Child Selling Cupcakes? Illegal! Well, Maybe

By Heather Callaghan

Many people take it for granted that if they make food from their home, they can sell it. It’s only recently that some states have partially decriminalized the act with the emergence of “cottage food laws.”

And perhaps one might think that getting your wares featured in a news story precludes legal backlash. But that’s just when the health department is ready to pounce. Take the now 12-year-old Chloe Stirling for instance.

She is certainly a young, savvy entrepreneur who creates gourmet cupcakes, does charity fundraisers and also has a pet-sitting business called “No Bones About It.” She is working hard to save up for her first car.

But instead of that work ethic being praised or rewarded – or simply left alone – she was shut down by the Madison County health department earlier this year. This story is all too common.

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After Chloe was featured in the news, the health department shut down her “operation.” Why? Because she didn’t have a business license or a state-certified commercial kitchen. She didn’t have a required permit, which meant she violated a county food ordinance and the Illinois State Food Sanitation Code. That’s just how home bakers are looked at in the lens of bureaucracy – like it’s a commercial business that’s stealing or a potential Typhoid Mary outbreak.

Not only would Chloe have to pay fees and taxes to make and sell cupcakes, but she’d have to undergo formal inspections – at a commercial kitchen. The fact that she was 11 or that people wanted to buy her $2 cupcakes or that she often donated them to cancer fundraisers meant nothing. “A rule is a rule,” was the only response for crushing her dream. It was a dream born out of pure passion after taking a cake decorating class at Michael’s craft and hobby store – which should probably be outlawed because they are churning out dangerous little business tycoons. 

But the aggressive government action created a different reaction – outrage for Illinois residents. Finally, lawmakers have passed the “Cupcake Bill” which made Chloe happy when she heard she could be back in business.

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A similar situation in California led to the California Homemade Food Act:

A California man was becoming locally famous for his baked bread. When it reached a newspaper feature, he and the stores selling his bread were descended upon by the health department. This treatment eventually led to the California Homemade Food Act in January 2013. Since then, over 1,200 homemade businesses were launched in California.

And yet more similar instances led to New Jersey’s attempt at passing their own cottage food law.

Cottage food laws decriminalize selling food to an extent – but they can also pack a whopping, restrictive punch of their own, depending on the state. Many of them have revenue caps, for instance. See for more information.

Do you see these instances as a form of problem-reaction-solution?

Image: D Holtmann / Belleville News-Democrat

Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at and Like at Facebook.

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