For more than three years, Maria, alias, has worked in one of Arizona’s most popular illicit trades. She makes a lot of money, she can set her schedule to maximize time spent with her family, and her customers are addicted to her product.
But Maria isn’t a bootlegger or drug dealer — she’s a tamale vendor, part of a beloved economy that’s technically illegal in Arizona.
“I worked as a cleaner but they paid me very little and sometimes I couldn’t pick up my son from school,” she says. Raison. “I’ve always loved cooking and I’ve always been told that I cook well [food] so I thought, why not?” In January 2020, her mother loaned her money to start her home-based business. She started making and selling dozens of homemade red chili tamales every week, always freshly prepared, “never reheated”.
Cheerful comments poured in: “‘Your tamales are [the] bomb”, “I had never tried such delicious tamales”, “I had not found tamales like the ones made by my mother who is already deceased”, and so many others… which fill me with satisfaction”, Maria says.
“A lot of people who work all day and come home hungry and tired and don’t want to cook,” she says, “what they want is to come in and eat homemade food and well, here we are. !”
State restrictions have not prevented tamale sellers from entering the market or buyers from consuming the product. Scroll through Facebook or stroll through a mall parking lot in southern Arizona and you’re bound to stumble upon a tamale street vendor.
Arizona almost brought this animated tamale black market above ground last month. HB 2509, a Invoice which would have legalized the sale of ‘potentially dangerous’ homemade products containing perishable ingredients, was passed by the State House and Senate with an overwhelming bipartisan majority support. But Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs had none of it.
“The bill would significantly increase the risk of foodborne illness by expanding the ability of artisan food vendors to sell high-risk foods,” she wrote in her statement. veto letter. “It does not establish sufficient minimum standards for the inspection or certification of home food businesses.” Hobbs cited “hazardous chemicals” and “rodent or insect infestation” as potential dangers.
Arizona residents have been legally allowed to sell ‘cottage foods’ – products prepared in a non-commercial kitchen – for more than a decade. However, this law is limited. A home chef can sell cookies, fruit pies, and muffins as part of today’s Arizona cuisine diet, but no salsas, tamales or dried fruits. “Cakes with hard icings or icings” are allowed, but “cakes with a cream filling” are not. Any chef who wants to sell food products ‘considered potentially dangerous’ must navigate more expensive not like getting a license from the county environmental health department and producing all food in a sanctioned commercial kitchen.
Authorities cite health risks to justify these regulations. Tom Herrmann, public information officer for the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS), recounts Raison that “approximately 128,000 people are hospitalized each year nationwide due to foodborne illness and that approximately 3,000 people die”. But he notes that “the cause of an epidemic is not always clear”.
“Because foods prepared outside of a regulated food preparation setting, such as a private residence, are typically small-scale, outbreaks from these foods often go undetected and unreported,” Herrmann said.
Drawing on a 2014 Center for Science in the Public Interest report, Time magazine noted that 44% of foodborne illness outbreaks could be attributed to restaurants, while 24% occurred at home. “That means you’re twice as likely to get food poisoning from eating out than you are at home,” he said. The Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm that supports deregulation in the cottage food industry, has said that “critics who talk about the risk of foodborne illness give hypothetical examples of what could go wrong because actual cases are rare or non-existent”.
“My gut says HB2509 would have been a trickle [public health] benefit”, Will Humble, former director of AZDHS, tweeted last month. After helping create the current cottage diet in Arizona in 2008, “some in the environmental health world thought the sky was going to fall. It’s not,” Humble wrote. Instead, “it has been a resounding success and a great benefit to public health by improving [social determinants of health] & I believe #HB2509 would have done that too.”
There was almost 15,000 registered home chefs in Arizona in March 2023, according to the Arizona chapter of the Common Sense Institute. But the veto means many more Arizonans, including Maria, will have to continue working in the shadows. Paul Avelar, attorney general at the Institute for Justice’s Arizona office, predicts the veto “will hurt thousands of hard-working Arizonans who just want to make an honest living or supplement their income.”
This will disproportionately affect women – the Institute for Justice has noted that 83% of rural food producers are women and immigrants, many of whom sell homemade food to start making money in their new communities. If adopted, HB 2509 would have generated about $55.3 million in annual new food sales, according to the Common Sense Institute.
Maria knows many tamale vendors. Some sell red tamales like her. Others sell corn variants and others prepare recipes from their states in Mexico or from countries of origin, including Guatemala. She also knows people who sell additional products prohibited by state law, including pupusas and homemade pizza.
Maria says the authorities in her town don’t seem interested in putting them down. Some of his clients are even uniformed cops.
Enforcement is generally lax in Arizona. But keeping the restriction on the books – with the harshness punishments a $500 fine and six months in jail for violators – means the state could use it to punish unlicensed home chefs. This is already happening in other states: Carrollton, Texas, sent by mail Dennise Cruz an “arrest warrant” and a $700 fine for selling tamales without a license. In New York, the police handcuffed a churro vendor in a Brooklyn subway station.
Hobbs’ veto is that the state “continue to criminalize entrepreneurship and make it harder for people who operate a home-based business to support their families and move up the economic ladder,” the rep said. of State Alma Hernandez (D – Tucson). writing for the Arizona Daily Star. Hernandez was one of five Democrats to have vote to override the veto at the end of April – an effort that ultimately below. The governor has not yet said what would need to change for her to sign a cottage food bill.
On the campaign trail, Hobbs called Arizona’s working families “the backbone” of the state’s economy. Apparently his commitment to the working class does not extend to home chefs like Maria.
They will have to continue to work in the dark, but there is no doubt that consumers will continue to be hungry for their tamales. “It would be impossible to put an end to the sale of this kind of product”, explains Maria.