THE WORLD SERIES OF HUNGER The nationwide campaign to hide hunger goes into extra innings.

Just as soon as I think the authorities may be backing down on their effort to stop people from feeding the hungry in public I am reminded that the state never sleeps even if it shuts down at times.  I received an email on October 23, 2013, from the Director of Environmental Health Division of the Mariposa County Health Department. David seems like a nice person even using a funky cool typeface to sign his email.

“Hello Food Not Bombs, My name is David and I am the Environmental Health Director for Mariposa County, CA. I am a member of the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health Food Safety Policy Committee. I am working with other Environmental Health Directors around the State of California to try to make feeding the homeless/hungry easier for groups such yours. I would like to know if you have a lead group in California that would be willing to talk with me about how your operations work and discuss how we can partner to change the law in California to make it easier for organizations such as yours to complete their mission.”

Sounds innocent enough but when considering the context of current events impacting Food Not Bombs it is clear that there will be more to this post than an offer to help.  It is also clear that the participation of California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health Food Safety Policy Committee is not going to make it “easier ” for organizations such as ours to complete our mission. We have done fine so far for the past 34 years without their “help.”  I believe David is sincere in his desire to reduce hunger and poverty but he may not be aware of the bigger issues. I believe he is unknowingly the messenger of a project designed to protect the interests of those threatened by the possibility of higher taxes and reduced profits. In July of 1988 I was approached by the director of the Haight Ashbury Soup Kitchen. He suggested I ask the Parks Department for a permit. As it turned out he had been used. There was no permit. The authorities had planned to use the requirement of a permit as a way to drive us out of Golden Gate Park and end our organizing efforts. I don’t to disrespect David the messenger but he may have accidentally become part of a larger effort to end the sharing of food in public.  I am as concerned about food safety as anyone and have taken many classes in the subject, published flyers, website and included a section on food safely in my books. We have designed Food Not Bombs to be not only safe but the best quality organic vegan meals on the streets.

Receiving this letter days after authorities have interfered with our meals in cities all across America seems suspicious.  For example fifteen police told Sacramento Food Not Bombs to stop sharing food at Cesar Chavez Park on Sunday October 6th. The next week the police backed down a bit telling the media they really did not send 15 police to the park to tell the volunteers they could not provide food any more  and did not really threaten to take their equipment and food while warning them not to return. That same week as the Sacramento police were video taping the activists as they defied the orders from the week before. One officer also road up on a bike handing a letter to one of the volunteers remarking that it was information on “food safety.” Yes that same “food safety” mentioned in David’s helpful email.

That same week authorities asked Food Not Bombs to stop sharing food in Santa Monica, California.The church group, Crazy Faith Outreach was told to stop sharing food with the hungry in public in Olympia, Washington the week before and I was issued a $500 citation for “selling” food at the Taos Plaza in New Mexico. Authorities also told the Food Not Bombs volunteers in Worcester, Massachusetts to stop. That follows a summer of interference with our meals in states all over the country.

Environmental Health inspector James Jenison issued me a $500 ticket for “selling” food in Taos Plaza without a permit on October 5th even though I was speaking at the Resolve to End Poverty Conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina that day.  I called inspector Jenison the week after his visit to ask him why he gave me the citation. He told me that he had been called by Steve Zappe who said that Robert Deblassie called him to instruct James to issue me the citation.Steve told James to come out on Saturday, September  28th but he already had plans that weekend so he  came to the Plaza on October 5th. One of our dedicated Taos volunteers, David Lewis, was handed the citation and asked if I was still in Baltimore.  When David asked if he wanted anything to eat James laughed nervously responding “no thanks, I just ate” and walked off. He didn’t check the temperature of the food or investigate our project in any way.

During my phone conversation that week James said he really had no idea why he was told to issue the  citation. He explained that Steve was a “nice guy” worked for the State of New Mexico ands in charge of “food.” James also gave me Robert Deblassie’s and Steve Zappe’s phone numbers. I called Steve on October 10th and left a message. His message did seem friendly but never returned the call.  While waiting to hear back from Steve I looked up Robert Deblassie on the web and came across  several sites stating that he “Worked in Defense & Space” and listed his history as:

“Quality Engineer at Sandia National Laboratories  from August 2011 to August 2013, a Plant Manager at Thomas & Betts  and a Buyer/Contract Administrator, Floor Support at General Electric.”  Mr. Deblassie had stopped working as a military contractor a little over a month before instructing Mr. Jenison to issue me a ticket. It is also unlikely that Deblassie  would have traveled to Taos one Saturday and notice our meal during his few weeks in his new position and became alarmed at seeing our weekly meal. Just why was he instructing James to confront us and why did he search the Food Not Bombs website to find out that I was not even in Taos?

