Several hunger strikes are happening across the UK Sasi Valaiyapathi

Hunger strikers and activists from the global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion held a “Foodless Feast” in Cambridge to draw attention to the effects of climate change on food supplies.

The group were stationed outside the Guildhall on Sunday, at a table set with empty plates and cups. Bright red and blue posters were hung on the doors to the building behind them, warning passers-by of the “climate emergency” they were campaigning against.

Tilly, a Cambridge student who went on hunger strike for seven days, cited her fear of climate change’s current and future effects as her motivation. “By 2050 most of the Middle East will be uninhabitable. It’s easier to stick with business as usual than to make the changes that we need to make. I’m scared for the food riots. I’m scared for the mass migration. I’m scared for the weather that literally kills you. And I’m scared for all those people that are so much more vulnerable than us here in the UK.”

Donald, a Cambridge-born paramedic who also went on hunger strike for a week, highlighted the different response that a hunger strike creates compared to disruptive action: “I’ve noticed over the years that a hunger strike always draws a little more attention from a different kind of person, which disruptive action just doesn’t create. So hunger striking is another string in our bow to get this message across.”

Tilly added that hunger striking is more of a personal journey than a mass rally or protest. “I think in XR we make a lot of sacrifices when we’re doing disruptive action like rallies and protests, and those are fundamental, but sometimes it’s important to disrupt yourself - to understand what it is that you’re willing to sacrifice in order to reach the future that we need.”

The group handed out leaflets explaining the science behind why climate change is affecting food production. The leaflets warned the community that “no one is safe” from the effects of climate change and declared that “We hunger strike because this is an emergency.”

Donald and Tilly have been stationed outside the Guildhall every day for several hours since beginning the hunger strike. When asked about how she has coped throughout the seven days, Tilly said, “Even basic decision making is hard. You’re so exhausted after being here during the day that it’s hard to even begin to think about doing degree work when I get home. But today our spirits have been a lot higher now that we’re in the final stretch.”

Donald added, “It’s hard to think straight - I’ve been zoning out a lot, and trying to get on with day to day life - cycling to places, walking my dog - it takes a lot of effort. We’ve spent most of the last couple of days barely moving around.”

Also placed on the table were posters giving information about foods which should be avoided to protect the environment, such as avocados, which require a large amount of water to grow one fruit, and bananas, which require “expensive irrigation systems” to grow properly.


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Tilly highlighted the specific focus of the current campaign on the food insecurity aspect of climate change, saying, “It’s not something that people are always necessarily aware of, so we’ve been able to teach people a lot.” XR Cambridge has also been encouraging the community to give to food banks and give blood as part of their campaigns.

Sahanika, a PhD student at Cambridge, has been involved in the movement for over 6 months. “The response from people is usually positive - people are curious, they’re worried. Occasionally they think it’s a bit extreme but they’re on board with the issue. And it’s amazing to see that the movement is getting bigger and bigger - more and more people are attending our meetings and getting involved with events. It shows that people are waking up to the urgency of the situation.”

Rose, a postdoctoral student at Cambridge, talked about the aims of the movement. “XR is pretty clear about what needs to happen. People need to be talking about it and thinking about it each day, and acting as soon as possible to change.” Extinction Rebellion have made their demands clear on their website, one of which is to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2025.

Several hunger strikes have taken place across the UK, with an additional “Election Rebellion” movement aiming to put the ecological emergency at the top of the agenda of politicians in the upcoming General Election.