Why Legalizing Home Cooked Food Matters in 2018

AB 626 goes to vote in the California Assembly on Monday 1/29

A Home Cook

This past Friday, Mariza Ruelas appeared at a building she’s come to know better than most— the Superior Courthouse of San Joaquin Country.

Aside from her familiarity with the courthouse, Mariza is a typical California home cook in many ways. She cares about her community and loves getting to know her neighbors in Stockton. She hustles to support her six kids as a single mom, driving for Uber “whenever she has a spare hour.” Cooking is both a means of sharing her culture as well as a way to earn some extra income.

Mariza Ruelas, home cook. Source: Care2 petition site

But three years ago, an undercover police officer purchased homemade food from Mariza on a local Facebook group called “209 Food Spot.” Six month later, she received a court summons. Ever since, Mariza has been trying to put the threat of criminal charges, jail times, and fines behind her.

Even after completing 80 hours of community service, Mariza still hasn’t gained assurance from the District Prosecutor that charges will be dropped. In the meantime, she’s turned to activism— gathering tens of thousands of petition signatures and becoming a leading advocate for The Homemade Food Operations Act (AB 626), which would decriminalize small sales of home cooked meals in California.

“I loved feeding my neighbors along with my own family. Cooking is a joy and was an important source of income for me and my six children. Assemblymember Garcia’s bill will legitimize this source of income for other home cooks like me. I’m thrilled to see it’s progress.”

Mariza isn’t alone. Across California, thousands of other home cooks sell food informally. Some are retired, home with young children or homebound due to disabilities and simply looking for a small extra income compatible with their lifestyles. Others are food entrepreneurs working to incubate a business concept before undertaking the costly and complex process of launching a food truck or brick and mortar restaurant. These cooks have joined with nonprofits, food and labor justice organizers, and progressive companies in calling for a new avenue for small-scale food sales.

A Growing Coalition

The C.O.O.K. (“Creating Opportunities, Opening Kitchens”) Alliance is a coalition of home cooking supporters formed in 2018 to organize the nonprofits, individuals, and companies who have come out in support of more inclusive food permitting laws.

AB 626 was originally sponsored by Josephine, a social enterprise platform started to help cooks in the existing informal food economy do their work more safely and with more accountability. Over 3+ years of working on home cooking legislation, Josephine shifted towards a policy focus as it became clear that new legislation would open doors for thousands of stay at home parents, immigrants, and entrepreneurs to safely serve their own neighborhoods beyond the footprint of Josephine.

In 2018, the Josephine team helped create The C.O.O.K. Alliance to more effectively organize the broad group of stakeholders who have rallied around The Homemade Food Operations Act.

C.O.O.K. Alliance supporters with AB 626 author Assemblymember Garcia

Why this Matters in 2018

The movement to expand cottage food laws has been growing for years across the United States, as it becomes increasingly clear that home cooking helps build healthy, resilient communities and create economic opportunities for the people that need them most.

A few factors are uniquely relevant today:

  • The need to stand with underrepresented groups— particularly women, immigrants and people of color—in light of national politics
  • The need to bridge fracturing cultural narratives and growing divides between different political, social, and economic groups

Food has always been a basic way to connect with our communities. And we need that today more than ever.

In California, criminalized food sales have already been recognized as an important political issue. Last year for example, the Los Angeles city council voted to decriminalize street food vendors in an effort to protect the nearly 50,000 vendors who were increasingly at risk of ICE raids.

By acknowledging and regulating the underground food economy, we can make sure that home cooks benefit from safety guidelines and resources like liability insurance. Under the proposed scope of AB 626, home cooks would be granted a permit after an inspection similar to other types of commercial food facilities and be limited to $50,000 in annual sales.

We need your voice today

If AB 626 becomes law, it will be the first bill of its kind in the United States and will create massive economic opportunities for cooks across California. This bill will permit the small-scale sale of meals from home kitchens, improve public health safeguards around the existing informal food economy, and legitimize an important lever of economic empowerment for immigrant, minority, and other underrepresented communities.

The Homemade Food Operations Act (AB 626) goes to vote in the California Assembly this Monday 1/29 and this is a critical milestone to continue advancing the cause.

Can you make a 1 minute call today in support? 
Dial 916–414–9127 to be connected.

Once you’re connected with your representative, you can simply say, “Hi my name is [your name] and I live in [your zip code] and I support AB 626, the Homemade Food Operations Act.”

What more information? Visit The C.O.O.K. Alliance website to learn more.

A rally in Sacramento with home cooks who support AB 626

Homemade Food Operations Act (AB 626) Confirmed Support List

· C.O.O.K. Alliance (Sponsor)

· Senator Jeff Stone, District 28

· Border Grill Restaurants & Catering

· California Association for Microenterprise Opportunity (CAMEO)

· Calexico Neighborhood House

· Cerplus

· City of Coachella

· City of Indio

· Coachella Valley Eocnomic Partnership

· Coachella Valley Women’s Business Center

· Community Food and Justice Coalition

· Community Food Council for Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Lands

· CORE Foods

· DishDivvy

· Flavors of Oakland

· Food Law and Policy Clinic, Harvard Law School

· Food Shift

· Forage Kitchen

· Gobee Group

· Gold Finch Edible Designs

· Growing Leaders

· Indie Food Hub

· La Cocina

· Maize

· Newhall Investments

· Oakland Chamber of Commerce

· Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

· Obsidian Farm

· People’s Community Market

· PowerSource Cafe

· Pit Stop Barbeque

· Riverside County Economic Development Agency

· Share Kitchen

· Small Business Majority

· TARO

· Tech Equity Collaborative

· Town Kitchen

· Traveling Spoon

· Workforce Development Board

· More than 40,000 Individuals