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Skill Building in the Food Law and Policy Clinic

Written  by Tyler Mordecai, current student in the Food Law and Policy Clinic.

I took the Food Law and Policy (FLPC) seminar last year, and I enjoyed the material so much that I decided to enroll in the Clinic this Spring. Now in the clinic, much of my focus has been on FLPC’s state and local food waste initiatives. We work with various state and local advocates to reform and modernize their laws aimed at reducing the more than 62 million tons of food that goes to waste each year. Among other projects, I am currently creating a D.C.-specific food donation resource guide, which will review and analyze the applicable food recovery laws in D.C.

As part of my work on the D.C. resource guide, on Tuesday, March 28th I had the opportunity to testify before the Washington D.C. City Council about a new law under consideration there: The Save Good Food Amendment Act of 2017. The Act would reduce food waste by (1) providing tax credits for donated food, (2) extending liability protections for those who donate food, (3) simplifying D.C.’s food date labeling system, and (4) publishing a food donation guide.

Harvard Law School clinical student testimony in DC

Tyler Mordecai delivers testimony to Washington D.C. City Council.

At the hearing, I thought I was only going to read a statement advocating for passage of the law, so it was quite a surprise when D.C. Councilmembers asked questions for more than half an hour! The Councilmembers were incredibly interested, but also a bit reluctant, about the proposed legislation. They used my testimony as an opportunity to ask some very pointed questions and gain more clarity about the bill. Some examples: Why is a tax credit more beneficial than a tax deduction? Which specific foods pose a safety risk after their date label has passed? Which states have enacted similar liability protections, and has there been any issues in those states? The Q&A portion of the testimony was my favorite part of the hearing—it was a great experience to have a discussion with elected officials about how to use the law to effectively reduce food waste.

Additionally, I was able to listen to the testimony of other interested parties that day—various food banks, charities, and food recovery groups were also there to advocate on the law’s behalf. I could see just how far-reaching the effects of the proposed law were by hearing the testimony of the other organizations in the room. While FLPC works directly with many food recovery organizations, it was still an eye-opening experience to see how the FLPC fit into this larger group of advocates. It has been incredibly rewarding to interact with the individuals who run these organizations and dedicate their life to combating food scarcity.

More than anything, testifying in D.C. was an amazing opportunity for me to improve my public speaking and advocacy skills. I’m typically not the biggest fan of public speaking, but I felt calm and prepared during the testimony, thanks to the support of Professor Broad Leib, the Clinical Fellows, and especially the other students.

 

Too often in law school we only learn about the law in textbooks and in classrooms without having a true understanding of how it impacts people’s everyday lives. Working with FLPC has given me the critical opportunity to witness just how the law can positively impact real communities.

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