Sunday, April 26, 2009

Middletown Police Ticket Food Not Bombs

In open defiance of a city Health Department order to cease serving prepared foods to those gathered at their weekly meal, the local Food Not Bombs chapter found themselves visited Sunday by the Health Department and the police.

Three police officers, summoned by Public Health Sanitarian Manfred Rehm, wrote citations to local resident Fred Carroll and Wesleyan junior Michelle Markowitz for serving food to the public without a permit. The citations contain fines of at least $100 and up to $300.

The meal began without incident as Wesleyan students arrived with fruits and vegetables, most of which are excess from the Wesleyan Co-op, and then set up tables to serve salads, rice and a cake.

When Rehn arrived, he saw the prepared food and called in the police.

Middletown Police Officer White arrived first, asking for a responsible party to step forward.

"Who's in charge here," he asked.

"We all are," came the response from several of the people in attendance.

White asked that the prepared foods be taken away, and when they weren't he called reinforcements.

"It's like a cookout," said local resident Martha Allen. "When you cook out in your back yard it's the same damn thing. We're just having a cookout. People are hungry, and they need food. The soup kitchen don't open until 5 o'clock."

Markowitz, who was at the rally with several other Wesleyan students, most members of Food Not Bombs confronted Rehm.

"When there's not enough money, food becomes a privilege, and that isn't good," she said. "Food should be a right, not a privilege."

Despite the presence of the sanitarian and the police, people continued to serve themselves and eat as the city officials tried to determine what to do.

"I used to think there was a food shortage," Markowitz said. "But what I discovered is that there's an excess of food in some parts of society, and that a lot of food goes to waste. This is just re-distribution of food that would be wasted."

"We have so much extra food," said Wesleyan junior Chloe Bolton. "It would be a shame not to share it. And it's a great thing to get together and break bread."

When Police Officers determined that Carroll was at a meeting between the Health Department and Food Not Bombs, he was taken into a police cruiser and issued a ticket. Markowitz, who also took responsibility for delivering food was also cited. She was driven away in the cruiser to fetch her identification from her room at Wesleyan.

The Food Not Bomb members have been warned for weeks that the city considered them to be outside of regulations. They were offered the opportunity to prepare foods in the St. Vincent de Paul kitchen but refused when they were told St. Vincent would have to assume complete liability for the meals served.

"We didn't think it was fair for them to have to take on all the responsibility," Wesleyan student Daniel Schniedewind said. "We don't want to threaten their license or operation."

"I don't think we've ever issued a ticket before," Rehm conceded. "Most people cooperate when they're cited. It's the political agenda of this group. They just don't want to comply. I think they wanted this to happen."

Several of the people partaking of the food were surprised that the city was spending time shutting down the operation.

"When did it become a crime to serve food to hungry people?" Allen asked. "There's got to be other things to worry about at city hall. We're going to keep coming. They'll get tired before we do."

The Food Not Bomb volunteers agreed that they would return next Sunday to share another meal.


michele said...

I feel a tiny bit misquoted. I think the message still gets across, though.

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work, Dr. Fred and Co.-! I bet you the 'Authorities' involved would never take a stand on anything. I'm glad you and your friends do.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Sorry that you feel misquoted. It's a common feeling. I tried to be completely accurate, but did yoke two of your statements together.

Jon Wilkes Booth said...

All we want is to be able to continue sharing food for free with people who want to eat it. That is the extent of our political agenda.

Free food and free speech.

Anonymous said...

I'll be coming next week with friends. Thank you for standing up to the absurdity of state authority and the ridiculous economic system we live under that guarantees luxury for the the few and hunger and privation for many!

For a world free of bosses, politicians, and hunger!

Anonymous said...

Great story! Let me know if there is a legal defense fund for Fred and Company. Is anyone upset that in these extraordinary fiscal times our town employees see this as a priority?

random esker said...

Interesting that the Food Not Bombers have been doing their thing in the same location for over 10 years without complaints. I don't recall anyone getting sick from the food. From the outset, they have been providing a needed community service. If this is the City's idea of protecting its citizens, why are the folks being fed on the street in the first place. Who is really taking care of the people?

Meghan Quinn (Hartford IMC) said...

