Anarchist Oatmeal Cookies: The First Year

The impulse to start the anarchist cookie project occurred to me during a Usenet discussion of strategies for moving toward a free society. As a person who is attracted to anarchy and communism, I thought that one sort of freedom proposed by some anarchists could be put in place immediately: free food. Food, especially plain, unprocessed food, is rather cheap -- in fact, a substantial amount is thrown away every day in every part of the country. My idea was to distribute some basic foods like rice, beans, flour, and oil to all comers, no questions asked and no preachments given (except on request, of course) as a regular, reliable, institutionalized practice. I believe this idea is feasible, although carrying it out would probably be tricky and possibly dangerous. I decided a good name for the proposal's aim was "Convivium" (inspired by Ivan Illich's Tools for Conviviality, but with a significant difference of meaning). The free food stores would be a sort of demonstration project for other sorts of freely supplied goods.

There's nothing very original about my analysis or approach; readers of Bakunin, Kropotkin, the aforesaid Illich, Marx, and the other usual suspects will probably find the theoretical aspects of it tediously familiar. Fortunately, that part of my writing is elsewhere; this is only autobiography.

I advanced the idea of free food stores on the Net and elsewhere, and while a few people seemed to think it was a fine idea, very few seemed interested enough to participate in setting up something like an actual free food store. While I might have been able to do something completely on my own, or to sell the idea to others (especially if I found a good salesman or saleswoman) I think that it is very important that such efforts be collective and autonomous. I think leadership, charisma, and the cult of administration are poisonous to everything the Left is about. Fortunately, being monumentally uncharismatic, I have a particular talent for the sort of thing I am trying to do.

Since it was clear that I did not know how to bring about even the modest step of a free food store toward Convivium, I decided to try an even more modest step, the regular production and distribution of Anarchist Oatmeal Cookies. I started with a recipe given to me by a friend, made a few batches of cookies, and took them to the only people I know doing non-bourgeois food distribtion, Food Not Bombs. Hanging around with them a bit, I found that they stopped by Blackout Books, New York City's anarchist book store, so I started bringing them to Blackout Books myself. I've also made cookies available to various demonstrations, street parties, events, and the like which have taken place in New York City in the last year. I also give them away personally. The project is continuing in the present.

In order to give my customers some idea of what I'm up to, I distribute a flyer with the cookies. The flyer, a folded 8.5 x 11 piece of paper, has the recipe on front and a brief ideological screed within. (The text is available on Page A.) The back has contact addresses (mine). Generally, I just bring some of the flyers around with the cookies, but in some cases I put the cookies in small plastic bags, three or four apiece, along with a folded-up flyer. These are handy for bad weather and ambiguous scenes -- they can be easily dropped into a pocket in the event of a police attack, for example. They are portable food, and portable foods are good for the homeless, for demonstrators and street celebrators, for the temporarily autonomous, for those who need to be elsewhere shortly. In the event of attack, only food immediately in the way is lost.

Having practiced a bit, I can now reliably turn out about ten pounds of cookies in two and a half hours of work. Generally, I do this once a week. I could probably raise my level of production with larger utensils and appliances, which I'm looking into. I'm also thinking about working in some more central location, to encourage other people to participate. (Presently, I bring the cookies in to downtown Manhattan from an isolated suburb, Staten Island.) I'm thinking about other portable foods that I might be able to concoct efficiently.

What result has this project had so far? It's hard to say. I know that the ideas associated with it have been discussed and very occasionally I get an inquiry on the web site or by telephone. On the other hand, I can't say that I have been overwhelmed by similar-minded revolutionaries or that I see free stores springing up everywhere. The Revolution does not appear to be at quite at hand, even though the objective conditions for a radical transformation of our social relations are certainly present. Of course, it is not the last blow that splits the rock, but all those that preceded it. So I shall persist for awhile.

More as it happens.....