For many of us, food is a shared experience that is exchanged between family, friends, and even our neighbors. From passing down recipes to convening over a signature family dish, it keeps traditions and culture alive across generations. For years, many people have used these same family recipes as a source of economic empowerment to generate extra income for their families by selling food to neighbors or even peddling meals on the street. Before the California Assembly Bill AB-626 was passed by Assembly member Eduardo Garcia in 2017, home based cooks who sold meals to their neighbors were technically breaking the law. Now, the passing of this law opens the doors of the home cook gig economy for minorities and creates opportunities for economic growth through entrepreneurship.
Most of the people who participated in the budding homemade food economy before 2017 were members of underserved communities — particularly minorities and immigrant women — who were looking for a way to use their talents to create economic opportunity and supplemental income for their families. However, many of these individuals were often left with threats of jail time, fines, and probation instead. Now, thanks to the Assembly bill (AB-626), it is now legal to create a Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation (MEHKO), A.K.A. the Homemade Food Operations Act, in Riverside County. This is a huge win for women, immigrants, and people of color who can now legally operate low-cost, legitimized home based cooking operations while having access to best-practices education for public health.
Here Are Some of the Ways that the California Assembly Bill AB-626 Will Positively Impact the Home Cook Gig Economy for Minorities, Immigrants, and People of Color by Creating a More Inclusive Economy:
AB-626 Creates New Economic Opportunities for Minority and Immigrant Women
According to a study conducted by the Migration Policy Institute, nearly 2 million college-educated immigrants and refugees in the U.S. are unemployed or working in low-skill jobs despite years of education and work experience. For immigrants who don’t have degrees or relevant working experience, the challenge to find a well-paid job is even higher. That’s why according to the C.O.O.K. Alliance, 84% of cooks in the informal food economy were women and 48% were of African, Hispanic or Multiracial descent before it was legalized. The legalization of MEHKO opens the doors of the gig economy for minorities by allowing underserved members of vulnerable communities to do what they love while leveraging their skills to create additional income for their families.
AB-626 Encourages Equal Opportunity for Entrepreneurship in the Food Industry
On average, opening a brick and mortar restaurant can cost upward of $375,500 (RestautantOwner.com). This high ticket investment makes it nearly impossible for immigrants and women of color with limited access to capital to open traditional culinary businesses. The legalization of the Homemade food economy lowers barriers in the industry, making it possible to open a small home based cooking business with low start-up costs. It also empowers home-based cooks to earn their own capital to eventually invest in their own food cart, food truck, or traditional brick and mortar business in the formal food economy.
AB-626 Grants Minority and Immigrant Home-Based Cooks Legal Protection
Before the California Assembly Bill 626 was introduced, preparing and selling food from a home kitchen was treated as a criminal act, and was punishable as a misdemeanor. Cottage food laws only permitted a very narrow group of “non-potentially hazardous foods,” limiting opportunities for growth in the home cook gig economy for minorities. Now that the AB-626 bill is in place, home-based cooks have access to best-practices education, safety guidelines, and the ability to obtain permits and certifications that make their business a legitimate, low-risk operation.
AB-626 Creates Transparent Rules to Regulate the Home-Based Cooking Industry
Although home-based cooking operations have existed long before California Assembly Bill 626, there was no blueprint or regulations in place to control the industry. The legislation creates clear guidelines for operation that keep public health a priority while also creating specific regulations for micro kitchen operations in California.
According to the legislation, home kitchens to can make up to $50,000 in sales a year, and serve up to 60 individual meals a week. Food must be prepared, cooked, and served on the same day and picked up by the customer or delivered within a safe time period, and home kitchen operators are required to obtain food manager training and certification. Also, no indirect sales are allowed—customers must pick up the food from the cook, or the cook must deliver it directly to the customers.
AB-626 Creates the Demand for Technology Resources that Will Make Running a MicroEnterprise Home Kitchen Operation Easier
Assembly bill 626 makes home-based cooking a legitimate career, making it possible for platforms like the HomeMade app to exist and support these food entrepreneurs in functionally operating their business and building their customer base. By creating demand for technical innovations in the home-based cooking industry, home cooks from underserved communities will gain access to affordable tools that help them scale their businesses, manage their orders in one convenient place, and stay informed about industry news and innovations.
AB-626 Makes Healthy, Homemade Food Options More Accessible to Vulnerable Communities
The legalization of MEHKOs is not only beneficial to home-based cooks, but it’s also beneficial to their communities. The home cook gig economy for minorities is a catalyst in the food industry which creates legitimate opportunities, and brings more income to underserved areas. By selling home cooked food to their neighbors and members of their community, they can play in role in improving their communities by creating easier access to healthy foods, particularly in food deserts with severely limited options.
Thanks to this legislation, California has become one of the first states in the US to take a substantial step towards building a more inclusive food system. In a few years, it will be fascinating to witness how MicroEnterprise Home Kitchen Operations (MEHKOs) dynamically shift the landscape of the food economy at large.