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By Sara S. Blomquist, SFUSA Food and Farm Policy Steering Committee

In recent years, particularly since the pandemic, our food system has become a much more nationally prominent subject. Be it the destructive environmental impacts of factory farming, the unjust treatment of undocumented food workers nationwide, or widespread food insecurity, food justice has entered the national political consciousness. Unsurprisingly, large scale bills and policy work often occupy much of our focus. In the process, we forget the relentless local efforts and policy victories that work in tandem with national advocacy to change the food system. To highlight these powerful wins, here are three recent bills pushing forward our shared message of good, clean and fair food for all. 

The Illinois Home-to-Market Act SB2007 

The original Cottage Food Law went into effect in 2012, allowing individuals to sell homemade products like jams and baked goods without needing a certified, commercial-grade kitchen. Over the years, the law was amended and expanded, but none did as much as the new Home-to-Market Act has. The new law, passed in the spring, diversifies sales avenues for home kitchen producers. Now, cottage producers can sell at festivals, online, from their homes, and more, allowing them to cater to more people and build their businesses. In the process, of course, this provision bolsters the local food movement, paving the way for a much larger cottage food industry.  

In addition, given that women make up 77% of cottage food producers in Illinois according to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, the new bill supports women-owned businesses in the state and facilitates greater wealth generation. To find a detailed analysis of the bill and its provisions, click here

The passage of SB2007 exemplifies the power of local action and a commitment to our shared fight for sustainability and for food producers. Passage of the bill was spearheaded by the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA), “an alliance of farmers and eaters who use their choices and their voices to shape a more just and regenerative local food and farm system.” The organization worked with the Illinois General Assembly to pass the bill. ISA’s website features extensive information for burgeoning farmers and producers, particularly those interested in cottage food production. They also host a variety of events, meetings, and listening sessions to engage with their community, typifying how to facilitate a local food movement.


New protections for food delivery workers in New York City 

When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in early 2020, thousands of individuals facing unemployment in New York City turned to food delivery work through apps like DoorDash and UberEats. In an industry already plagued by exploitation and the instability of the gig economy, the pandemic increased stress on food delivery workers. Many are (undocumented) immigrants with limited knowledge of English, making them susceptible to accepting misleading and exploitative legal agreements prior to starting their work. In interviews with The New York Times, delivery workers cited how they made far below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and were denied bathroom breaks, among many other alarming experiences on the job. 

This spurred a wave of collective action among delivery workers, leading to the founding of Los Deliveristas Unidos (LDU), an organizing effort led by the Workers Justice Project. The bitter truth is that many food delivery workers can work 12 hours a day in the cold or rain for multiple food service apps and still not make enough to feed their own families,” LDU noted, further describing their grievances and findings on food delivery work in NYC in a detailed report

Backed by Service Employees International Union 32BJ, NYC’s largest service work union, thousands of delivery workers protested in the streets in April. LDU also received advocacy support from SEIU 32BJ, highlighting the importance of collective action. After conversations between LDU and NYC City Council members in response to the workers’ grievances, a legislative package was introduced in late April. It included provisions for higher wages, access to basic needs like restrooms, and the ability for delivery workers to set maximum traveling distances. 

The legislative package was voted into law in September, marking the first time a US city has regulated working conditions for food delivery app workers. While the bills certainly do not fix the issues delivery workers face, they mark a crucial shift that paves the way for future legislation. In an interview with THE CITY, Ligia Guallpa, executive director of the Workers Justice Project, noted that the bills open the doors for worker representation and union formation. 

This major victory in NYC highlights the importance of fighting for marginalized immigrant and BIPOC workers, as well the vital intersection between economic justice and food justice. 

Legislating a “constitutional right to food” in Maine

On Nov. 2, 2021, voters in Maine were the first in the country to decide to embed a right-to-food amendment in the state constitution, an initiative led by State Senator and Farmer Craig Hickman and others. “All individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to food, including the right to save and exchange seeds and the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being,” the amendment reads. Prior to its passage, the amendment was highly controversial, particularly surrounding food preparation. However, some elements of the amendment that could have conflicted with existing food safety laws were removed prior to the vote. In conversation with The Press Herald, Emily Broad Leib, director of the Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School, said that the amendment “provides a comfort to the citizens of Maine that they are allowed to obtain or procure food of their choosing, and that they do not have to constantly be worrying about whether they are breaking a law in doing so.” 

Proponents of the amendment note that it would provide legal protection to those producing food whose rights could be threatened and shift power away from the federal government or large corporations. According to Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners (MOFGA), the legislation would also make Maine more self-sufficient, noting that despite ample resources, Maine still imports 92% of its food supply. The amendment comes after many years of bolstering statewide and local food movements, including another landmark food sovereignty law passed in the state in 2017. Speaking on food sovereignty as a whole to The Courier-Gazette, Maine’s Bill Lombardi remarked, “I look at it as local food being sold to local people. Know your customer. They trust you.” 

While not without uncertainty, particularly regarding food safety and animal welfare, the amendment empowers consumers and small producers, thereby lessening Maine residents’ dependence on the existing industrial food system. In conversation with Modern Farmer, Maine homesteader Jj Starwalker remarked that growing food yourself has become the most radical of acts… it is one that can — and will — overturn the corporate powers that be.” The amendment’s existence and support are proof of the power of communities championing food sovereignty and security.  

Of course, these certainly aren’t the only recent local food wins and ongoing fights across the country. Policy work is ongoing and ever changing, but the victories highlighted above remind us why fighting for local legislative change is vital to changing our food systems. It’s why Slow Food USA is so committed to bolstering and spreading our local chapters across the country. Join a local chapter or start one in your community to contribute to food policy change yourself. We hope you’ll join us! 

Photo by Rodnae Productions via Pexels