History of the C.O.O.K. Alliance
Policy work followed naturally from community-building.…
The C.O.O.K. Alliance finds its roots in a social enterprise startup called Josephine, which worked from 2014-2018 to create more inclusive opportunities in the food industry. In the simplest terms, Josephine was a platform that let folks buy take-out dinner from their neighbors, facilitating resilience, diversity, and economic empowerment in local communities. In their four years of operation, the Josephine team worked with over one thousand home cooks, serving nearly one hundred thousand meals to thousands of customers.
As Josephine grew, it became apparent that outdated regulations written for industrial food producers were the single most significant barrier to the empowered livelihoods of cooks across the U.S. In response, the startup began to focus on changing regulations around home-cooking.
Since 2016, with the support and power amassed in their community of 50,000 cooks and customers, Josephine began going to city, county, and state government agencies to make a case for updating and improving the food codes and decriminalizing the economic opportunities that were already part of the livelihoods, health, and community fabric of so many people.
They received input on legislative language from legal experts ranging from the left-leaning food policy groups, to centrist law school programs at Harvard and UCLA, to conservative business groups and the libertarian Institute for Justice. They were invited to present our proposals to elected officials at CityLab and the Aspen Institute and regulators at multiple state-level conferences. They held themselves accountable to their community and policy makers through a series of “town hall” discussions.
In addition to these groups advising and supporting the legislative work, dozens of organizations from local food policy councils to national advocacy coalitions signed in support of the California legislation and over 40,000 individuals have signed a petition in support of home-cooks. Policy groups hoping to run similar bills in several other states reached out for assistance. Josephine found itself thrust into the center of this movement - technical expertise, ideas, and support poured in from all sides.
Josephine may have started this particular fight, but it should not and cannot stay a central player. The business wound down in March of 2018 and Josephine Co-CEO Matt Jorgensen created the C.O.O.K. Alliance to continue organizing with those who had rallied behind home cooks. Together, we have an unwavering conviction in the momentum, impact, and importance of this movement.
So what is the C.O.O.K Alliance?
We are a community of cooks, public health experts, farmers, labor advocates, food justice allies, individuals, and groups who support home cooks. We have not yet formalized an organizational incorporation. We are volunteers and advocates with one goal: to legalize home cooked food sales.
As part of this work, the C.O.O.K. Alliance has become the new primary sponsor of California Homemade Food Operations Act (AB 626), which passed the state Assembly with overwhelming bipartisan support on January 29th, 2018. If AB 626 becomes law, it will be the first bill of its kind in the United States and the C.O.O.K. Alliance will work to support implementation in California as well as create model legislation to encourage similar efforts in other states.