Chef Given $2000 Fine For Feeding the Homeless Isn't Backing Down

In Depth

Here’s an idea: maybe let’s not make it as difficult as possible to feed those in need? Just a thought.

Another day, another instance of a chef getting in legal trouble for feeding the homeless. The need to keep having this conversation is depressing. But to an equal degree, the fact that people are fighting these laws with principled dissent is uplifting. Via Eater’s Khushbu Shah, the latest example comes to us from San Antonio, Texas, where earlier this month, chef and lawyer Joan Cheever was fined $2,000 for giving away food to a group of homeless people in a park in the city’s downtown. Cheever has apparently been doing this for 10 years, and despite the fact that the food was prepared in a commercial kitchen and that Cheever had a food handler’s license, Cheever was given the fine because she lacked a specific permit to hand out “food free of charge.” If you’re wondering how that’s a thing someone can possibly need a specific license for, you’re not alone. I’m also unable to find any ordnance pertaining to that specific law on the City of San Antonio’s Food Licensing and Permits website.

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because something similar happened in Ft. Lauderdale last November with 90-year-old chef and phenomenal samaritan Arnold Abbott, a guy who has spent the better part of his life feeding the homeless and who was actually arrested after he calmly refused to stop feeding the needy. The ongoing trend of cities making it more and more difficult to take care of the homeless all but ensures these sorts of stories are only going to become more prevalent.

Cheever, however, is taking a different approach than Arnold’s quiet, principled dissent: loud, principled dissent. She’s planning to fight the citation any way she can, and she’s getting pretty hilariously creative with it:

Cheever even file a lawsuit against the city of San Antonio “on the grounds that her religious freedom was violated.” Cheever states: “The Bible says, ‘When I was hungry, you fed me,’ and I take that seriously. This is the way I pray, and we’ll go to court on this.”

That’s not only the primary lesson of How to Be an Actual Christian 101 and a wonderful use of turnabout on the hot-button issue of the legalization of religious liberty, it’s a point that gets at the heart of the issue. A lot of people oppose “handouts” because they’re in favor of the needy being taken care of through private charity, and a lot of those same people justify a belief in limited government both alongside and via their fervent Christianity. If that’s the case, though, wouldn’t it seem more than a tad hypocritical for them to support any law that made it more difficult for private charity to take care of those in need? It’s hard to see how any Christian — or, for that matter, any religion that speaks of the need to take care of the least among us — can square themselves with the idea that there should be any obstacles to taking care of the meek.

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