Good story, Middletown Eye! Check out for a story on this as well as some audio clips.

Anonymous said...

While I think it is great the students are involved in the community- why do they not volunteer at St. Vincent De Paul where there is seating, or have an open meal at a Wesleyan building? Set up picnic tables and invite folks to sit on Foss Hill or other Wesleyan owned property? While the students would not get the publicity and attention they do on Main Street, if they are truly dedicated to the cause of feeding the hungry one would think the homeless would be just as well served at the already existing soup kitchen.


Anonymous said...

The health department is just trying to ensure the safety of the city residents. I don't know why "Food Not Bombs" doesn't want to follow the rules like the rest of society. If your food is to standard then use the soup kitchen like the health dept. said you could and you would have no problems. Stop blaming others when you are in the wrong.

David Sauer said...

I have tremendous respect for the work that Food Not Bombs is doing and I applaud those that are willing to actually put in the work every week to make a difference. However, I do not think that they, or anyone, can or should be allowed to serve food unfettered by rules.

I have dealt with Sal Nesci and the Health Department many times over the past four years. I have always found them to be extremely helpful, knowledgeable and cooperative. By all accounts, they have made several attempts to allow Food Not Bombs to continue serving food without violating existing regulations and laws. In fact, an agreement was actually reached with the help of St. Vincent DePaul.

Food Not Bombs apparently later decided that they did not want St. Vincent's to be liable for their actions. It seems to me that if what Food Not Bombs is doing is totally safe, as they claim, then there should be no concern about St. Vincent's potential liability. If, on the other hand, the food being served does have some risk of making people sick if not properly prepared and handled then the need for Food Not Bombs to comply with the City's health regulations is obvious.

Frankly, I have to wonder whether some of Food Not Bombs intransigence is designed to draw more attention to their cause. They have been operating for several years without most residents ever hearing of them. Suddenly they are getting all kinds of news coverage.

Whatever the reasons, although I support the concept and the work that Food Not Bombs is doing, I think they need to comply with the City's laws and regulations that protect public health. Noble motives are not an adequate substitute for safe food handling methods. It is certainly unfair to criticize the Health Department and its employees for properly doing their job. Everyone wants to see this project continue, but it cannot be done solely on Food Not Bombs' terms.

Anonymous said...

we would serve food at the wesleyan campus, but the goal is to be accessible to everyone, and we believe main street is the most logical place for that.

and we are not serving food. we are sharing food and everyone who eats is a part of food not bombs.

dont believe me? come next sunday and ask.

TraverseSq said...

this bogus police officer is talking about how they have a political agenda?! this is so hilarious.... serving food to hungry people has now become political!

Madam Nirvana said...
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Madam Nirvana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Madam Nirvana said...

I feel Food Not Bombs is doing a great service to society and yes I agree Main Street is the best location, however send someone to Main Street with a sign and send folks to the Wesleyan location where the food is!
If Food not Bombs does not want to comply with public health regulations do they at least take the names and contact ( which I doubt is possible with homeless) so that should food cause an illness (which can happen even in your home kitchen accidentally) they can contact that person?? I doubt it.
Yes, food is a right not a luxury, but risking food poisoning to already fragile people health wise sounds very self serving. If you want to avoid rules the rest of the public must abide by serve the homeless in the privacy of your frat, dorm, or apartment! Then it is truly and private exchange of a meal-
What would Food not Bombs do if say the potato salad sat out too long and caused illness and sent people to the emergency room? Children and elderly can and do die from simple food poisoning. Does it really take something like this happening for Wesleyan students to wake up and see that getting a permit and or using a facility like St. Vincent is in their best interest as well??

No one is saying its bad to share food- just do it safely before someone gets hurt-by not serving food properly Food not Bombs sound as if they are saying that the homeless don't deserve the right to be safe when eating- making it a luxury to ensure the proper preparing of food, very hypocritical on Food Not Bombs part. They are hurting their cause by not complying.
If Food not Bombs refuses to distribute food under health department guidelines- maybe it would be a good idea for some of them to become educated about how to safely serve and prepare food in larger quantities at least?

