California Adopts a Mixed Bag of Food Laws

The same day he lightly deregulated home cook, Gov. Jerry Brown signed an awful law targeting groups that feed people in need


Renee C. Byer/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Food laws in California, America's most populous state and a bellwether of change in other states, are changing for the better.

As Steven Greenhut noted in a column last week, a trio of new laws passed in California should make life easier for home food entrepreneurs, street vendors, and craft distillers in the state. That's great news for food freedom and the entrepreneurs and consumers who drive its spread. But as with so many bursts of law-signing, there was some awful with the good. On September 18, the same day he signed the homemade food law, Gov. Jerry Brown also signed a new law that will crack down on people who want to share food with the homeless and others in need.

I strongly supported the home food entrepreneur law. As I wrote in a Sacramento Bee op-ed last year, when the bill that became law was first floated in the California Assembly, the state's existing "food-safety regulations have proved so far to be an insurmountable obstacle" for many home cooks. The bill signed into law last month, I wrote, was "a fair and just proposal" to help cooks overcome these state-erected barriers.

Hopefully, that groundbreaking California law, along with the state's embrace of street food and small distillers, will spread to other states.

But before we start crowing about California's great food laws, a healthy serving of context is appropriate. Many of the state's food laws are still awful. As a reminder, California is home to the nation's only statewide foie gras ban. Let's not forget, too, about the state's awful shark fin ban (which conflicts with the federal government's excellent shark finning ban), the ubiquitous and useless food warnings required under the state's Proposition 65, and the state's handful of ongoing soda taxes (which exist even after a state ban on new food-and-beverage taxes).

Those regulations are terrible, but the new law for feeding the homeless takes the cake.

"The bill would prohibit the operation from providing food service unless it has registered with the local enforcement agency… and would require a limited service charitable feeding operation subject to registration, or a food bank, if applicable, to submit certain information to the agency," the law declares. It will regulate the foodservice activities of nonprofits that share food with those in need under the state's retail food code, which is supposed to regulate (as its name suggests) commercial food activities. One of the obstacles to charitable food sharing under the law is that groups will have to prepare food in commercial kitchens.

Dozens of California chapters of Food Not Bombs, a pacifist group that shares vegan food with people across the country, are up in arms over the new law, reports the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The local chapter, the paper reports, says it will likely ignore the law (and its permitting requirements) once it takes effect in 2019.

Anyone who's followed my writings on the subject over the years—both in my columns and my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable—knows this is just the latest awful law of this sort. Las Vegas, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, New York City, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, and many other large cities have enacted a host of cruel and unconstitutional barriers that restrict or ban sharing food with those in need. California's could be the first such statewide law to take effect.

That's dreadful.

Any state deserves a big pat on the back when it rescinds or amends bad food laws. California is no different. Lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown deserve enormous credit for adopting new laws that should make life easier for home food entrepreneurs, street vendors, and craft distillers in the state.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. California is still home to many of America's worst food laws. Their number is still growing, meaning that—even with a trio of good new laws—real food freedom in California is still an elusive goal.

NEXT: Freeborn Frank Turner

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  1. Having lived for many years in the vicinity of homeless-feeding operations, I’ll disagree with Linnekin’s implication that they’re an unqualified good, and that opposition to them can only be motivated by selfishness or spite.

    Much of the funding and volunteering at such operations comes from people who live far away from the feeding site. They drive down from the Foothills on Saturday morning, spend a couple of hours ladling soup and basking in their own righteousness, then head back up to cul-de-sac country.

    The most-vulnerables remain in the vicinity of the feeding site. They disperse through the neighborhood, snatching pawnable or saleable items from carports and porches. These they convert to bottles of malt liquor, which bottles are left on the sidewalk, while their contents, after passage through a set of kidneys, are deposited in somebody’s yard.

    1. I lived in San Francisco for a while just half a block down an alley from a big Episcopalian cathedral; between Bush and Pine, two blocks form Van Ness, forget the name. They were feeding the homeless around 6am, so they would line up much earlier, and of course not quietly. People got tired of shit dumps and piss puddles on doorsteps and tried to organize a meeting to come up with better ideas. The priest barged in to our meeting with a posse of homeless and shouted us down. The Examiner, back when it was a real paper, got wind of it and found he lived with his wife out in the Marina, owned a Mercedes, but always drove a beat up station wagon to the church. His response to our petition to feed them later was to start feeding an hour or two earlier.

