Mayor steps in after center forbids condiments on free meals for seniors

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Outrage at senior centers across the metro is beginning to subside. Local seniors say staff announced earlier this week, they were no longer allowed to use condiments on the city’s free meals. That is, until city leaders stepped in.

“It has to do with dignity and it has to do with respect,” said Patricia Paiz.

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They’re not usually words you’d associate with salt and pepper, but for this regular at Paradise Hills Senior Center, a sudden crackdown on condiments at Albuquerque-area senior centers has little to do with food.

“It feels like somebody is trying to prove they have the power to make us do what they want us to do,” explained Paiz.

She says, earlier this week, senior center staff announced those who enjoy the free, city-provided meals will have to do so without seasoning — from salt to ketchup, even salsa and chile.

City officials say some center leaders told guests the orders came from the feds who award grants for the free meals. They say adding condiments could throw off nutritional values in meals and jeopardize the grant.

Paiz isn’t one to pour piles of salt on her meals, “But I’m 62 years old, if I want to, I really should have every right to do it. It is my life,” she said.

It turns out some city leaders agree.

“Even as a guy from government, what was government thinking there?” said Mayor Richard J. Berry.

Berry says when he heard what was going on, he made a move to ensure seniors could season city meals however they like.

He signed a special directive saying the city should always adhere to rules and regulations, but indicates staff can use discretion to allow seniors to enjoy condiments, even keep them on hand.

“It’s a small thing but really what it is it’s just us saying, look, we want to protect you, we want to keep you safe but let’s not let some of these regulations get in the way of you enjoying your meal. It’s just common sense,” said Berry.

Mayor Berry had lunch at the Barelas Senior Center to update seniors. He brought a variety of condiments with him.

Last year alone, the city provided more than 300,000 meals for seniors through several different programs.

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