Nothing's Free: S.F. DPH Cracks Down on Foraged Dinners

Iso Rabins has always done a delicate tango around environmental and food regulations. Rabins pioneered the Bay Area's burgeoning wild-foods movement when he founded ForageSF in 2009, but city health inspectors, noting the potential hazards of eating products gathered in the wild — the best-known of which come in the form of poisonous mushrooms — were never thrilled with his organization or its various commercial offshoots.

Earlier this year, one of Rabins' signature ventures — the Underground Market, a wildly successful event at which various sub-professional food producers peddled their wares — was shut down by the Department of Public Health, which had previously given the market its tacit blessing. Rabins has since been working to bring the Underground Market into compliance with city law.

But this fall, during that process, he suddenly faced persecution on another front. In October, city officials sent a letter informing him that another series of foraging get-togethers, his so-called Wild Kitchen dinners, could subject him to thousands of dollars in fines. The dinners typically served dozens of patrons, each paying $40 or more for a prix fixe menu of hunted and foraged local foods such as squid, mushrooms, and nettle soup.

(Disclosure: SF Weekly profiled Rabins for a cover story in 2009. I attended two Wild Kitchen dinners in the course of reporting for that article, and have since attended one more. They were tasty, and Inever got sick.)

In a letter dated Oct. 26, Richard Lee, director of Environmental Health Regulatory Programs for DPH, told Rabins that the dinner series "constitutes an existing and ongoing violation of state and local law." Each two-day Wild Kitchen event, Lee said, could bring a fine of $1,063. Lee noted that at least six such events had been recorded by health inspectors this year alone.

Rabins took his case before DPH Environmental Health Director Rajiv Bhatia at a hearing last week, arguing that he had not been properly notified of potential legal violations before being hit with the fines. "I was never informed I had to get a permit until Oct. 26, after which I did get permits," Rabins said.

Turns out he had a point. "When is the first time he was notified, verbally or in writing?" Bhatia asked health inspector Alicia Saam, who testified against Rabins at the hearing. "That's a good question," Saam replied. Bhatia, not impressed, let Rabins off the hook. "I'm going to go ahead and waive the fee, because he wasn't told he had to get a permit," he said.

Rabins' Wild Kitchen dinners are now officially on the right side of the law, with all food prepared in commercial kitchens under strict safety guidelines. (He maintains that the dinners were always "very safe" before the Health Department showed up.) But the new veneer of regulatory compliance has changed the dinners' spontaneous atmosphere, Rabins says.

"Unfortunately, it really takes away from the life of the dinners, but I guess that's what [health officials] need," he says.

 
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AlfredENeuman_1
AlfredENeuman_1

This makes about as much sense as eating off something from a street vendor in Tijuana.These "forage" types are the same maroons that probably don't have their kids vaccinated because it "causes" autism. And global warming is obviously something that Al Gore has made up.Next: include teaching creationism in our schools.Geez, what is it with so many anti-science goons getting so much PR these days?

Sergioaragones
Sergioaragones

Your comment makes about as much sense as a street vendor in Atlantis.

Danjodude
Danjodude

Wow! Another case of our broken government chasing after its own tail. Controlling, manipulating, high-minded buerocrats leading us to believe their way is the only way. Soon they will be at our front doors telling us how to cook in our homes.

Oswaldo Solis
Oswaldo Solis

I hope that changes... one day, we can all live in the wild ... where money doesn't exist, all you have to do is work together and live together. Call me a hippy but that's the life I want to live. No colors, no race, no taxes, no place, just live like we use to live, in a clean, healthy environment with out the pollution, without the greed, or need... just life as you know it.

mattyj2001
mattyj2001

Ah, yes. I simple life where you can die from a common cold, get typhoid or eaten by a bear. Simpler times when all you had to worry about was plague. Count me in, man!

AlfredENeuman_1
AlfredENeuman_1

Good luck with that. By the way, it's "hippIE" - get it straight.

Jessica
Jessica

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obbop
obbop

Bureaucrats and bureaucracies can be a far greater threat to We, the People's freedoms than all foreign terrorists combined.

RobertSF
RobertSF

What's the fascination for eating "bare back," as it were?

____
____

I'm ambivalent about this until I think back to the fact that a lot of people, both at home and at restaurants, often handle food in an unsafe manner that leads to food poisonings of all kinds and that this foraging for food, a survival skill, is not so crazy and people, adults, should be left to make their own decision.

 
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