      Most of them did not seem mentally ill at all, just a rowdy bunch who liked living on the streets with free food and no worries. I imagine they harassed the mentally ill just for sport, except when they needed them for press conferences.

      1. Do people realize that the homeless get welfare? Do Commiefornians realize that we have a drug rehab revolving door that dumps addicts from across the Nation onto our streets at a cost of Billions a year? The only people living on the street are those that refuse to get sober and go along with a program to help them find work and get back on their own feet! I’m thoroughly against using taxpayer dollars to help the addicted or the homeless!!!!

        1. Translation: drug prohibition lobbied for, supplied via recycling of seized dope and enforced by the DEA increases the price of crude Afghani narcotics by some 400%. The pay commision is better than welfare bribes or handouts in exchange for Wizened Christian Temperance Union pledges. So the answer–that worked in Portugal–is to repeal those prohibition laws and their “welfear” tax subsidies.

  2. Some of California’s highest homeless rates are in cities that have the longest running rent control laws–San Francisco and Santa Monica. I’m of the opinion that this doesn’t cause people to become homeless in the first place so much as it makes it harder for people who have become homeless because of recession, divorce, etc. to get back into an apartment once they’ve become homeless. It can be difficult for well paid working people to find an apartment in San Francisco and Santa Monica. It doesn’t need to be that way.

    Incidentally, I find mental health issues to be a poor explanation for homelessness. If social isolation, sleeping on the streets, smelling ripe and rancid, etc. doesn’t make you crazy after a while, there might be something wrong with you.

    1. I’d agree ‘rent control’ isn’t the proximate cause, but the resulting decrease in supply and ramp-up in rental costs is a sight to behold; breathtaking! There certainly isn’t any market force which could cause increases in those amounts.
      But added to that, the both have mild climates, and SF in particular spends $250M/year rewarding the bums for being bums, which (no surprise) attracts more, requiring more money.
      Benioff (“Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff backs corporate tax to fight homelessness” salesforce-ceo-marc-benioff -backs-corporate-tax -to-fight-homelessness/) ought to be sued by the shareholders for causing a loss in their value.

    2. It’s not the rent control laws, it’s the mindset of the residents. SF and Santa Monica welcome the homeless and don’t kick them out, like the conservative cities in Orange County do. The same people who can’t see the logical flaws in rent control are the same people who welcome bums to their cities.

  3. Right now in Panama City, officals are actually encouraging people that are feeding the homeless. Funny how that works.

  4. Pastor Andrew Brunson has returned home.

    Yet another huge win for the president. Weak squishes like Jimmy Carter and Block Yomomma get Americans taken hostage by our enemies, patriots like Reagan and Trump get our hostages freed.

    1. 1. Who?

      2. He got taken while Trump was President. Don’t see how that doesn’t put Trump in the same boat as Carter and Obama.

      3. Hahahahahahaha! You screwed up your link.

      1. Brunson was kidnapped in october 2016.

        Obama was president.

        1. By whom, where?

        2. Pastor Brunson, Freed From Detention

          He wasn’t kidnapped, he was arrested in Turkey.

          First arrested in October 2016, Brunson found himself rounded up ? along with tens of thousands of other people ? on suspicion of supporting a failed coup attempt just months earlier. Turkish authorities asserted that he had engaged in espionage and aided terrorist groups.

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  6. I’m reminded of speaking to a neighbor about the rising number of flies in the area a decade ago. I called Vector Control who discovered an illegal burrito factory down the road ran by illegals with three half buried beef carcasses covered in maggots, that were causing the fly problem, in the back yard. It was later found that the beef had been stolen from local dairy’s.

    1. Gonna want some cites for that claim.

    2. Some people pay extra for maggot tenderized beef.

  7. Jerry Brown has a picnic table and a dog in his office? I knew the guy wasn’t all bad.

  8. This straw ban smells of looter bipartisanism. Dems pretend to want to legalize weed, so Gods Own Prohibitionists gasp in horror and demand a concession–an anti-Cocaine-Fiends straw ban! They can’t very well bargain for a ban on needles and syringes. Clean works were already banned–just before the hepatitis and AIDS outbreaks. These collaborations against individual rights between the commie dems and the nationalsocialist republicans could easily be the best advertising material ever for libertarian candidates on the West Coast. Younger Californians need to get away from what Jerry Garcia called “that dumb place of voting for the lesser of two evils” and cast law-changing libertarian spoiler votes instead.

  9. Why is the dog hiding under the table? What kind of food laws are we talking about here?

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