Last week the Los Angeles Outpost eater explained that a new state law introduced in Riverside County "could open a whole new kind of home-cooked meal marketplace" and "revolutionize the California food scene".
""The newly introduced regulation allows anyone to run a licensed restaurant from their kitchen and dining room, "Eater reported." No commercial space, food truck, ghost kitchen, or staff required – just pull some local permits to get them certified by the Riverside County Public Health Office.""
That's good news.
But two days later and a few hundred miles on I-5, the San Francisco outpost eater reported something completely different: "Bay Area officials are starting to crack down on the pandemic pop-ups from the hustling bosses."
"One of the most popular new food pop-ups in the Bay Area has been closed by the Alameda County Health Department – a possible sign that tolerance is waning for the growing market of unemployed cooks selling homemade goods in legal gray areas." the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
In her heart the eater Articles focus on the same California law: Assembly Bill (A.B.) 626, the "Micro Business Home Kitchen Operations"Law, also known as that Homemade Food Act.
At Riverside, the law is doing exactly what it was intended to.
"Because the bar to access restaurant ownership is high and the cost of renting a retail kitchen is so high, there is an informal economy of locally made and prepared hot items in the form of meal preparation services, dining carts and shared meals," that Law explained. "However, due to a lack of regulations, many experienced California chefs are unable to legally participate in the locally prepared food industry and earn a legal income there."
But why exactly is a 2 years old State Law Only Helps Cooks and Consumers in Riverside County (Population) around 2.5 million) rather than all of California (population around 40 million)? That's because, as I explained in a 2018 column, the "flawed" law obliges California communities to do so opt in to the law.
"While the bill would allow home cooks to sell … the law would still impose food and dollar caps on individual vendors and require home inspections," I wrote pillarshowing some of the shortcomings of FROM. 626. "Any of these requirements make it feel like the government is invading the house. Also, cities and counties that work together or work separately could continue to ban the sale of food under the law."
And continue to ban them. While a handful of counties and cities have expressed an interest in getting the bill passed in their own jurisdictions, there is no California city or county except Riverside County –not one– passed the law and developed rules for implementation.
Peter Ruddock from the COOK Alliance, the nonprofit behind the law, told me this week that it expects more cities and counties that have expressed an interest in the law to vote soon after the pandemic ends. But there is some irony in that delay, as the pandemic and its economic tatters have made it far more important to pass the law now. That's a point that Ruddock makes too.
""It's a shame they are cracking down on this right now when home cooks can be part of the solution to a troubled economy and increased hunger caused by the pandemic, fires, and more."He told me this week.
""Overly burdensome government food safety regulations have marginalized (many home cooks), "I wrote in one Sacramento Bee op-ed in 2017. "If these regulations persist, young food business owners and consumers across California will suffer.""
Remember that the righteous language in A.B. 626 yourself – how high the bar is for access to restaurant property? Well, two years after A.B. 626 became law and the bar for access to restaurant ownership is still high. The cost of renting a retail kitchen is still high. Cooks in San Francisco and elsewhere are still being forced to turn to the informal economy to get by. Due to the lack of proper regulations, many skilled California chefs are still unable to legally make and sell food.
FROM. 626 became law more than two years ago. The real promise of the law is now in Riverside County. But for the 94 percent of Californians who don't live there, A.B. The unrealized promise of 626 is nothing more than a cruel illusion.