When Dennise Cruz checked her mail earlier this month, she found a stunning notice from the Carrollton Municipal Court: a warrant for her arrest. When she contacted a clerk, she learned the warrant was for an attempt to sell tamales without a permit.
Earlier this year, Dennise posted on the social media site Nextdoor to tell her neighbors that she was selling extra homemade tamales. But at least one of her neighbors alerted the authorities. Instead of just ignoring the complaint or informing Dennise that she would need a permit to sell legally, Carrollton took drastic action and mailed her a “warrant arrest notice” and ultimately fined her $700.
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“I don’t understand,” Dennise told CBS 11 in an interview. “I would have rather them come to me first if they had any concerns.”
Dennise is not the only victim of culinary criminalization. Last year, the NYPD arrested three women for selling churros without a license. Their contraband churros meant they could face fines as high as $1,000. A few months later, the San Bernardino Police Department took to Twitter to boast about a government crackdown on street vendors selling fruits and flowers.
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Somewhat ironically, Texas has some of the better laws in the nation for selling other types of homemade food. Three years ago, Texas greatly expanded its “cottage food” laws, by easing restrictions on selling baked goods. One year after the new law went into effect, the Institute for Justice found more than 1,400 individuals had created their own cottage food businesses, while the environmental health departments for the state’s 25 largest cities and counties “found no complaints regarding foodborne illnesses from a cottage food business.” But that law does not apply to “potentially hazardous” foods, like those with meat, so tamales are not covered by the cottage food law.