The Food Not Bombs issue is blowing up. Not content to try shutting down Food Not Bombs’s activities, the Middletown Health Department is now also limiting local churches and soup kitchens from distributing food.
We had previously reported that Food Not Bombs had a hearing last month to contest their citation and cease-and-desist order from the Middletown Health Department (MHD) for offering free meals last semester on Main Street, which violates local health codes.
Hearings were continued this week on Monday, September 21, in which the MHD Code Enforcement Officer and Sanitarian both testified against FNB, and FNB member Abe Bobman ’11 offered a defense.
From the Middletown Eye:
“We’re not necessarily attempting to serve, but allow people to gather and share a meal,” [Bobman] said. “We gather and try to provide a testament to abundance instead of scarcity, and to promote the idea that everyone has the right to eat. We’re trying to level the distinctions between haves, and have-nots. We offer ideas as well as sustenance.”
Bobman allowed that part of the Food Not Bombs philosophy was to demonstrate that in a country which spends so much on national defense, there are still many who go hungry, and that the shared meals attempt to point out that disparity.
Now, in an even more ridiculous move, the MHD is looking beyond FNB and cracking down on other local food-sharers as well.
The Middletown Eye reports that the director of the St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen on Main Street testified at the FNB hearing that his soup kitchen regularly serves meals with food cooked and donated by individuals in the community. As a result, he is now also being cited for sharing food prepared in unlicensed kitchens.
It seems that all charitable unlicensed food-giving is threatened unless the state clears up the law being enforced. Local churches offer free Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for the poor and indigent with the help of donated food, and these meals are also at risk of being shut down if the MHD keeps up its enforcement of this law.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the statute being enforced in these cases needs to be changed to be less broad, or at the very least articulated more clearly. Cracking down on Food Not Bombs’ free meal sharing is questionable enough, but threatening to shut down holiday dinners for the poor is a major government fail.
Change seems to be on the way though. Food Not Bombs has already filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Middletown in federal court, for violating their rights to free expression by requiring a license.
Now Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is urging the State Senate and Congress to modify the statute so that it exempts charitable organizations which share food with those in need (read his letter here). Councilman David Bauer is also pushing for an ordinance change.
But for now, the MHD is planning to issue a judgment on the Food Not Bombs case shortly, after having heard testimony from both sides, and the issue will proceed from there.
In the meantime, Food Not Bombs is still sharing its meals on the corner of Main and Liberty Streets every Sunday, under a temporary compromise which allows them to prepare food at First Church on Court Street in Middletown.
Middletown Eye: Food Not Bombs coverage
Wesleying FNB coverage
Hartford Courant: Anti-Hunger Group Food Not Bombs to Argue Against Need for Conncecticut License