UCSB administrators have ordered the 12-year-old Bhakti Yoga Club on campus to stop their biweekly vegetarian luncheons, citing food safety issues.
After considerable debate, UCSB administrators in the Office of Student Life decided to shut down the club’s luncheons, which occurred every Wednesday and Thursday, saying the group violated statutes under the California Uniform Retail Food Facilities Law. The law upholds statewide sanitation standards in food facilities in order to ensure “pure, safe and unadulterated” food.
According to the law, food sold on campus and on a regular basis must be prepared in a licensed kitchen. It also limits on-campus food sales and food fairs to three times a quarter for all non-profit organizations and clubs. The Bhakti Yoga Club was selling food twice a week.
“This is state law that applies to the distribution of food in California,” Associate Dean of Students Carolyn Buford said. “The problem is the law, and we have to abide by [its] regulations.”
Buford said the university is responsible for protecting sanitary standards, and an incidence of food poisoning would put the university in legal straits.
“The law is designed to protect the individual, and if we ignored the law and someone did get sick, [the university would] be in trouble,” Buford said.
According to the UCSB Bhakti Yoga Club website, the group held the luncheons so club members could “come together and enjoy both a delicious vegetarian lunch and interesting conversation.” Bhakti Yoga is a practice that promotes devotion and attachment to God.
Sarvatma Das, founder of the UCSB Bhakti Yoga Club in 1995, said the group served food that reflected the club’s values.
“The principle of yoga food is to cook with a clean higher consciousness and to please God and the community and mankind,” Das said. “Best of all we put all our hearts into it and it becomes sacred food.”
Das said he and his wife Divya used organic foods in their vegetarian meals. He said the club has run the luncheons for eight years and in that time no one has reported getting sick.
He said he prepared an Indian curry dish with a fresh organic leaf salad and homemade whole wheat bread on Wednesdays and an Italian style dinner that consisted of pasta and pesto on Thursdays. The meals started at noon at either the Educational Opportunities Building or in the Graduate Student Association Lounge.
Das said he believes their luncheons were shut down because the university was losing money and because vendors began complaining.
“Greed is the most evading factor,” Das said. “If they can’t get money from us and they don’t understand us, the best way to deal with it, is to kill it.”
He said the university suggested the club hold potluck lunches instead of the bi-weekly luncheons at which members would purchase food. However, he said, this would require 100 percent of the club’s approximate 100 members to bring dishes to the luncheon.
“It’s impossible because faculty, staff and grad students don’t have a life to cook,” Das said.
Buford said university officials suggested a potluck so the group could hold luncheons that complied with the law. Buford said a limited number of individuals were preparing and supplying the meals.
“A potluck is everybody bringing something,” Buford said. “I was trying to make it clear that a potluck is all members participating.”
Buford said the other option for Bhakti Yoga is to acquire an authorized kitchen license. By doing so, the county would inspect the kitchen where the food is cooked and then decide if the location meets the retail food law standards. If so, then a catering permit would be issued along with insurance.
Buford said the club hasn’t renewed their registration this year, but they can still register with the Office of Student Life at any time.
“It’s an unfortunate situation, but I can’t ignore it when I see the law being broken,” Buford said.
Das said the club should be exempt from the law, as it merely wants to help other people.
“The California law applies to retail vendors, but we are just a group who shares and sanctifies food with one and all,” Das said. “We are trying to help people and the university is trying to shun this.”
Bhakti Yoga Club luncheons at UCLA have also been cancelled due the California Uniform Retail Food Facilities Law.
– Megan Snedden contributed to this article