No soup for you: Breckenridge woman’s food giveaway thwarted
A small crowd huddled around the gigantic pot of piping hot, free soup. Curious pedestrians asked the same question: “Why are you doing this?” and “What’s the catch?”
Bex Oransky has spent the last few afternoons at the Riverwalk Center, ladling out bowls and shouting “free soup” to passersby. According to Oransky, she got the idea after noticing a lack of organic, affordable food in town.
“I love to cook, and believe in the power of the free gift,” Oransky said.
Oransky’s goal was to ladle out the free vegetable soup for 23 days straight. However on Thursday, the fourth day of her efforts, she received a “notice of violation” after a concerned observer called the county’s Environmental Health Department, and forcing her to face a $250 fine for operating a retail food operation without a license, if she did not leave.
“I will be doing further research into the legality of giving free food, but until I can move strategically, I will not be serving free soup,” Oransky said.
She noted that the inspector told her she would need to get a license, as well as a mobile hand-washing station with hot water.
“The funny thing is, if I were able to afford a $250 license fee plus a mobile hand washing unit with running hot water, I could serve free soup, but because I can’t, I can’t,” Oransky added.
While the inspector working on Oransky’s case was not available for comment, a representative with the Summit County Environmental Health Department said the county’s regulations mirror those at the state level.
Jeff Lawrence, director of the Division of Environmental Health, said according to statute, a license is required whether the food is free or sold.
“The bugs that can get you sick don’t care if there was a price tag on the food,” Lawrence said. “Really if you’re providing any food, preparing it and providing it to the public, you’re subject to licensure.”
He added that any food requiring hot- or cold-holding would add more safety concerns. Soup, for example, should be held above 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
Under Colorado’s cottage food law, a limited amount of lower-risk items, such as preserves, baked goods, nuts and seeds may be sold without a license as long as they are properly labeled. Producers must also be certified in safe food handling in order to operate out of their kitchen.
“We need to make sure what you’re producing can be done in a safe manner,” Lawrence said.
In her research of the issue, Oransky noted the Colorado Retail Food Establishment Rules and Regulations said the donation of a retail food establishment does not include “… the donation, preparation, sale or service of food by a nonprofit or charitable organization…” so long as the duration of the event does not exceed 52 days and is at the same location as the “charitable organization.” The definition of a charitable organization applies to “any person who in any manner employs a charitable appeal.”
JOY OF SHARING
To make the soup, every evening Oransky would boil vegetables and juice pulp down to about 30 quarts of broth. The process, she said, took four to six hours. The next afternoon, she strained out the broth, adding lentils, rice, spices, and some more vegetables.
Oransky approached a new business, LoLo Juice, about using some of their pulp from juicing for the broth. Max Krasuski, co-owner of the company, agreed to help.
“It’s nice to be a part of something like that,” Krasuski said, noting they would otherwise take the food to be composted.
Oransky moved to Breckenridge from California to pursue her love of snowboarding and painting and is currently working on a second mural for Blue Lotus Yoga Studio.
“When I moved here, I was pretty devotedly vegan,” she said. “This is part of a project for me to get back on track.”
Oransky noted her intention in starting the soup giveaway was to feed hungry locals.
“I’m hoping to get free soup back up and running as soon as possible,” she said.
It all boils down to the simple joy of sharing.
“Part of my goal and mission is to build community and bring people together around food,” Oransky said. “We should take care of one another. If we share, there’s plenty to go around.”
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