Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

‘The Moral High Ground’: ‘Food Not Bombs’ Breaking Law to Feed Orlando’s Homeless

On Tuesday, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that local authorities in Orlando, Florida may restrict groups handing out free food to homeless people in city parks. But one organization doesn’t care.

Food Not Bombs, a loosely-knit group of independent collectives that serves free vegan and vegetarian food to all comers, says it will continue cooking such meals for Orlando’s homeless every Wednesday at Lake Eola, despite the law. “We’re going to do what we feel is right. They need food. Everyone deserves to be fed,” Gemma Thatcher told WFTV 9 in Orlando.

The Orlando ordinance in dispute requires groups serving food to more than 25 people in the downtown area to obtain a permit, with only two permits per year for each park issued to the groups.

The city argues that there is already a designated area for groups to feed the homeless, complete with benches and portable toilets. The only problem is, WFTV 9 reported that the area is locked up right now. In a news conference, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said Food Not Bombs can serve all the food it wants without a permit, so long as it does so outside the downtown area.

Food Not Bombs contends that food is a basic human right and that the group’s action is a form of free speech. The 11th Circuit Court agreed, saying that feeding hungry people in public spaces was an activity protected by the First Amendment. But the court ruled that the city of Orlando’s efforts to regulate such activity were also legitimate.

“The city has a substantial interest in managing park property and spreading the burden of large group feeding throughout a greater area,” the court ruling sympathetically stated, “and those interests are plainly served by the ordinance.”

But what about the more pressing interest of making sure everyone in the city has enough to eat?

Food Not Bombs operates much the same way in San Francisco as it does in Orlando, handing out wholesome free food in central urban locations, but with one big difference: local authorities in the City by the Bay, a decidedly more progressive bunch, allow the group to do its valuable work unmolested. It wasn’t always that way; members of the group were arrested more than 1,000 times in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But the wise men and women who run San Francisco realized that there is no higher priority than feeding the hungry, and today Food Not Bombs is a respected institution that serves meals to the city’s needy five nights a week.

Here’s hoping that one day soon they’ll be able to do the same thing in Orlando.


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  1. Shiva Manjunath via FacebookApril 15, 2011 at 3:05 pmReply

    Ah, FREE Sun, FREE food, FREE bed (on the park benches).
    Must be hard for anyone out there to go looking for a job…. 🙂 #justSayin

  2. Betty FokkerApril 16, 2011 at 8:17 amReply

    Why can’t the silly people giving out food to their fellow human beings understand that if they would just let the homeless perish of hunger then the city could bury the bodies and not have to deal with the awful nuisance of displaced people which a lack of social safety nets can bring? *sarcasm make a puddle at my feet*

  3. JamesApril 18, 2011 at 6:33 amReply

    Maybe the Orlando authorities are hoping that if the homeless get hungry enough they will cannibalize each other.

  4. ronald traversMay 18, 2011 at 8:37 pmReply

    Totally. Agree we need FOOOOD, NOT WAR OR BOMBS. Time to get the heads up people out there and start to fight for our rights.

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