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Free Minds & Free Markets

A Morsel of Food Freedom for California

Gov. Jerry Brown rolls back stupid restrictions on homemade foods, sidewalk vending, and craft distilleries.

My youngest daughter, a college agriculture student planning a career in dairy farming, cut her teeth at our mini-ranch outside Sacramento, where she raises Nubians. Those are great milk producers and goat cheese can be tasty, too. One of her early lessons about life in modern America came when locals would ask to buy the milk.

The state forbade such sales, but she heard of some people who adopted a workaround: The buyers would sign a form acknowledging that it was not for human consumption. What they did with the milk after they bought it was their business. My daughter wasn't going down that route, but I'm glad she learned the wisdom of Mr. Bumble from Oliver Twist: "If the law supposes that, the law is a(n) ass."

Americans love to brag about our wonderful freedoms, but sometimes they forget the level of red tape that entangles every commercial transaction. Take a look at the hundreds of hours in training and, often, the thousands of dollars in tuition the state requires to get a permit to perform virtually any occupation you can contemplate. The only thing that saves us are those bureaucratic workarounds—and the lack of sufficient inspectors to monitor everything we do. And black markets, also. If Americans felt compelled to followed every jot and tittle of every regulation, they might not feel so optimistic about the state of our freedoms.

I remember when my wife had to go to traffic school, in the days when one had to sit in a classroom rather than take the "course" online. The CHP officer told the class that every driver always is violating some traffic rule, and that they always could be pulled over for something. Even if that's an overstatement, it is telling. In 2000, I traveled to communist Vietnam for the Register to cover the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, and still recall locals laughing out loud when we told them about some of our state's regulations. That's telling, too.

But maybe the pendulum is about swing back in the other direction. Gov. Jerry Brown has been wrapping up his final legislative session, where he is signing hundreds of bills into law. Almost all of them add new rules and regulations. To his credit, he signed three laws that expand our commercial freedoms, albeit in relatively small ways.

The Homemade Food Operations Act (Assembly Bill 626) allows cooks to publicly sell food that they make in their home kitchen. This encourages small entrepreneurs and helps people earn a legitimate living. Of course, the law comes with many regulations. There are limits on the number of meals sold. Health concerns were overwrought. For heaven's sake, we eat the food made in our own kitchens and our friends' kitchens. And officials are allowed to inspect the facilities if some nosy neighbor complains. But it's a step in the right direction.

Brown also signed the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act (Senate Bill 946), which decriminalizes sidewalk vending. I was appalled at new stories of a police officer shutting down a street vendor and taking his cash. This should stop such nonsense. The new law will also remove past and pending convictions from people who sell the food we like to eat. (No, I don't care about the sellers' immigration status.) Again, the law gives the locals a lot of power to inspect, permit and limit vending carts, but people who sell and buy street tacos should be happy.

Yet I've read comments from people who have complained about the loosened rules because they allow these low-budget operations to compete with existing restaurants. Sorry, but it's not the government's job to assure that brick-and-mortar businesses are free from competition. A main reason for so many restrictions: Politically powerful existing industries often use governments to protect their market share. The other problem is many of our fellow citizens no longer believe in the "live and let live" philosophy.

Brown also signed the Craft Distiller Op-pour-tunity Act (Senate Bill 1164), which lets small distillers produce more of their products and sell it directly to the public, similar to the way breweries and wineries operate. Despite the silly name (Op-pour-tunity), it's a sensible law. But I wonder how we got to the point where one needs a new law to allow such things.

This reminds me of a quotation from author Ayn Rand: "The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws." I'm not saying it's government's intention to turn us into criminals. But when a law-abiding citizen becomes a scofflaw for selling milk or frutas, the situation has gone too far. Kudos to the governor for rolling it back a bit.

This column was first published by the Orange County Register.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998-2009. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

Photo Credit: LUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS/Newscom

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  • Duelles||

    One kudo for Governor Brown outweighed by how many non kudos? Eh!

  • SQRLSY One||

    But what I want to know is, will it be legal in Californicated-State to make and sell cheap plastic flutes?

    Until we get a "green light" on this...

    (To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/DONT_DO_THIS/ ) … This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

  • DiegoF||

    Isn't the lung flute bit an FDA reg? This may be one thing even Moonbeam can't be blamed for. And don't even think about encasing the flutes in anything to try to claim sanctuary under a food freedom bill; plastic objects in edibles are, after all, one of the few *other* things the USA is more nannyish about than the rest of the world--leading to much opportunity for gun-grabber smug sneering from our usual superiors.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Yes, this was (is) FDA idiocy at work. Ditto was the case with NARCAN® (naloxone), to save heroin junkies from their overdoses. FDA says by prescription only, since they are blithering idiots and ninny-nannies! That is the case with Narcan and "lung flutes" alike, plus any number of "medical devices" like a plastic tube for your nose ("nasal canulla" or some such) to take in supplemental oxygen, etc. Any number of states bypassed the FDA on "Narcan" by allowing one single physician to write ONE prescription for ANYONE AND EVERYONE IN THE STATE to walk into a drug store and get Narcan! This is a good move on the part of the states, IMHO... Save lives and bypass FDA ninnies!