Making ramen noodles in your dorm is one thing, but large meals for others is a whole other story. Myself and I'm sure the average person think they know enough about but probably don't- Ever see those thermometers in the food in a deli case?
Don't think they are for decoration-

It would be interesting if a local cook or chef, and or health official volunteered to show these students what it is all about- and the students actually listened to the advice! It would show a a mature and humble attitude towards the whole situation which I didn't think came across in the article.
It's shows your an adult when you can admit you don't know everything about everything; and can learn something- and in the end you do get what you want-It would really be a positive message to see the City and Food not Bombs reach an agreement!

Anonymous said...

Re? Polical Agenda / yes or no? What does the "Not Bombs" part of the organizations name have to do with any of this? Frankly I find it a bit confusing that this has not been mentioned or explained at all.

Abe Bobman said...

The people that participate in our Food Not Bombs meal, which is everyone who gathers food, cooks and eats it are intimately familiar with the quality of our food. Those who have been eating with Food Not Bombs for ten years without getting sick can attest to it.
People (like myself) CHOOSE to eat the food because it is FREE, nutritious, safe and celebratory.

We would love it if the attention we were getting was in positive terms, and we are certainly not being "intransigent" to receive media attention.

That said, it would be really great to get more people in the community involved. Come to our meal and make suggestions about ways we could be more healthy. Come to our kitchen and lend a hand.

Free food isn't dangerous, it's the healthiest.

dave r said...

All the rules and regulations in the world won't prevent people from occasionally (if at all) becoming sick. It happens, it's a fact of life.

I can't even count how many times someone has gotten sick from food they bought at a store or from a restaurant, and they usually have all those permits and "training" you so love to extol.

Do you suggest that when folks have a block party or picnic in the park that they need to have training first? I cook dinner most nights in my house, should I be required to have "proper" training or permits?

This is all total garbage from the City of Middletown, that in the end seeks to reinforce that we need a government to look out for us and our well being.

Hartford FNB said...

For those that wanted to know more about the politics of Food Not Bombs, specifically what ...not bombs implies,

check here for more info:

Madam Nirvana said...

So it seems some chapters of Food Not Bombs dumpster dives for food to feed the homeless- does the Wes group do this and if so are the recipients told this food might have been in a dumpster?

"dave r said...
All the rules and regulations in the world won't prevent people from occasionally (if at all) becoming sick. It happens, it's a fact of life"

Maybe to a person who is not homeless its ok to be sick, because you have a healthy immune system, but I would think those who live on the street might beg to differ. And just because the homeless might resort to eating from dumpsters doesn't mean they don't deserve more.

Yes dave r you should have the right to cook in your own home and have picnics with friends and not need a permit- but when you are using public property and marketing it to the public you are going into communal territory where rules apply. That's society, welcome!
There are ethical differences dave r between serving your friends potluck and possibly making false claims that your food is 100% safe to people that cannot afford to take a risk. I am sorry you cannot see that.
Also in the article above all the food prior to being given out was inspected by a health official- the Food Not Bombs group made an effort to learn how to be safe & got a permit ensuring that it was safe, its that simple.
auer, your comments are right on target.

Why fight such a simple step to get to your goal of helping people and air on the side of taking pre cautions? If you did you might get much more support! It doesn't sound as if the City is trying to hinder you so much as they are trying to help you!
Continuing to defy them in protest to society's rules makes Food Not Bombs the one's wasting taxpayer's money in the time of fiscal hardship.

Let Middletown help you and make your goal more attainable!

dave r said...

Like I previously said, permits do not prevent people from getting sick.
Just look at most restaurants, hospitals, schools and the prepared foods from grocery stores that sicken people all the time...oh, and those places usually have permits,training, etc.

Besides, what they mostly "teach" you about in a food preparation course, which is usually a one day class,(feel safer?) is how to properly cook meat, which Food Not Bombs does not use.

Middletown FNB like Hartford FNB have been sharing meals for over 12 years each, and no one has ever gotten sick.

How do I know that you might ask?
Because we are actually involved with the community! We see the same folks every week, we know when someone is missing or ill. And yes, most if not all the folks that share these meals know that the food was going to be thrown out or that it was taken from a dumpster. And you know what? Perfectly good food being thrown away pisses people off, because they're told (from government agencies) that there isn't enough food to go around.

But if you were ever hungry in your life, you'd know that between eating food that might (and I stress might) get you sick and not eating, you're gonna go with eating.

