Junkfood Science: Posole-gate

November 19, 2008


It’s already being called Posole-gate.

“The more we look to the government to protect us, the more freedoms we lose,” said one resident. This became a reality today when government health officials went after an 84-year old tradition and told the nuns at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that their church dinner of homemade posole, tamales and biscochitos was against the law. Every December 14th, after the Our Lady of Guadalupe procession, church ladies have served traditional posole and biscochitos for parishioners and the public. The Environment Health Department, however, determined the potluck was a threat to public safety and a violation of the city’s food ordinance.

“Our concern here is only about public safety,” John Soladay, Albuquerque's environmental health director, told the Albuquerque Journal. Homemade food doesn’t comply with city law, which is intended to protect the public from contaminated food, he said. It’s no different from homemade cupcakes and cookies, nachos and popcorn no longer being allowed in schools because they might put children at risk of foodborne illnesses.

Sister Bernice Garcia said she’s never heard of anyone getting sick from their church supper, but said they would comply with authorities. Without a licensed commercial kitchen, however, the nuns saw canned posole and store-bought cookies as their only option.

One does not come between New Mexicans and their most cherished food customs and the public outrage has been the talk of local KKOB radio. Callers have exclaimed: Canned is FAKE posole! Big government intruding into our right to choose what we eat! Potluck dinner cops! Bakesale Police! “What are you in for? Posole.” Bootleg posole and a biscochito underground were discussed. And everyone feared their beloved fund-raising event or charity would be next: chile cookoffs, church ministries selling homebaked pies, groups feeding the homeless homemade meals, holiday cookie sales, and more.

By late afternoon, a local restaurant, El Pinto, offered to supply the posole and biscochitos for the traditional church supper this year. This short-term solution will enable the traditional Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration to continue for now.

This story has heightened residents to reconsider the role of government. Is it better for public health officials to provide food safety information* and let consumers make their own decisions about what they eat and do; or do they really want government officials to make decisions about what is best for them and make them comply? When it hit home, so did the reality.

*Information on keeping potlucks safe:

You Can Prevent Foodborne Illness by Pacific Northwest Publications

Keep Food Safe at Community Dinners and Potlucks by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture

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