    Heroin junkies are people too, IMHO, so they deserve "access" here... But they do bear SOME moral culpability, again IMHO, for irresponsibly getting themselves addicted... Yet they are politically correct enough "victims" (of themselves), that they get to bypass the FDA, and I do not!

    I wrote a letter to my state rep, asking for a state FDA bypass of the "lung flute"... There are others like the "ear popper" as well, and I could add more... She never responded at all. Surprise!

    Junkies? We're all over that! Regular citizens? Go fuck yourselves!

  • Echospinner||

    "Any number of states bypassed the FDA on "Narcan" by allowing one single physician to write ONE prescription for ANYONE AND EVERYONE IN THE STATE to walk into a drug store and get Narcan! This is a good move on the part of the states, IMHO... Save lives and bypass FDA ninnies"

    They have that here. Any licenced doc can write a standing order prescription for the pharmacy to dispense narcan to anyone. Generally a public health director or someone does it but any doctor can. Very clever.

    Standing orders have been around for a long time and legality varies from state to state. For example a GI doc or radiologist has a practice where a prep is needed before a procedure requiring a prescription. They could write up a standing order allowing a nurse or assistant to issue the prescription.

  • Antilles||

    Unfortunately, Governor Newson will repeal all of these--and more.

  • DiegoF||

    Newsome is indeed personally contemptible in a way even Brown is not, but I do not think the California governor has such powers.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    In 2000, I traveled to communist Vietnam for the Register to cover the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, and still recall locals laughing out loud when we told them about some of our state's regulations. That's telling, too.

    They were laughing because California's rules do not include the death penalty and you didnt mention that California soldiers could come by in the night and take your whole family away.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    But yeah, states and the federal gov have far too many rules.

  • MoreFreedom||

    Part of the reason communist Vietnam didn't have these rules, is they didn't have time to write them, and could go and shut down anything they wanted anyway. Communists don't live under the rule of law, they live under the rule of their leaders depending upon what those leaders want.

  • DiegoF||

    In what sense do California's rules not include the death penalty? I do not parse.

  • WC Varones||

    Yes, it's a good thing from a libertarian perspective.

    But it's interesting that the reason that the Dems are doing this is because their burdensome regulations impacted illegal aliens. They never cared about the burden on ordinary citizens.

  • MoreFreedom||

    Good point regarding the street vending law and home cooking laws. But I don't see illegals starting micro distilleries.

    Seems to me, maybe he's trying to rehabilitate the Democrat brand with some pro-freedom things to crow about.

  • Echospinner||

    What is an ordinary citizen? I have never met an ordinary person.

    How has your life changed because of immigrants?

    You are the child or descendant of immigrants. Do you feel that gives you some moral privilege?

    Just asking.

  • vek||

    Oh shut up.

    Citizenship is a thing. It matters. If it didn't we'd be a 3rd world toilet like most of the rest of the world. Open borders in the world as it exists today is nothing but suicide for any 1st world country. Purist libertarians either like to ignore this obvious outcome by pretending it wouldn't happen, or shrug it off and say it would be worth destroying the civilized world over this one silly little freedom known as international freedom of movement... Despite that it would destroy all other freedoms, for a net LOSS in freedom.

    Some of my family has been stateside since before the Revolutionary War, others only since my great grand parents... Technically, some of them have been here since they crossed over from Siberia since I have a good chunk native blood... Any which way it doesn't mean endless immigration of all sorts is a wise choice.

  • Echospinner||

    "But I don't see illegals starting micro distilleries"

    Because beer and tequila. Those darn Mexicans could not possibly be smart enough.

    Only the legal ones.

  • Ron||

    your ignoring the new law one city saying restuarants can't throw out food anymore. one step forward and two steps back

  • SQRLSY One||

    Whoa! I'd like to hear the details on that one! Any links?

    What about food leftovers on the customer's plates? Can they get away with selling it to pig farmers, or can they just throw it out? Food leftovers (from large institutions, not small family farms) going to pigs is against the law in many places, from way-overblown disease-transmission fears, I think.

    If food leftovers (from dirty plates) can be thrown into the regular trash, then the question becomes almost theological or hair-splitting... At what point in the dining experience does the food turn into dirt? Take your expired foods, put them on a giant plate, pay a customer a few dollars once per day to stop by and wave a fork over it, THEN it has turned into dirt, and may be thrown into the regular trash, is what I would suggest as a bypass, if needed!

  • SQRLSY One||

    Well an obviously-needed refinement to the above bypass, is do not PAY your customer(s) to wave their forks over your throw-away foods; give them a half-priced regular meal instead! Because as soon as you PAY someone a dollar, you have to verify that they are not illegal humans, that they are paying their child support, have health insurance with yada-yada coverage, and endless other mandates! But you could still give them a reduced-price meal w/o so much hassle, for now at least...

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Governor Brown has always been a pro-capitalist conservative monster in the pocket of big business.

    /cali prog

  • CE||

    Cool. Now we can eat hot dogs or nachos while we wait for the bullet trains to be ready.

  • Echospinner||

    + 1

    At least you will have something useful.

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