Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Food Proves to Be A Public Relations Bomb for Middletown
Spread across the front page of the Hartford Courant this morning is a story of Middletown's effort to ban Food Not Bombs from sharing meals with Middletown residents every Sunday morning in front of the Buttonwood Tree. It is now a statewide story, and will likely be picked up by the national press. What a picture it paints of Middletown.
Sharing food with folks who need and appreciate it, especially food which would have been discarded (American waste 100 billion pounds of food every year), seems like a decent idea. Young, enthusiastic Wesleyan students willing to engage residents who most of us have never met, and some of us would not like to even think about, are being told that they are breaking the law because they don't use sneeze-guards. These students are engaging the community, forming community, and the adults in town are sneering at their effort.
Imagine what the rest of the world is thinking.
And Middletown, sticking to a selective and rigid interpretation of the law, is prosecuting this band of "hippies" because it is presumed they are dumpster diving for their food (which they are not). I've helped them prepare a meal, and I've found them to be decent, friendly, funny and concerned young men and women who may not even be thinking about the gospel, but their walking the talk when it comes to "loving your neighbor."
Middletown is making the case that they are trying to protect the people who are being served the food. Though they don't seem to share an equal concern, when it comes to sneeze-guards, at bake sales, church dinners, lemonade stands and other Main Street events. A lot of watermelon was sliced and distributed during the recent road race on Main Street with nary a sneeze-guard in sight.
Some of these events, church dinners for example, are licensed and food is prepared in inspected kitchens, but one can assume that inspections at the actual dinners are few and far between because of a lack of manpower.
We have to be happy that our health inspectors have a strong and enthusiastic concern for food safety and food consumers, but in the case of Food Not Bombs, where there has never been a problem with tainted food, city hall might easily look in the other direction. It's not difficult to think of other times city hall looks the other way, on any number of other issues in town, (say the excessive noise issue when hundreds of illegally mufflered motorcycles gather on Main Street).
Finally, because Food Not Bombs has asked for a state hearing, the city has felt obliged to hire legal representation for the health inspectors. That costs real money. Tax dollars. To fight a fight which hardly seems worth fighting.
So what has Middletown gotten for its effort? A reputation as a town that would take the food out of the mouths of the hungry. A reputation as a town which is making a stink about doing something that Jesus recommended - feeding the hungry.
I guest if JC showed up on Foss Hill and recited the beatitudes while multiplying loaves and fishes, he might get a citation for distributing food unsafely.