Government agencies raid Venice food club
[Editor’s Note: Dan Bluemel is a member of Rawesome Food Club, the subject of this article. He buys food there. That is the extent of his involvement at the club. The purpose of this article is not to advocate a particular diet or to promote the club, but to focus on the issue of government intervention and the activism involved.]
A shock wave was felt within a small community of raw foodists recently when their food club in Venice was raided by an armed sundry of governmental organizations. Agents served warrants and confiscated unpasteurized dairy products.
The raid took place on the morning of June 30 when volunteers of Rawesome Food Club were met by gun-wielding sheriffs. Behind the police came agents from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles County Health Dept., the Food and Drug Administration and the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Healthy Family Farms, a Rawesome supplier, was also named on the warrant. The Ventura County Health Dept. and Ventura County Code Enforcement, assisted by sheriffs, conducted their own search of the farm.
In a statement released by Aajonus Vonderplanitz, president and general manager of Right to Choose Healthy Food, a non-profit, health food advocacy group that is a parent organization to Rawesome, said the raid was conducted in a heavy-handed fashion.
“They unplugged our surveillance camera to hide their actions,” he said in the statement. “They threateningly refused video capture of their raid when members commenced filming.”
He says that FBI and Canadian officials who refused to identify themselves were also involved in the raid. However, LA Activist has not been able to verify if the FBI or Canadian officials took part in the search.
According to Vonderplanitz, the raid lasted five hours, in which agents confiscated thousands of dollars worth of food. He says the warrants allowed agents to take samples or vials of food, but instead took 17 large coolers worth of products.
Rawesome, located in Venice on Rose Avenue near Lincoln Boulevard, is a private-membership club that caters to people who adhere to a raw food diet. The club provides a wide range of raw, organic diary products, such as milk, butter, cheese, yogurt and kefir, as well as fruits, vegetables and meats.
Club members seek food that is organic, unprocessed and not subjected to artificial temperatures above 99 degrees Fahrenheit. It is assumed that the raid has something to do with the distribution of raw food products, particularly diary.
Sandi Gibbons, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, says the investigation was initiated when information was provided to the California Department of Food and Agriculture and is now a multi-agency investigation.
Gibbons says the investigation into Rawesome and Healthy Family Farms is ongoing and could not comment much further.
Lela Buttery, a volunteer at Rawesome, was surprised when she heard about the raid. She arrived at Rawesome when government agents were already present.
“It was kind of a shock really, more than anything,” she said. “I truly believe that what we are doing is not wrong. I really don’t understand being reprimanded for something that is completely legal.”
A biologist who used to work for the USDA, Buttery has volunteered previously at two other raw food clubs, one in Florida and the other in Georgia. Both were raided by government health agencies. She has been with Rawesome for two years.
Buttery feels that the service Rawesome provides is safe and in full accordance with the law. Because Rawesome is a private-membership club, she says, it does not serve the general public and is therefore not subject to the same health codes as one’s local grocery store.
The food club also has people sign a membership agreement that discloses what kind of food members will be buying. But Gibbons says that being a private club is no protection.
“This is a criminal investigation, this is not whether somebody can eat something or not,” she said.
Buttery says the raid has created a certain amount of fear with volunteers, many of whom are in no position to risk legal trouble.
“We kind of have a lot of volunteers that don’t want to come in right now,” she said. “They don’t want to work their shift because they are afraid.”
Vonderplanitz says the club’s rights were violated, focusing on their seized property.
“The club is severely in debt because of the confiscation of member’s food,” he said in a statement. “We have decided to sue the government for their violations.”
The food club, which is open twice a week, has operated since the raid without incident.