Bill Aims to Boost Protections for Home Cooks

SACRAMENTO -- In a few days, the state Senate will vote on a measure that would allow Californians to cook small meals in their homes and sell them for a small profit.

"I didn’t know what lobbying meant when I started this," said Mariza Ruelas. "I didn’t even know food activism was a thing."

Ruelas' activism began with her misdemeanor citation in 2016. Her crime was preparing her famous homemade ceviche and selling it to friends.

"My story and my experience, which was being labeled as a criminal, which is absurd," Ruelas told FOX40.

FOX40 first met Ruelas when San Joaquin County cracked down on Facebook food sharing groups.

Ruelas and about a dozen others faced jail time for operating a food facility without a permit. Eventually, she took a plea deal for community service but felt something within the law needed to change.

"We’re in a state where vulnerable communities being criminalized for something like home cooking is the last thing we need," said Matt Jorgensen with Cook Alliance.

When Jorgensen heard about Ruelas story he helped craft a bill that would allow home cooks like her to get a permit from the state, get a kitchen inspection and legally sell up to $50,000 a year worth of food.

After more than two years of hard lobbying, they’re one vote in the Senate away from their bill becoming law. Lawmakers in support say targeting home cooks discriminates against minority communities.

"Too often women, immigrants, people of color who have skill sets that we should be able to embrace and celebrate have not been able to capitalize and profit off this," said Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno. "This bill will allow us to do it for the first time."

"I had people reach out to me and message me from all kinds of places," Ruelas said. "Their moms sold tamales to get them through school and the more I got messages it was motivating me to keep fighting."

From a courtroom to the capitol, it's been a long fight for Ruelas as she serves up what she feels is justice.

County by county, if this bill becomes law, each will have to adopt new rules. Many lobbied Wednesday and expect for a vote Thursday or Friday.