My Path to Becoming a Food Lawyer

After graduating from law school in Boston in 1992, I became a staff attorney at a Texas based non-profit that provided legal representation to death row prisoners. When the organization lost much of its federal funding in 1996, I returned to Massachusetts and continued receiving appointments in death penalty and criminal defense cases.  After practicing in the criminal defense field for over ten years, I decided I needed a change.

I’ve always had a passion for food and cooking, and so I enrolled in the Professional Chefs’ Program at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.  I went on to start my own business, in catering, and then to provide consulting services to food business entrepreneurs, and to corporate attorneys courting this business.

Meanwhile I learned that there is a large and growing “food justice” movement afoot, and I became a part of this ecosystem.  I recently completed a food advocacy project for a non-profit, and I am pursuing research, writing, and advocacy projects for similarly aligned organizations.

I was happy to read that the attorneys who led the charge against “Big Tobacco” are now setting their sights on “Big Food.”  In the early '70s, lawyers (who went on to start the Food Research & Action Center) played an integral role in getting states to release funds for, and participate in food stamp distribution. The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute is also a leading voice for the protection of SNAP (food stamps) in the upcoming Farm Bill.  Attorneys are exploring the role of food and nutrition in health care reform, with Harvard’s Food Law and Policy Clinic doing innovative work to help low-income communities gain access to healthy, fresh, sustainable foods. 

Corporate and IP lawyers advising technology based start-ups are seeing new opportunities to lend their expertise to the burgeoning community of entrepreneurs working to improve the food system.  Recognizing the potential to shape good food laws and policy, the American Bar Association recently led a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) webinar to train attorneys to counsel various stakeholders in the movement.  As the momentum builds, lawyers will continue to play a pivotal role in eradicating economic, social, and environmental disparities throughout the food system.

Jean Terranova can be found at www.jeanterranovalaw.comWhy_lawyers_should_get_involved_in_food_day_-_Jean_Terranova.JPG

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