Since the news last week that Ben & Jerry's was supporting the Occupy Wall Street protesters, more and more reports about the role of food in the protests have been surfacing.
Both the New York Times and Good magazine have noted the plethora of decent food available, including Katz's deli sandwiches, Pepperidge Farm goldfish, Wolfgang Puck canned soup and energy bars, not to mention the $15 OccuPie pizza made from nearby Liberatos Pizza. The Times speaks to a protester who has gained five pounds since arriving in Zuccotti Park, and who claims he eats better there than at home.
It would be an exaggeration to say that the protesters are eating like kings, but it's hard not to notice the presence of corporate food at a decidedly anti-corporate movement. In the case of Ben & Jerry's, owned by Unilever since 2000, not all protesters welcomed the company's support with open arms. Alice Hines of Daily Finance spoke to protester Donal Foreman, who explained his thoughts, "Ben and Jerry's is a corporate entity. Their primary interest is profit and giving away ice cream doesn't change or threaten that." He adds, "Still, it's hard to say no to free ice cream."
"Free" may be the key word. Sales for nearby Wall Street food vendors have taken a big nose dive. A Halal food cart owner told the Wall Street Journal that his sales are down by 80% since they've lost the business crowd. Stacey Tzortzatos, owner of Panini & Co. Breads, sympathized with the protesters and said she would probably join them, if they weren't hurting her business so much. Other protesters are buying food, though -- in the video below, one protester admits to frequenting McDonald's. And, no one is complaining about the free bathrooms at Starbucks.
A protester told the Times, "Food plays a huge part in this movement...people are tired of being fed poison." Mark Bittman understands that sentiment, to a degree. He writes, "What we need are more activists who are interested in food than 'food activists'...A movement that questions everything — from food justice to economic justice — is a fine start."
So is there a hypocrisy at play when anti-Wall Street protesters are welcoming free Ben & Jerry's pints, eating McDonald's and then going dumpster diving? Perhaps, like the sometimes nebulous demands of the protesters themselves, there is not a consensus in regards to how food should be eaten, prepared or even protested against. The participants just believe it is important to take a stand.