Sunday, November 27, 2011

I don't Fault the Police....

This Thursday, in a parish hall not far from the New Jersey town green where George Washington once made his winter headquarters, as many as 300 people will gather for their Thanksgiving meal. Some will be homeless, some will be mentally ill, some will be old, and some will be folks and families who have just hit a hard patch. For all of them, Morristown's Community Soup Kitchen and Outreach Center is one of the few blessings they can count on...This the men and women of the Community Soup Kitchen have provided for 26 years, not once missing a day. Now comes a challenge greater than any snowstorm or power outage. Earlier this year, the Morristown Division of Health ruled that henceforth the soup kitchen would be considered a 'retail' food establishment under New Jersey law...Most obvious is the higher cost: at least $150,000 more a year...Much of this cost results from a new prohibition on people donating food they've prepared at home. For those on the giving end, often this was the only way they could participate, so eliminating their contributions means eliminating volunteers. For those on the receiving end, it means no more homemade meat loaf, lasagna, cakes and so forth. All, of course, in the name of food safety. Still, one suspects that when a co-worker brings a tin of Christmas cookies to a friend inside Morristown's Division of Health, those cookies are not forbidden because they do not come wrapped from a supermarket or approved restaurant...In the 26 years this kitchen has been open, there seems to be no case of food poisoning. [William McGurn, WSJ op-ed]

The passage in yellow is the one I think is interesting. Presumably the Morristown Health Gestapo has potlucks, or during the "holiday season" someone brings in some homemade goodies. And I bet the folks at the MHG do NOT throw the stuff out.

One could say that the food brought to the office is informal, and is not for sale. Right. That's the correct distinction: since the food at the Soup Kitchen and Outreach Center is NOT FOR SALE, it should have a separate category. Not exempt, perhaps (though, why not? The Morristown Health Stasi is exempt, apparently!), but a different category. If you don't sell food, or anything else, you can accept donations of cooked food.

If it turns out there are health problems, ex post, the shut them down. But the idea that you are going to protect poor people by denying them something to eat is pretty strange.

As Mr. McGurn notes in closing (since the piece is gated, you may not have read it): Hillary Clinton visited an orphanage run by Mother Teresa's nuns. She came away impressed by the great love and care she found there. With no small irony, she noted it was a place that "would not have passed inspection in the U.S."

Look, folks, we can't blame the food police. It's the LAW. Get rid of the law. I don't fault the police, cause the people that run 'em got 'em on a short leash.


Natalie said...

In Buenos Aires in the late 90s the cops would shut down food vendors without permits in the name of food safety...then donate the food to the local soup kitchen to feed those who had no income because their goods had been confiscated...among other things.

Tom said...

Thanks, but I think I can still blame these particular food police. They could have looked the other way or rationalized the meaning of "retail". They could have done lots of things, but they chose to be bureaucratic -- as befits their chosen careers. Screw 'em.

None of this absolves the legislators of their role in the depravity.