Not Your Grandmother’s Cottage: How CA’s Homemade Food Act Reinvents Entrepreneurship

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A box of homemade cupcakes (photo courtesy of flickr user Rachel Lo)

A box of homemade cupcakes (photo courtesy of flickr user Rachel Lo)

Often my blog posts tackle the heavier sides of food bans and regulations. However, I remain optimistic that change is occurring in the industry through policy, such as in the case of California’s Homemade Food Act. As various government decrees limit the sale and consumption of certain products, this cottage industry bill aims to lower barriers for everyday cooks and artisans to sell their homegrown edible goods. One might imagine that this bill will bring to life the romantic picture of a grandmother at the edge of her window selling giant cookies and scones for a dollar apiece. However, this measure represents much more for the food world in the present moment.

The act allows for citizens to purchase food from their friends, shops, and markets given that the vendors pass a food safety test and register with the local health department. Proposed by Assemblyman Mike Gatto from the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, the bill, passed in September of this year by Governor Brown, eliminates the expensive and convoluted step of renting out commercial kitchens for mass production. Folks can prepare roasted coffee, nuts, and baked goods (as well as a slew of other goods) to distribute/sell to their communities, allowing for an additional source of income for families. Though, “potentially hazardous foods,” such as meat and dairy-based products, do not fall under the bill’s list of permitted foods.

Homemade sour cherry jam (photo courtesy of flickr user Kirsten Jennings)

Homemade sour cherry jam (photo courtesy of flickr user Kirsten Jennings)

In requiring accessible certification for cottage operation, this instance highlights a redesign in government control of food sales. With the go-ahead for entrepreneurs to pursue a no-frill small business model, oddly enough, we see a move toward unrestricted markets through local regulation. Many foreign countries either disregard or do not have restrictions on cottage businesses or food hawkers. From my time spent in Shanghai, I noticed family members made a living off of selling one or two speciality items in food carts. Students, like myself, would go crazy over rou jia mo, a juicy pork mini sandwich seasoned with spices and fresh cilantro. Two young brothers stood outside, rain or shine, quickly pounding at the dough and finely chopping up the meat to serve the long line of hungry 20-year-olds. Of course, we have similar food trucks and stalls in the U.S., but with the California cottage bill, whether or not you are a chef, foodie, or parent, all individuals can participate in their local economy in creative and unique ways. Buyers will fall in love with their neighbor’s homemade jams, building a larger awareness, albeit a local conscience, of who and where your food products are made.

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