How you could possibly draw the conclusion that Food Not Bombs is the one wasting tax-payer dollars is beyond me...and quite insulting.

I think the issue here is that downtown businesses don't like to see homeless folks because they're afraid it's going to chase away business.

Daniel said...

Amen Dave

Anonymous said...

Middletown Food Not Bombs gets all of our food from donations from stores and from excess from the Wesleyan fruit and veggie coop (thats where most of the fresh fruits and veggie that we give away)

and i also think its funny that random people who've never ever eaten with us are complaining about us not having a permit. if the people who eat food not bombs were worried or complaining about it, thats one thing. but they are not. in fact theyre really pissed that the city is trying to shut it down.

when are we going to let people decide stuff for themselves?

and we dont want people to have to go out of their way to eat (thats why the food is on main street) and i dont think public safety would look too kindly on any poor or black people on campus, and we dont want anyone getting arrested. (This fact is something we all detest)

Jesse said...

No kidding. Nirvana, you can't possibly believe that people attending the Food Not Bombs meals would be better served eating nothing at all. That seems a much surer route to poor health than eating food which, thus far, has proven to be extremely safe.

Taxpayer dollars would be better spent addressing the issue of Middletown residents' need for food than paying officers to ticket those attempting to alleviate the problem.

abbey volcano said...

Yeah. Food safety classes. Complete bullshit. I'm a licensed food safety specialist. I went to an 8hr class, learned how to cook various types of non-human animals, and got a card that's good for 5 years. That's what all the people preparing your food at restaurants have, too. Ever worked at a restaurant?? You might think twice before eating out again if you have.

Why do people believe that regulations work, that people take them seriously, and that people do exactly what they're told? Just cuz I went to a class doesn't even mean that I'll prepare food properly. It means that I'll make sure to make my kitchen compliant for when the health inspector comes, which is usually forewarned by the inspector themselves.

Being involved with the community and sharing meals with friends is a FAR BETTER WAY to "regulate" food safety, rather than trying to make a profit. These myths about state authority need to be tossed already for the love of jebus. Cooking and preparing food for profit (ie, restaurants) should be what's scary. Profit tops all. Sharing meals is for health and nutrition and comradery.

Isaac said...

I think the idea that people who are food insecure are immunologically challenged is a misconception. The food consumed by affluent people is prepared and packaged in a sterile environment while the home grown and home cooked meals that are the only options for struggling folks are infected with many microbes that are eliminated by the bodies defense system, which builds up immunities over time.

I think its important to ask the question of where our idea of cleanliness comes from. We have a long history of associating cleanliness with goodness and merit, best summed up by the phrase, "cleanliness is next to godliness." filthiness has become something that we use to identify the outgroup- the alien, inhuman, animal - who has a different idea of godliness from ourself.

Cleanliness is a standard we use to assess worth in our society. Those who posess the wealth and leisure to remain indoors- inactive and eating sterile food - scorn the poor people and traveling folks whose lifestyle involves getting dirty to get by.

Anonymous said...

I believe what I said was that why not follow the rules that are easier followed then fought? I don't always like bureaucracy either, but in this instance it could help your cause.

I was in no way suggesting that its better than the homeless eat nothing. And yes food poisoning can occur even from vegan meals one would think. It is not about the piece of paper that a permit is, but going through proper channels that would aid in establishing legitimacy to your cause and help the group and the City reaching an agreement.

The people who are complaining just want reassurance other than past precedent that what your are doing is safe through some tangible means because it concerns the collective community we all live in- thats all. We are on the same side.

It depends on what your goal is- feed the hungry or make a statement in support of anarchy, and no one is stopping you from either in this case.

An olive branch was extended to the students by St. Vincent, the Dept. of Health, and through representation in essence the tax payers- why not take advantage of the opportunity?

Madam Nirvana said...

Isaac & Abby- I appreciate your comment, the only one that has made sense to me thus far- I am happy to learn something new.

Permits and classes- your right won't fix everything or stop illness in restaurants and a like, but its a step.