A week after I was ticketed and volunteers in the other cities were to to stop Food Not Bombs activist in Worcester, Massachusetts were told they were not allowed to share food at the “hub” transit center. The problem in the city of Olympia according to the local local officials who told the media that the church had to stop feeding the hungry. The local paper reported that the city “said ‘no more’ to one group who has been feeding the homeless in the same parking lot for the past two years. The city received complaints of traffic and trash problems.”   Worcester Food Not Bombs was also told they had to stop because of complaints about traffic problems and trash.

New of efforts to stop the sharing of meals in public has been on the increase. Groups in Boulder, Raleigh, Portland, Seattle and Taos were also told to stop this summer.  Successful organizing has slowed efforts to stop those meals. Philadelphia, Houston, Dallas, St Petersburg, Tampa, Daytona Beach, Myrtle Beach, and Las Vegas are among the nearly 50 cities in the United States that have passed laws limiting or banning the sharing of free meals in public in the past couple of years. The city of Orlando made 24 arrests in 2011 for violating “The Large Group Feeding Law”  and several cities in California have also made arrests for sharing food in public. We learned our lesson in San Francisco after requesting a permit. Our application was used to justify our arrest to an unsuspecting public.  After the first 94 arrests the mayor invented a permit process. We spent months buying equipment and agreed to move out of sight behind a tall stand of bushes. A federal judge had to order the Health Department to stop adding rules telling the inspector to provide one last list of requirements and issue the permit once we had completed the list.  A few months later as soon as the authorities wanted to stop us they claimed a hungry man had taken a slice of cake from out table before we had posted our permit. The mayor told public that our permit had been revoked  and resumed the arrests making over 1,000 arrests in all.

In each case local authorities were provided a template for laws, talking points and opinion letters to be placed in the local paper explaining why it was wrong to provide free meals in public. If history is any indication it will be discovered that a template was provided to someone in power working with California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health Food Safety Policy Committee a fact that David may not be not aware of.

Local food programs receiving government funding would be encouraged to sign onto the letter, participate in meetings, radio and television programs providing authoritative public statements on the dangers of providing food to the hungry in public locations. These dangers included leaving trash behind, making it difficult to drive near the meals, potential violence by those eating, harm to lawns and fear that someone might be made ill eating the food. In recent years there has been the addition of claims that Salvation Army and other government funded programs provide job training and other programs to help people get off the street ignoring the fact that they have little or no success.  Food Not Bombs provides one of the most important things most people need for overcoming poverty, something that most other programs never provide, dignity and respect.  Food Not Bombs encouraged those relying on our food to participate as an equal in our meetings and operation.

When I received the October 23rd email I stopped every thing and wrote a note to the David reminding him that no one has ever reported having been made ill eating with Food Not Bombs and outlined why I felt his organizations “help” was not necessary. My response best describes how I feel and I hope will help other Food Not Bombs volunteers communicate with the authorities if they are approached by someone wishing us well like David.

My letter goes as follows.

” Hi Dave,”

“Thanks for writing. As you may know no one has ever reported having been made ill eating with Food Not Bombs. We have have a policy of not applying for permits or asking permission for governments to provide food and information in public. ”

“First no one should need to ask permission to help their neighbors period. Gifts should never be a regulated activity. ”

“Second it is clear that the intention of food safe laws is to protect people from food providers that might ignore food safety standards and cutting corners to increase their profits. Any group that has no paid staff and makes no money from sharing with their community should not be required to ask permission. ”

“Food Not Bombs is always protected free speech under the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

“Finally after we requested a permit in San Francisco in July 1988 we discovered the intention of the permit process was to withhold the permit and provide a justification for shutting down our program not because anyone had ever been made ill eating with Food Not Bombs but because military contractors and other corporate leaders were concerned the public would be motivated on visiting us to pressure federal and local officials to have our taxes be used for education, healthcare and other social services reducing their profits. Again as you may know, not one person has ever reported having been made ill from eating with Food Not Bombs ever in any city at any time during our 34 year history. We provide information on the proper ways to safely share food, our food in always vegan or vegetarian and shared within two hours of being prepared. ”

