Every Sunday evening, if you drive by SEGi College at Jalan Hang Lekiu, you may come across a small stall giving out free food opposite the college.. You could spend an hour looking at them and you probably won’t see anything other than a group of people volunteering to help the homeless.
But what if we told you that most of the volunteers are actually punk rock musicians?
You probably won’t find this surprising if you noticed the banner behind them or, more likely, if you read the title of this article. These guys run a soup kitchen called Food Not Bombs Kuala Lumpur (FNBKL), a name they incorporated from an international organization that fights for food as a human right (but more about this later).
But uh… isn’t a soup kitchen the LEAST punk thing to do?
If your Spotify playlist is essentially a Taylor Swift discography, you’d probably think that punk rockers are angsty, violent Misfits stomping around in their Doc Martens, leather jackets, and super long spiky hair. And just like how you missed the punk band reference in the previous sentence, you probably also missed the point of punk.
Although most of us are familiar with the punk look, there’s actually a philosophy behind it. While the idea of punk has changed over the years, the heart of it lies in rejecting mainstream authority and values while promoting values like equality and individuality – which some have called a DIY subculture.
So, in 2001, when a group of punk rockers in KL came together, they wanted to do something that would help marginalized communities like the homeless.
“At the time, people in the punk community were really socially aware of the issues and politics around them – they were expressing it through, you know, punk music. They wanted to do more and were brainstorming ideas on what they can do, which was when they heard about Food Not Bombs and how FNBKL came about.” – Thilaga, in an interview with Cilisos
Essentially, they heard about Food Not Bombs, an international movement that collects food that would otherwise be thrown away and distributing them as vegetarian/vegan meals to the hungry. This sounded like a great idea but, so they decided to take the brand and form their own chapter in Malaysia, since the name isn’t really copyrighted – technically, anyone can use them.
“While we do sometimes connect with Food Not Bombs in other countries, we usually do things our own way. We just took the name.” – Man, in an interview with Cilisos
And so, FNBKL was born.
Man told us that through their soup kitchen, they are helping the helpless and standing in solidarity with them, while also protesting those in power for neglecting them. Which, as you can expect, are also very punk things to do.
“The main goal is that we want to effect change so that no one else will be forced to stand in a line at soup kitchens.” – Man
But they didn’t just go from the B-52s to helping the B40 community – they also have a weird way of sourcing their food.
They hunt for ‘unwanted’ food from dumpsters
Alright, alright, before you go and marah them for feeding the homeless with rotten food, it’s really not like that at all.
“We were dumpster diving because we couldn’t afford to buy food from the markets.” – Man
We were told that when FNBKL first started, they would literally sift through garbage bins outside markets to collect foodstuffs that have been thrown out. But of course, they’ll make sure the food is still in perfectly good condition despite their appearance. Guess you could say the food isn’t…..Rancid.
That went on for quite some time until some vendors caught them in the act. Luckily for them though, upon learning FNBKL’s cause to feed the homeless, the vendors were kind enough to invite them to the markets during closing times and let them take the unsold and ugly-looking food.
“They were like, ‘You may look bad, but you have a kind heart’.
So during closing times, we’d visit the market and collect the ‘unwanted’ food. The trolleys are always full.” – Man
That kinda served as an inspiration for them, because the food stuffs they collected may have seemed ugly on the outside, but they’re safely edible, which makes them ‘unwanted’ or ‘rejected’ food. From then on, FNBKL made it a mission to only source these kinds of food, going so far as to form relationships with other supermarkets and requesting them to save up the ‘unwanted’ food for FNBKL.
Often, these food stuffs cannot be sold purely because their outward appearances are not attractive enough – and it’s actually a big problem. According to a study from earlier this year, we waste about 907 kgs of food on a daily basis, and a huge portion of that is these ‘unwanted’ foods.
So by taking these ‘unwanted’ foods, cooking vegetarian meals with them, and giving them out to the hungry, FNBKL is actually killing two birds with one stone. Not only can they feed the homeless, they can also give unwanted food second chances. The point, Man said, was to prove that food should be a basic human right.
“A lot of food are wasted, but a lot of people are still going hungry. And that’s partly because of these so-called ‘unwanted’ food.” – Man
However, giving out free food isn’t all they’re doing…
FNBKL also teaches women how to sew their own menstrual pads
Eh? Why menstrual pads?
See, when one’s homeless, it means that besides food, they don’t have access to a lot of other things as well – and when it comes to a homeless woman, that includes menstrual products, which they often they can’t afford. Sometimes, they even have to turn to using newspaper sheets or slices of bread to take care of themselves.
Any woman would know that those are unhygienic and can cause an array of health problems for them down the line, such as reproductive tract infections. In that sense, teaching homeless women to sew menstrual pads is actually helpful, as they can always keep it clean down there for cheap.
Thilaga told us that while FNBKL consists of mostly male punk rockers, they were still taught how to sew menstrual pads by female volunteers through their own workshops. This allows them to teach homeless women to do the same thing if and when they need it.
“They were very open about it. We wanna have a relationship with the people we serve that’s meaningful and not superficial. In that sense, we nurture, encourage, and support one another’s interests and needs.” – Thilaga
Apart from menstrual pads, Man told us that there are organic gardening workshops and bicycle fixing workshops as well. All of these are meant to allow themselves to educate others to be as self-sufficient as possible. For example, with the organic gardening workshops, not only can they grow their own crops, they can also teach the homeless how to grow their own food. Self-sustainability, y’all.
And unlike most articles where we highlight groups helping less fortunate Malaysians…
Don’t give them any money!
Surprised? Well, FNBKL isn’t keen on the idea of throwing your money at something in order to feel like you made a difference. Instead, their philosophy is for people to take a hands-on approach in helping – such as contributing food or kitchen supplies or volunteering at the soup kitchen itself. As Man puts it:
“No cash. Just food and a desire to help.”
There’s only ONE time they’ll take your cold hard cash, and that’s through fundraising activities such as punk rock performances and selling self-made T-shirts when they really need money to buy kitchen appliances and other supplies. Just earlier this year, FNBKL did a benefit show, ‘Effective Altruism, a Benefit Show For: Food Not Bombs, KL‘ on the 8th of February, and managed to raise a total of RM4293!
And don’t worry if you actually only have Taylor Swift in your Spotify playlist. Man told us FNBKL is not exclusive to punk rockers only, they’re more than happy to welcome to anyone who’s interested in cooking and distributing food with them. Since the inception of FNBKL, they have received volunteers from all walks of life, including feminists, environmentalists, and social workers – so they’ve definitely grown a lot from a soup kitchen that was started by punk rockers.
“Just like punk rock, FNBKL is about human rights. They’re all people. We don’t judge. We just wanna make sure they’re taken care of.” – Man
If you wanna do your part in helping them, you can always reach out to them on their Facebook page to make your practical donations or even volunteer yourself.