I think its also a misconception that some Main Street business folk don't care about the homeless or think they are "unsightly"- because maybe they don't literally feed them, however they do what they can- making large donation to Amazing Grace Food Pantry as example; where I work did. And it wasn't because it was convienent or any less work or we didn't want to get dirty - its using what we do best to make the largest impact.

Be glad the community is concerned!
So show the rest of us who might be "food insecure" in a language/manner which us some of us common townie folk understand - permits- & regulation compliance- that you know what your doing -
Shatter the misconceptions by proving them wrong in a way we get- putting them against standards the majority uses-
Gain the public's confidence and more doors will open up for your cause. Hell, I'll even share my food!


abbey volcano said...

Madam Nirvana-

The thing is, complying with state and city regulations is against the principles of FNB. Take a look around at the FNB site, and you'll probably have a better understanding of our views. I think dave r already put a link up for this:

Anyway, to paraphrase: FNB works from a perspective that has a heavy concentration of making our means consistent with our ends. Meaning, we want to organize horizontally (w/o hierarchy)and collectively. Both these notions are in stark contrast to state authority. In fact, FNB is living protest of the way the state and our society currently (dis)organizes food distribution (and everything else, really).

One of our main points is being non-violent. We do this serving vegan meals, but also by calling out our gov't on spending loads more $ on military spending, rather than offering ways to make sure everyone has everything they need to live dignifying, healthy and loving lives (not given to them, or handed to them by some transcendent state-god, but by providing this for ourselves). So in this way, you can see that the way we do FNB is doing the best we can with the waste and tyranny of the gov't. Why would we want their approval to do such?

As well, I would argue that you and other town folk need not have the state OKing activities for you to have trust in them. The state and capitalism (and various institutional hierarchies) are at the root of our problems, not people working together to gather and feed each other with the resources we have available to us. There's another terrible thing about the state and other institutionalized hierarchies: they make you believe that folks can't do things "right" without someone telling them to do so. Don't forget, workers (people in general, "regular" folks) are the ones who make and do everything in this nation (in this world). We don't need someone to tell us how. We have brains and we have know-how. We can provide for ourselves, and we must, as you can see- the gov't is really doing such a good job. We need to find ways to break this thought-control.

dave r said...

madam nirvana...I don't think you understand.

Food insecurity does not mean that you don't trust the safety of food. It means that you don't always have access to food.

You say that previous posters comments make sense to you, yet you still cling to the notion that permits somehow make food safer.

What gives?

You ask Food Not Bombs to "Shatter the misconceptions by proving them wrong in a way we get- putting them against standards the majority uses-".

That's exactly what we've done! 12 years and no one has gotten sick.

Madam Nirvana said...

I am starting to understand more ( and I did read the wiki the first time) the political agenda of the group.
And I thought I was liberal.
You are right,I took a different meaning from "food insecure" than you do. But my meaning does show the cultural difference at the root of this. Myself and others do need someone with in the health field to tell us food is safe, even though yes, there still is a chance with a permit it is not. To you its a piece of paper, to others it is more. Unfortunately for you, we are in the majority. Who is right? Who knows. I really am not equipped to debate that.

My point still is sometimes working with the system is more effective than fighting it, if not complying gets you shut down, then has your goal been met?-

I guess it comes down to will you compromise the values of FNB and use the means offered by Middletown to feed people? Which desire is stronger?


Anonymous said...

To Abby Volcano:

What I wonder is why Food Not Bombs wasted everyone's time and energy negotiating an agreement with the city to allow food prep at St. Vincent's if it is your intention not to be regulated? You want to stand on your principles, fine, but then stand up and say it instead of making agreements, breaking them and then offering differing reasons why.

AMcandoit said...

Wasting OUR time? Brother, please!

I came upon this scene at the corner of Main and Liberty about a year ago. A congenial group of young people who believe that food is a right, and who care enough about their fellow man to spend their time gathering, preparing and sharing food every Sunday. I looked at it as an answer to an age-old problem.

Working in many restaurants over the years, I've seen lots of perfectly good food go to waste and have often thought, "I wish there was a way to feed the hungry with all this perfectly good food that's going to waste". Here's FNB to the rescue... in action for 30 years, and in Middletown for 10 years without incidents. Why a problem now? I have a guess ...

What concerns me is that we are only looking at a tiny piece of the problem that has yet to really explode.