“We have designed our program so anyone can reproduce it with out requiring any funding and still safely provide hundreds of very healthy meals to the hungry. Our food is not only vegan but we focus on organic whole foods and do not limit the quantity of food or have any restrictions as to who can enjoy our healthy meals. A permit process even if suggested by well intended public officials would lead down a path that would become costly and limit the number of people we can support. ”

“Soup kitchens that have paid staff and directors and share meat and dairy may be subject to state food safety laws because they could save money cutting corners and they are not in general seeking to change society and would not face repression, violence and prison because of their efforts to solve the crisis of hunger seeking to returning the country to a time before 50 cents of every tax dollar was directed to the military budget and we had almost no homeless Americans.”

“If the State of California and the Federal Government is interested in ending hunger they can start by diverting the billions wasted on the military and use it to fund universal healthcare, low cost higher education, carbon free energy and the many other solutions groups like ours have been working towards over the past three decades. ”

“We are aware of a nationally coordinated effort to drive Food Not Bombs and other food programs out of public space in preparation of a possible economic collapse. Our volunteers have been threatened in states all over the country in the past few months so it is clear who ever suggested your organization seek conversation with Food Not Bombs and has suggested this subject as one for your organization to address was covertly wishing to provide publicly acceptable justification for ultimately driving us out of sight. This may not be a fact you are aware of. ”

“I would be the best person to help you. I am not aware of any Food Not Bombs volunteers in California that would know as much about this subject and have the long view that I have but I can ask. I have taken many food safety courses, have food handlers permits in a number of states and I have written several books on this subject that have been translated into many languages.  I would be happy to attend if you can pay for my transportation. ”

“The best state wide law addressing your concern is Connecticut General Statute 19A-36. ”

“Connecticut General Statute 19A-36 was changed on October 3, 2009”

“According to Peter Goselin, one of the lawyers for Food Not Bombs, “the amended state statute not only protects free distribution of food to people who need it in Connecticut, but should be viewed as a model for other states to follow so that faith-based and civic organizations can do what is needed. This is particularly important given news released today that one in six Americans now live in poverty.”

“I would also point out we provide meals in over 1,000 cities half of which are not located in the United States and the only countries that have ever suggested we request a permit or has even suggested we stop are the United States and Belarus. Not one other country on earth and we provided meals in every corner of the world has asked us for a permit. At the same time no one has ever reported having been made ill in any of our 1,000 locations so it appears the need for any such policy is unnecessary yet I am happy to speak with your organization to explain how we have safely provided meals, at no cost to the government, to so many tens of thousands of people for so many decades if you believe this would be helpful.”

“Thanks for your consideration ”
“Keith McHenry”
“co-founder of the Food Not Bombs Movement”

David responded right away telling me that he has no hidden agenda which is really very possible. He would not be the first one to be inspired by a conversation about helping the hungry or after visiting a soup kitchen decided to innocently seek a way to use their position to make a difference. Since we were in the local news David may have been moved to help. I applaud David for his compassion. But things are not always as they appear.  I am sure the other inspectors in the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health Food Safety Policy Committee  are nice and would be horrified if someone had been made ill eating at a soup kitchen. I know I sure would be more than distressed if it were to happen from a Food Not Bombs meal and that again is why we make our program simple and reduce any chance of illness by design while also making it possible for anyone to provide as many as possible with healthy meals without having to pay huge amounts of money. This is way we are sharing meals and ideas in so many places.

Food Safety and false claims of concern for the poor have been used for years to drive poverty out of sight with the goal of reducing pressure to use public funds on education, healthcare and other social services.  Most people believe policies to criminalize the poor and restrict the sharing of food are inspired by local business and political leaders seeking to address some real community concern but this not the case. This is a nationally coordinated program that started in the mid 1980s and continues to this day. David’s email offering to “make feeding the homeless/hungry easier for groups” such as ours is a new twist on a well established nationwide campaign to hide poverty. The current budget fight in Washington D.C. will come down to “guns or butter” and if groups like Food Not Bombs fail at building popular support guns will win out again and the legions of hungry will increase. No amount of Food Safety Permits will help.

