Vegan Cooks of the World, Unite!

by John L. Murphy

5 November 2015

The Anarchist Cookbook, unlike William Powell's 1971 effort, espouses non-violence. It expands anarchism to its titular concerns, which is rarely found in such primers.
 
cover art

The Anarchist Cookbook

Keith McHenry

(See Sharp)
US: Oct 2015

No, it’s not that one. This one borrows the title and the stenciled cover art of antiwar activist William Powell’s 1971 tirade, but it opens with Powell’s own 2013 disavowal of his original manual, which has been in demand ever since. He wishes it would go out of print. Keith McHenry, for nearly as long, has worked with Food Not Bombs in New Mexico. Arrested nearly 100 times, he shares meals with those in need.

The Anarchist Cookbook, then, is a true cookbook, but it’s also a handbook for D.I.Y. subversion, in another era of war. Some current events never go out of date.

Newly published, prefaced by a typically charged introduction by Chris Hedges, the 2015 publication of The Anarchist Cookbook features a lively tone and inspiring argument. Although his section seems detached from the rest of the contents, it sets a context. Hedges claims that the “anarchist does not succumb, not because he or she is assured of victory, but because to be ruled by fear, to bow before the demands of power, means one is no longer an anarchist. Anarchism is a state of being.”

Hedges shifts the impact of an anarchist’s rebellion to “what he or she becomes”, rather than “what he or she achieves”. This distinction sustains this anthology. It combines theory with practice. It surveys anarchist thought. It critiques “tactics of diversity” (which can divide anarchists from one another over a resort to violent resistance). This book, unlike Powell’s, espouses non-violence. It expands anarchism to its titular concerns, which is rarely found in such primers. Vegan cooks of the world, unite!

Part One distinguishes anarchism from terrorism, primitivism, chaos, rejection of (non-coercive) organization, amoral egotism, and what the right-wing has co-opted as capitalist-friendly “libertarianism”. Instead, the Food Not Bombs’ strategy, as its name states, rejects domination and coercion. Most anarchists, furthermore, turn away from not only capitalism but religion, as manifestations of “the twin evils”. Freedom from restraint and what Emma Goldman called “the freedom to” intertwine as negative and positive senses of liberty. Freedom for all means respect for the rights of others and a wider access to resources which can nourish and educate more people who crave wisdom and long for moral guidance. This in turn will provide more people the freedom to act.

“You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship” follows, an insert from a 1979 Australian pamphlet critiquing urban guerrillaism. This strategy is what Hedges, during Occupy Wall Street, (in)famously challenged. Vehemently if also intelligently, members of black blocs argued back.

“Revolutionary Nonviolence”, in this collection of essays, counters through Food Not Bombs’ refusal to enter into confrontations, which the authors warn may be instigated by undercover police, informants, and provocateurs. McHenry and Bufe speak from the inside. They recognize the pitfalls that newcomers may miss. While many anarchists defend the black bloc approach, and while this reviewer has encountered equally eloquent paeans to “by any means necessary”, here is a time-tested counter-argument.

As FBI entrapment is a danger for left-libertarians and anti-capitalist advocates, and as the post-9/11 security state lures anarchists but then turns them to report on one another, a chapter on how to minimize risk advises activists. This book emphasizes the need to state non-violent choices early on among others, in person as well as in print, for more than one conviction has been obtained from infiltrators who report out-of-context jests and asides from casual conversations. It’s a sobering situation when those attempting to spark change find themselves compromised—in a memo or a court filing detailing an off-the-cuff joke about less-than-peaceful means of protest—by an FBI affidavit.

Part Two suggests safer approaches to stir up social change. Boycott and divestment campaigns, co-ops, education face-to-face and online, labor organizing (with its inevitable drawbacks, given how few of today’s workers belong to unions, and those which remain are often corrupt or undemocratic), and wildcat tactics are considered. Again, due to the inability of many workers now to cajole bosses into better conditions in an unstable environment of “at-will” contracts, corporate surveillance, and “contingent” or “on-call” employees, most of the authors’ suggestions feel borrowed from the ‘30s, when strikes, slowdowns, and picketing might move the mighty to capitulate. I feel far less sure now.

For more drastic measures, occupations of public space, and the dangers of sabotage earn coverage. The “simple living” trend popularized by well-meaning if often privileged progressives gets dismissed as less realistic than idealistic. Similarly, advantages and disadvantages of street demonstrations, from McHenry’s years of marching, merit discussion. He treats the dubious attractions of fringe vanguard parties; he examines quarrels over voting as useless or not (as in referenda which he argues serve a wider purpose of necessary legislative change on certain issues).

Of course, anarchists prefer their own ways of organizing to encourage others to join. In a digital age, value in one-on-one conversation may even inspire more listeners, engaging in discussion and debate, taking action rather than sitting behind a keyboard. Useful tips on public outreach are shared. For example, you learn how to pack a literature table’s contents, and why rocks (police can accuse one of stocking up on them as weapons) are not as good as rubber bands to secure flyers. As the pages turn, the practical nature of the book emerges in its second half. Here are steps on organizing meetings, a consensus flow chart, promoting a local event or taking it in tour, and convening a gathering.

Direct action is familiar to all anarchists. Combined with non-violence, a section tells the organizer how to plan. Based on Food Not Bombs’ own experience, McHenry and his co-writer, counterculture scholar Chaz Bufe, look at such issues as pirate radio, tent protests, vigils, blockades, and how to (try to) give out free meals. With an increasing homeless population and police tensions, this is a relevant concern.

Misunderstood by many critics, the principle of reclaiming for the commons the “stolen property” hoarded by the few is a fundamental campaign for anarchists. It does not mean individuals or families surrender everything they own as “tools”. Similar to indigenous peoples’ claims to what the people use and enjoy together, anarchist ambitions documented here as squats and communal reclamations reveal how widespread historically and globally such efforts persist. This, in turn, leads back to food.

Mutual aid can fight world hunger. Conscious eating brings consumers to live more lightly off the land. Meeting together, community is formed and communal spirit bonds activists. Therefore, recipes for small groups of five or six are given. Then, many are expanded for 100 diners. From granola to home fries, hummus to nopalitos, tofu fajitas to “Trident Subs” (spicy), a hearty menu awaits.

This handy volume concludes with a few tips on growing your own—as in using spices and herbs, and trying your hand at a few backyard crops. This rushes by, however, too rapidly. But this is a guide for more progress. Appended are a series of themed reading lists. This affordable and handsomely produced compendium is far less volatile than its predecessor; let’s hope it ignites its own spark.

The Anarchist Cookbook

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