Have you read the FNB website?

Also, there are other sites I recommend investigating (see below) - so you can see what's happening all over the world regarding our food. It's real and it's going to take groups like FNB and others to stand up for our rights to eat what we want, from whatever source we want.

I respect the FNB group for their vision and dedication to their fellow man. They understand that personal care, commitment and due diligence is paramount. I feel safe eating their food and look forward to it each week. They cook the way I would if I had the time and ingredients - naturally healthy. Healthier than the food I used to serve out of a licensed food cart - because they don't use partially hydrogenated oils, meats, white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc. - they use fresh vegetables and fruits - nothing is ever frozen, reheated or held for hours. This practice is far different from what you find in restaurants. Laws exist because people in restaurants handle potentially hazardous foods, and treat food in far different ways, by necessity, than does FNB. I trust that they use safe preparation practices because I trust them as people, not because they have a permit. Remember, they are not in this for a monetary gain - they do this out of love, respect and freedom - which causes them to properly prepare food and share it in a responsible way. Is their food safe? Look at how long they have served food here in Middletown with no incidents of sickness and you can see that their methods do produce a safe product.

They cook simple, vegetarian or vegan (often organic) healthy meals. No matter where they get the food from they visually inspect it and won't use what's not fit to eat. They use common sense to determine if the food they gather is good - it's not that hard when you're just dealing with fresh vegetables and fruits - even if its not fresh off the vine. The group here finds plenty of excess food from reliable sources and they don't handle problematic foods like meats, sprouts, eggs, mayonaise and such. So rules? Yes, they follow them - the rules of common sense, care for our fellow man and personal integrity.

Could they follow the HD's requirements and continue to serve the public? Time will tell. It's not as easy or clear cut as you might think.

I trust FNB to handle the food responsibly more than I do some with licenses. Why? Because some with licenses care more about their financial gain than they do about their patrons - and FNB folks DO care - or they wouldn't bother volunteering their time!

This is not to knock the Health Dept. They do a good job - it's our entire system that arguably is faulty in nature - where we rely on rules and paperwork involving fees rather than on our inner ethics and personal morality. While empathetic, and kind in their procedural duties, the Health Dept. and Police Dept. are both following dictates which WE as a people expect them to do. WE elect officials who write laws and if we don't oppose them legally, then we are subject to them. What does this say about the way we do things as a society? Clearly it's time to reexamine our laws, and look at what's happening around us - lest they further restrict our freedom to eat what we want.

And folks, beware - if you think this is just about Middletown - think again. Read and investigate. There is a bigger bug out there than most of us realize and while it would be nice not to face it, I think we are seeing it's venom right now - with this very issue of serving food as we want to.

I suggest you keep your eyes, ears and minds open for this term: FOOD SAFETY. There is more to this than what we see here in Middletown.

I heard about this over a year ago (on a WESU radio program called Living Naturally) and now I see the fruits of this labor to keep us "safe from food" happening around us. Things are changing and we will be forced to make radical, life-altering decisions. We will need to fight for our right to eat what we want - do you know what's happening around the world now due to WHO mandates?

This is what they want us to believe:

This is what's behind the story they tell you, this is what I think is causing this interest by the HD to come down on FNB at this time. It's not coincidence - read up on this and you'll see how big this is.

see also

FNB is a grass-routes movement that may save our lives. We must come together to feed ourselves in ways that rely on our own moral ethics and obligation to each other and use common sense methods. I hope we can maintain this worthy mission.

Anonymous said...

Food Not Bombs is Anarchistic ....... get it?

Anonymous said...

lots of love and support for doing something so wonderful - maybe all the CT chapters can show up there next sunday to show support! where and when do you serve?

Anonymous said...

Well, I guess Abbey V. is the Joe Biden of the FNB administration! Why work with the City when your whole purpose is to give the middle finger to the war-mongering Capitalists?
Complying with laws is AGAINST the principles of FNB? The fact the hungry get fed is a byproduct of the real intent-dissent against the government? The truth finally emerges!
P.S.- you just elected your "state-god".

Mike said...

Lots of fines we have currently are just cash grabs for the most part. I know why guy he was a student and he had a ticket of 300 dollars for not wearing his seat beat. The guy is a student. How can he afford this?