Last week, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed into law AB 1616, a law that will allow Californians to sell some low-risk foods prepared in home kitchens. This good news is very important and will go a long way towards fostering the budding cottage food movements in California. There is a growing culture in California that supports the local and organic food movements, and this new law will make it much easier for those individuals to further their cause.
Over the weekend, I attended the Eat Real Festival in Oakland. At the festival, local farmers and food purveyors set up booths where they sell both freshly made dishes and pre-made food items. The festival also offers a wide range of workshops that teach everything from techniques for using spices to the fundamentals of making sauerkraut. I attended a workshop that taught techniques for working bread dough made using a starter. The festival was extremely well attended and I was pleasantly surprised to see that many of the attendees were just as excited about the opportunity to learn new skills as they were about the chance to indulge in the delicious food.
Similarly, earlier in the summer, I attended a food swap in Oakland in which local residents essentially bartered with one another for homemade food items. The items that the swappers brought were creative, delicious, and expertly prepared. There was a great deal of enthusiasm at the event for all things culinary.
Finally, this weekend I will be attending the second People’s Kitchen event in Oakland. People’s Kitchen is a monthly pop-up restaurant that features a different style of cuisine each month, pairs it with the works of local artists and musicians and opens up a space for discussion about food justice and the politics of food. The first one, which I attended in July, was completely packed.
The point is, in California and, I suspect, around the country, people are beginning to understand the importance of knowing where their food comes from. We are reclaiming our culinary knowledge. More of us are learning to cook, rather than opting for take-out or packaged foods. We’re growing gardens and keeping backyard chickens. Our grandparents had a kind of wisdom about food that many of us are striving to reclaim.
Until recently, the laws in California kept many of us from taking that wisdom to the next level. Before AB 1616 was signed into law, the cost of renting space in a commercial kitchen was prohibitive or close to it for many who hoped to start food businesses. But this new law opens the door for those of us who deeply feel the need to combat corporate food systems and to raise awareness about the local and organic food movements. Allowing Californians to start food businesses in their own kitchens makes it much easier to grow local food systems.
Clearly, there is a growing population of Californians who are knowledgeable about organic food, quality ingredients and food preparation. That much was obvious at the food swap I attended this summer. By allowing such individuals to turn their knowledge and passion into a career, we are not only helping those individuals – we are also making our local food systems more robust. What’s more, when local individuals can more easily sell their foods to the public, it is much simpler for consumers to find out precisely where their food comes from. AB 1616, therefore, supports both local food systems and transparency in food sourcing and will hopefully set an example for other states to follow.