Christine Stuart photo

Just a few hours before they headed inside to appeal a cease and desist order issued by the Middletown Health Department, members of Food Not Bombs, were outside the Department of Public Health in Hartford Tuesday sharing a breakfast of bagels and hot oatmeal with anyone who was hungry.

The hearing, which is expected to last all day, is an appeal of Middletown’s cease and desist order that asks the vegetarian peace group to stop sharing its food every Sunday with the poor.

“The way we share food is not regulated by the health code,” Abe Bobman, one of the Middletown Food Not Bombs members who was arrested on May 3 for participating in the weekly event, said Tuesday.

The group’s attorney Elizabeth Conklin said neither the municipal or state code apply to the activities of the Food Not Bombs Middletown chapter.

Food Not Bombs says it does not “dispense food’ in the manner that the city’s health code regulates, like a restaurant or a soup kitchen. The group says it gathers as a community to share food, in the form of a potluck, as a statement of equality and abundance.

Bobman, 21, says the group gathers on Sunday afternoons near the soup kitchen in Middletown because the soup kitchen is closed on Sunday afternoons. He said they usually have a crowd of about 50 gather for the community vegetarian meal.

The group has been doing this for the past decade, but was only recently cited by the Middletown Health Department for its activities this past Spring.

Christine Stuart  photo

David Rozza, a member of the Hartford Food Not Bombs chapter, said the group has been picnicking near the carousel in Bushnell Park for 13 years and have never had a problem.

“Food is one of the most basic human rights,” Rozza said. “It shouldn’t require a license.”

There are five active Food Not Bombs chapters in the state including ones in New Haven, New Britain, Danbury, Hartford, and Middletown.

The hearing, which was moved to a bigger conference room to accommodate the members of the group, started at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The group has also filed a federal lawsuit against the Middletown Health Department and the state Department of Public Health seeking an injunction to keep Middletown from enforcing the cease and desist order.