Fairfax to Poor: Let Them Eat Ganache
In Fairfax County, where the average income is among the highest in the land, at more than $94,000, official policy is now to let the hungry and the homeless starve. As the Post's Jackie Salmon reported in a jaw-dropping front page story, county bureaucrats have decided to put their reverence for smallminded regulation ahead of residents' compassion for the neediest among us: It is now verboten to give home-cooked food to the poor.
As far as the county is concerned, your ovens are vile, your soup is substandard, your casseroles are crawling with vermin and your brownies are beastly. You may, for now, eat your own fare yourself, but you may not donate it to the homeless, not in Fairfax. No, if you wish to help the needy, you must somehow win access to a commercial-grade kitchen that has been inspected and approved by county bureaucrats. Otherwise, let the poor rot.
"We're dealing with a medically fragile population . . . so they're more susceptible to food-borne illnesses than the general population," Tom Crow, the county Health Department's director of environmental health, told the Post. "We're trying to protect those people."
Yeah, right. As Jim Brigl, chief of Fairfax Area Christian Emergency & Transitional Services, said, "homeless people eat out of dumpsters, and Mom's pot roast has got to be healthier than that." Obviously, the county's bureaucrats have never spent a night out on dumpster patrol with people who cannot afford Safeway and Giant fare. I once spent a week walking with a bunch of homeless guys who showed me how to work the supermarket dumpsters. They knew every store's schedule for tossing day-old baked goods, overexposed deli items, and expired dairy products. We'd wait till the appointed hour and then hit the dumpster; at the better stores, the managers would leave the newest goods carefully placed on top of the garbage heap, knowing that the homeless guys were waiting. At other locations, spiteful managers buried the good stuff, or even sprinkled bleach over the food to prevent the homeless from scavenging.
The Fairfax county health department reminds me of those latter store managers. In both cases, there's pretty talk about caring for the homeless and wanting to help them avoid illness. But in both cases, the actions speak of a level of contempt so deep and automatic that the people involved genuinely can't see how horribly they are behaving.
There used to be something called discretion. But in today's legalistic society, it's increasingly rare to find managers in either the corporate or public sector who understand their moral obligation to enforce rules only when they make sense, only when they do more good than harm. My column today focuses on a real estate developer who wants to do the right thing and so is banning smoking from its apartment complex in Silver Spring. But rather than phasing in the restriction, the building owner has announced that all residents who won't sign a lease addendum promising to prohibit smoking in their own homes will be out on the street--the apartment complex won't renew their leases. A little discretion--let those who've lived there for decades and won't give up smoking stay--would go a long way, but no, the righteous landlord must have it entirely his way.
Yesterday, we learned about Sen-elect Jim Webb's ugly little encounter with the president of the United States. Sure, Webb was elected to oppose Bush's Iraq policy--and vigorously. But that doesn't mean he ought to act like a boor when meeting the nation's highest official. With a little discretion, who knows, the new senator might even develop an actual relationship with a president whose highly sheltered existence could stand exposure to some outside voices. But now, Webb has managed nothing other than putting himself on some enemies' list, written or not.
These are the results of the political, social and economic polarization that we've watched grow in recent years. Settled into our own corners, we become harder in our personalities and more brittle in our thinking. Pretty soon, we're thinking it's a good idea to tell people that they must not cook for the hungry.
Is there a way out? Of course: Defiance. Defy authority. Do the right thing.
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