I owned and manage  a graphic design company with clients like the Boston Re Sox, Boston Celtics, The New England Patriots, Filene’s Basement, John Dellaria Salons, many local health professionals and retail stores. In 1985 the president of my local business association asked me to take a photo of a local African American person and use it in a poster that said “Wanted out of Kenmore Square.” I suggested I place a red circle with a line through it in front of his photo. I suggested this would be a very bad idea since so many people loved Mr. Butch, nicked named the “Mayor of Kenmore Square” by the many Red Sox fans that passed by him on the way to Fenway Park.

The American League Championships were coming to Fenway Park and rumors of the team making the World Series were common and turned out to be true. I offered to provide meals during the Red Sox games at one of the empty warehouses behind the outfield wall on Lansdowne Street.  That same week the captain of the local police percent spoke at our monthly business association meeting explaining about the need to remove the homeless, punks. bums and other “scum” from Kenmore Square because “studies” showed people were not shopping in the local business because they felt guilty or uncomfortable seeing people asking for money and eating out of the garbage cans. The captain explained that the U.S. Justice Department had provided the research on “quality of life” crimes and with our help we could drive the homeless out of the area and increase sales.

They never could drive Mr. Butch from Fenway and when he died in a scooter accident Red Sox fans held candle light memorials in town squares all over New England. I don’t remember the name of our business association president.

This was my first introduction to what I discovered is a national effort by federal, state and local officials to address poverty and homelessness with a systematic program of confiscation, intimidation, arrest, anti-homeless laws and architecture.

Harvard Professor ‪James Q. Wilson‬ introduced the “Broken Windows Theory” in an article published in 1982. This theory was used to provide “scientific” justification for this system directed against the poor and homeless called “Quality of Life crimes.”  Wilson works for the RAND corporation and many other organizations developing theories to criminalize the poor at a time when the Reagan administration was making cuts in domestic spending redirecting federal tax dollars towards the military, police, prisons and programs to support corporate interests. By the time I was approached to design the poster to encourage the people of Kenmore Square to take action against the homeless the policies of Reagan were starting to cause an increase in poverty. Instead of introducing programs to make sure people had housing, education, healthcare and jobs federal resources were being used to criminalize the victims of the harsh neo-liberal economic policies of “Reaganomics.”

In 1994 Clinton implemented the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services or C.O.P.S. providing  stronger national coordination for this campaign against the homeless and poor. I had direct experience as a business person in the Sunset District of the San Francisco Police supporting the formation  and resurrection of business associations. The police would send a district captain to the association’s monthly meeting where they would use “The Broken Windows Theory” to justify the need to lobby city officials for “Quality of Life” laws against sleeping outside, sitting on the sidewalks in commercial districts and many other regulations directed at the poorest people in the community. They also promoted programs like “Give a Hand Up not a Hand Out” claiming that giving change to people pan handling was financing drug and alcohol abuse so people should donate to United Way, local food programs and shelters.  The police provided templates for  “Give A Hand Up not a Hand Out” posters and white papers on related laws against standing near parking meters, automatic teller machines, and payment booths at parking garages.

To enforce these policies and laws the police also organize a system of neighborhood watch groups which would call the police to remove poor and homeless people, remove political flyers from store windows, bulletin boards and light poles. They also report the activities of community groups like Food Not Bombs to the local police. I was assaulted by neighborhood watch members a number of times in San Francisco and learned a great deal about this program from internal police memos I recovered through discover in the resulting criminal cases inspired by these attacks.

The watch groups also work with business associations, churches and homeless services to support anti-homeless rumors and laws. While the public statements to drive the homeless out of sight and calls for the support of more police enforcement appears to be genuine it is not. The opinion articles, letters to the editor, calls to radio programs and public comments at hearings and meetings before the Board of Supervisors are crafted by think tanks and introduced in a systematic way from the C.O.P.S. program through local police departments to community groups to provide the appearance of grassroots support for nationally designed efforts.

You may be familiar with local “ambassadors programs” where volunteers or even paid people walk along commercial districts making sure all is well.  This often means telling the homeless, street performers and other unwanted people to move along. This is one of the many anti-homeless projects implemented through the C.O.P.S. program.

Anti- homeless architecture is also provided through this system. A catalog is distributed to business groups offering  special benches with arm rests and spikes for walls. The amount of building features provided to desecrate people from sitting around is amazing and costly.

There are campaigns parallel to the C.O.P.S. program that provide additional coordination. A member of The International Association of Chiefs of Police told Food Not Bombs that they have a workshop at their convention called “What To Do If A Food Not Bombs Group Starts In Your Community.” There are also national and statewide conferences of city attorneys where they share and coordinate strategies, laws and legal theories. The National Conference of Mayors has its own policy workshops to help implement programs against the homeless and poor and their supporters. National and state conferences of city park administrators also offer help in driving the hungry and their supporters from public space.

