On Tuesday, a bill was introduced in the California legislature to expand the types of homemade foods allowed to be sold in California, especially hot meals. The bill, AB 626, was introduced by Assemblymembers Eduardo Garcia and Joaquin Arambula, however, the bill is still in “spot bill” form, meaning that the full details are not yet written in the public record. The current bill just paints a picture in broad brushstrokes of what the two Assemblymembers seek to achieve. Nevertheless, this is really exciting and potentially groundbreaking legislation! However, after much deliberation and meetings with stakeholders around the state, we’ve decided that we will only support further homemade food legislation if it ensures some form of community ownership of any web platforms intermediating the sale of homemade foods.
When I started volunteering for the Sustainable Economies Law Center in 2011, I was under-employed and struggling to pay rent. A friend of mine and I were operating an underground supper club hoping to earn some extra cash to make ends meet. Having previously worked in commercial kitchens, I had witnessed firsthand some of the pitfalls of our food regulatory system. That’s why I was so energized to become one of the architects of the California Homemade Food Act, aka the “Cottage Food Law.” As I started working on a bill proposal and putting the word out that I was working on a cottage food law for California, I was thrilled to meet so many other people who were as passionate about creating thriving local food systems as I was. We organized a truly grassroots campaign around the state. After the Homemade Food Act was passed, literally thousands of new businesses were lawfully permitted in California within the first year. The passage of the law was incredibly empowering for low income community members and under-employed folks to start their own micro-food business with very little overhead. We’ve always envisioned a future law that would allow a greater variety of foods to be made in a home kitchen and sold on a neighborhood scale, furthering community-ownership of the food system.
However, the bill introduced this week is “sponsored” by a Bay Area tech company that operates a platform for advertising and payment processing of homemade meals. We are both intrigued by the power of new tech platforms to transform the economy and also nervous about the unintended side effects of apps like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb with regards to evasion of employment laws, various safety laws, and tax laws, plus the concentration of profits and power in the hands of a few elite tech entrepreneurs and investors. Our mission is all about creating people-powered economies, not absentee shareholder-owned economies. It’s important to us that any homemade food legislation be about creating thriving local food economies and empowering food system workers and eaters.
We are worried that this homemade food legislation may ultimately be designed to meet the needs of tech companies above the needs of home cooks, eaters, and other stakeholders, but we are optimistic that if we work hard to share our vision for a better food system with lawmakers, that we can help ensure the bill works for the people of California, not just a few tech companies and their investors.
What our Law Center is proposing is for California to adopt a greatly expanded homemade food law with a stipulation about management of sales channels similar to California farmers’ market law, but tailored to the realities of the internet age. We are proposing that any web platforms selling homemade food under a new regulatory landscape would have to be legally structured as nonprofit organizations, government entities, or as cook-owned or eater-owned cooperatives.
Check out our new policy proposal overview and background here.
We’ll continue to write and speak out about our vision for a community-controlled food economy. I hope you’ll join us.
Christina Oatfield is Policy Director at the Sustainable Economies Law Center. Read more about her work.