When home cooks mobilize
On Tuesday home cooks across California gathered in the Capitol to take a revolutionary act—speaking up.
By default home cooks are givers. They are the moms that serve their kids seconds before taking their first bite. They are the grandparents that go to three grocery stores to find the exact box of crackers their granddaughter said she liked once. They are the dinner guests who start to wash the dishes when their host goes to the bathroom.
But on Tuesday, when home cooks from across the state came to the capitol to testify in front of policymakers, they did something out of the ordinary—they spoke up on their own behalf.
Like many days in the kitchen, the day began early. By 7:30 AM cooks had piled into a 15-seater van with picket signs, megaphones, and the pride of their homemade creations to share.
On the drive to Sacramento, Lisette shared stories of her family’s Ropa Vieja recipe, Patti shared her “nostalgia menu” of traditional chinese dishes from her childhood that she serves to her friends, Uli explained how it was his mother who taught him the secrets of authentic german cuisine.
Ever wonder why, in a world of endless food options, everyone’s favorite dish happens to be their mom’s homemade recipe? It’s because the secret ingredient to home cooking is not a particular spice or vegetable — it’s the human doing the cooking.
The cooks traveled to Sacramento in support of AB 626—a bill in the California Legislature that would permit the sale of home cooked food, creating a new avenue to entrepreneurship for people historically without one. The bill would improve public health safeguards around the existing informal food economy and legitimize an important lever of economic empowerment for immigrant, minority, and other vulnerable communities. But perhaps, more than anything, it would allow these home cooks—many of whom are already cooking for friends and neighbors as part of the large informal food economy in California—to come out of the shadows and publicly share their craft.
“I’ll start by saying that I’m an Immigrant. Like 27% of California, I came here from somewhere else,” said Dr. Jaspal Sandhu, a professor at the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley. “Often I think about what it means to be American. A big part of that is to support entrepreneurs and the creativity of individuals.”
“I am a byproduct of what I consider to be a movement of home chefs.” Cristina Huaranca fought back tears and she shared her family’s story. “When my parents immigrated to this country, they were working, but then one of them got laid off. What’s the easiest thing for an amazing cook like my mom to do? There was no barrier to entry to do something that she knew, which was make Peruvian tamales. That held our family over. It put food on the table, it paid for our rent, and supplemented my path to end up at an Ivy League school… If it hadn’t been for my mom selling tamales, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”
The bill is sponsored by Asm. Eduardo Garcia, who understands the bill’s potential impact firsthand. In his primarily latinx home district of Coachella Valley, there is a large informal food economy—from tamale vendors to church groups that raise money selling plates to their neighbors.
“Our existing cottage food laws are overly complicated and prevent marginalized populations from exploring new business ventures,” said Assemblymember Garcia. “This measure aims to support healthy, self-reliant communities by legitimizing an important lever of economic empowerment for home cooks who lack access to the professional food world; knocking down barriers to expand opportunities for American dreams.”
But perhaps, the most moving statements came from the cooks themselves. GaNeane Lewis, who used home cooking as a launchpad for her own personal chef business. Mariza Ruelas, a single mother of 6, who was threatened with jail time and two misdemeanors for selling homemade food to her friends in a FB group. Or Brandi Mack, an urban farmer, community organizer, and home cook who summed up the importance of this bill in 90 seconds:
Home cooking matters. For the cooks. For the parents. For our communities. To support AB 626 and home cooks across California, please visit supporthomecooks.com.