The National Environmental Health Association has a conference. You can find that our friendly email correspondent’s California organization is affiliated with The National Environmental Health Association who among helping make sure groups like Food Not Bombs are not able to build opposition to the economic policies that have forced so many to rely on food programs also has a program that addresses the issue of terrorism.  There website notes:

“Environmental health professionals find themselves facing new responsibilities. While their mission has always been to preserve and improve environmental factors for the achievement of optimum health, safety, and well being of the public, the challenges within that mission have expanded to include security and counter-terrorism.”

“Focus groups, marketing surveys, and needs assessments show that the environmental health workforce is not well prepared to respond to a terrorist attack or other unforeseen disaster. The members of the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) realize they have a key role to insure adequate response and strongly desire training in this area. To this end, NEHA is coordinating with stakeholders most closely allied with environmental health to develop emergency preparedness curricula, training opportunities, and resources for environmental health practitioners across the country. ”

Linked to this page on their national website are a number of organizations including “FEMA Ready Campaign” and 9/11 Lessons Learned.”

Since Food Not Bombs has been listed as “one of America’s most hardcore terrorist groups” by the military, F.B. I. U.S. State department and other agencies we may be included in their workshop on domestic terrorist threats.

Another area of coordination and citizen involvement in the security state is the Department of Homeland Security’ Citizen Corps with Citizen Corps Councils, Community Emergency Response Teams, Medical Reserve Corps, Fire Corps and Neighborhood Watch programs. I was involved with Katrina and Sandy relief and at no time did I ever meet anyone from any of these programs yet I did have meet them while posting flyers or tabling for peace events where I would be arrested.

Our taxes are not limited to funding this more benign network but also supports surveillance by the F.B.I. Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, C.I.A. N.S.A. and many private security companies all with the goal of silencing opposition to an economic system that benefits the 1%. We learn more every day from documents provided by Edward Snowden and the other whistle blowers coming forward after his brave action. I could write a book and am hoping to do so about the many interconnections of the intelligence industry and their campaign to disrupt movements like Food Not Bombs.

Even with this massive infrastructure of repression groups like Food Not Bombs are succeeding. David’s letter is a good sign. Some one is worried that as the U.S. State Department noted in an April 2009 lecture that our “vegan meals are more dangerous than Al-Qaeda” because we are influencing the public to demand that our taxes go to ending hunger and poverty instead of funding the world’s largest military.

The increase in efforts to hide hunger is an indication that the authorities are realizing that more American’s understand that they can not depend on corporate and political leaders to provide a safe and secure community. If you live in David’s jurisdiction it is clear that his coworkers have missed some of the largest food safety issues. Millions of cattle crammed into filthy stockyards. Hundreds of acres of crops fed poisonous chemical fertilizers and sprayed with toxic pesticides. Oil wells spewing smoke across acres of toxic citrus groves and nutrition free produce.

How many companies in California are growing poisonous Genetically Engineered Crops which are not only manufactured into gas station food but fed to millions of confined poultry and cattle?  I also recall having seen McDonald’s, KFC, Burger Kings and many hundreds of other fast food establishments selling toxic meals at nearly every intersection in the state. Shouldn’t they be stopped if food safety is of concern?  I am sure David would agree but sadly according the Environmental Health officials in San Francisco McDonald’s provides the funding and information on food safety to schools certifying the state’s inspectors making it too expensive for McDonald’s competition to meet their food safety requirements.

David and the other members of the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health Food Safety Policy Committee have more than enough food safety issue to address without bothering people who have been sharing organic vegan meals with the hungry for the past 30 years. If they want to help end hunger join us in our effort to change society and remind their membership that offering gifts of compassion is an unregulated activity that should be encouraged. If we start requiring permits to help community with free meals where will it stop? Permits to help people change a flat or assist older Americans to cross the street. There are some things the government has no business interfering with. Feeding the hungry is one of them particularly when the government is reducing it’s own efforts to end hunger and poverty.

Thanks so much for your consideration.

Keith McHenry
co-founder of the Food Not Bombs Movement
P.O. Box 424
Arroyo Seco, NM 87514 USA


How you can help end poverty and war with Food Not Bombs