 “Food is a right, not a privilege”: Food-rights in Vancouver from the perspective of an anarchist-inspired organization. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting for the Society for Applied Anthropology. Vancouver, BC. April 2.

2015 “Solidarity not charity”: Activist anthropology with Food Not Bombs and counter domination tactics in a globalizing world. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting for the Society for the Anthropology of North America. New York, NY. April 17.

2013 Walking, Eating, Sitting: (Re)Making Public Urban Space through Anarcho-Punk Practice. Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting for the American Anthropological Association. Chicago, IL. November 22.

2013 Reciprocity Not Capitalism: The Work of Food Not Bombs as a Challenge to Capitalist Forms of Production. Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting for the Society for Applied Anthropology. Denver, CO. March 20.

2012 “Militant Ethnography” and Its Complications among Anarchists. Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting for the Southwest Anthropological Association. Chico, CA. April 21.

2011 Recycled Identities: The Food and Subversion of Anarcho-Punk Squatters in Barcelona, Spain. Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting for the American Anthropological Association. Montreal, QC. November 20.


Conference Posters:

2014 Tasting Waste: Affects, Moralities, and Materialities from Dumpster to Table.  Poster Presented at the Annual Meeting for the2014 Tasting Waste: Affects, Moralities, and Materialities from Dumpster to Table. Poster Presented in Session: Producing Anthropology on the Edge/at the End(s) of the World(s) at the Annual Meeting for the American Anthropological Association. Washington, D.C. December 6.

2014 Food Not Trash: Dangerous Dirt, Dumpster Diving, (Dis)Taste, and Disgust. Exhibit presented at the Liu Institute for Global Issues’ Dirt Museum. University of British Columbia. Vancouver, BC. May 22 to September 30.

2011 Recycled Identities: Anarcho-Punx, Organization, Reciprocity, and Subversion. Poster Presented at the Annual Meeting for the Society for Applied Anthropology. Seattle, WA. April 1. American Anthropological Association.  Washington, D.C.  December 6.


Winter 2019

ANTH210 Eating Culture Sections

An anthropological exploration of how the collection, cultivation and consumption of food shapes human society and culture.

ANTH 210 002 Eating Culture