Replacing “Kid Food” with “True Food” in School Cafeterias

By: Katie Carey, 2015 Summer Intern, Food Law and Policy Clinic

Photo via Flickr from the US Dept of Education

On June 10, FLPC co-hosted the first annual Healthy Food Fuels Hungry Minds conference at Harvard University to discuss how to improve the quality of food in schools. Those attending the conference held diverse roles from school administrators to health experts to parents to school food service workers. Many attendees discussed the importance of getting rid of “kid food” in schools and instead serving our children “true food,” a term coined by Minneapolis public schools to describe flavorful, nutritious menu items in lieu of the stigmatized “healthy food” term.

As a third-year law student that previously had only a rudimentary knowledge of school food, I left the conference feeling invigorated. I realized that everyone, including me, has a role in creating positive changes in the school food environment and that we can create change on multiple levels: at an individual school, within a school district, and through state and federal policies.

FLPC Director Emily Broad Leib focused her presentation on how federal policy change affects school food, highlighting the upcoming Childhood Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR). The current CNR, the 2010 Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act, will expire in September 2015. Advocates are pushing for a wide variety of improvements to school food regulations, including: increased funding for reimbursable meals, food literacy programing, kitchen equipment grants, kitchen staff training, and farm to school grants.

FLPC Research Fellow Bettina Neuefeind discussed policy strategies that local and state actors can implement to improve school food, highlighting examples from the School Food Intervention Toolkit that FLPC plans to publish in summer 2015. She described that the most effective policies are those that introduce kids to growing and preparing food, rather than just being served healthier food in the lunch line. Food literacy programing in schools, such as farm to school, taste testing, and Iron Chef competitions, have all increased students’ preference for true food.

Chef Ann Cooper championed these types of food literacy programs during her keynote address. She proposed that there should not be a different standard for foods served to students in school – adults and children should all have access to good tasting, wholesome, and nutritious foods. The trailblazing Chef Ann compared the price of a daily latte, $4, with the amount we as a country are willing to invest in a school lunch for a child that qualifies for a free meal, $2.98. She also acknowledged that our challenges to better food for kids are bigger than just school lunch, saying we need to improve our country’s food system, making healthy foods more accessible and decreasing consumption of highly-processed foods.

In addition to the lack of funding to support more nutritious school meals, there are other hurdles. As school food directors pointed out, school food is a highly regulated industry. Over the course of the conference, I was consistently impressed by the talented and driven food service directors that presented on their persistent and creative efforts to introduce true food in their schools. For example, Ron Adams, School Nutrition Services Director in Portland, Maine, overcomes the limited growing season in Maine by purchasing and freezing local produce during the summer months. Likewise, many Massachusetts schools are serving under-utilized species of fish from local fishermen. Bertrand Weber, Food Services Director for Minneapolis Public Schools, said it was crucial to ban the sale of competitive foods, a la carté and vending machine sales from his schools to increase participation in breakfast and lunch meal programs.

schoolfoodsconferenceIf you are interested in learning more from the conference speakers, their full presentations can be viewed here. For more ways to promote healthy foods in schools, stay tuned for FLPC’s School Food Intervention Toolkit set to be released at the end of the summer.

To stay up to date on our work on school food and FLPC’s other projects, follow us on Facebook and twitter.

The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation or Harvard Law School. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.

Harvard’s Food Law and Policy Clinic is Looking for Your Input for Updates to 2012 Toolkit

If you are a member of a local food policy council, or a food policy advocates, FLPC seeks your input as we update our 2012 publication Good Laws, Good Food: Putting Local Food Policy to Work for Our CommunitiesThe Good Laws, Good Food toolkit assists local food policy councils and other advocates with understanding the basic legal concepts surrounding the food system, identifying main areas of local food policy change, and providing examples and innovations from other cities to inspire and assist advocates in improving their food system.

In updating the local toolkit, we are looking for examples of exciting new ideas and innovations in local food policy. We seek examples of local policies that have helped improve the food system, especially in the areas of:

  • Food system infrastructure
  • Land use regulation
  • Urban agriculture
  • Consumer access to healthy food (including legislated financing schemes)
  • School food and nutrition education
  • Food safety
  • Food waste and recovery.

Please let us know what innovative policy solutions have caught your attention; have improved the food system in your city or state; and/or have inspired change in how food is produced, processed, distributed, consumed, and recycled.

Please click here to complete our 5-minute survey, or copy and paste the following link:

We also welcome any other suggestions for updates to the toolkits via email at

FLPC provides legal and policy guidance to nonprofits and government agencies seeking to increase access to healthy foods, prevent diet-related diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, and reduce barriers to market entry for small-scale and sustainable food producers, while educating law students about ways to use law and policy to impact the food system.  With funding from the Town Creek Foundation, we are partnering with the Food Policy Networks program of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future to update, publish and promote the toolkit. Reviews “Last Week Tonight” Segment on Food Waste

On Monday, July 27, reviewed “Last Week Tonight’s”  7/19/15 story on food waste, government regulation, and expiration date labels. The HBO news-satire show included research and quotes from Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) on its 2013 report, The Dating Game. They conducted their own research into the claims made by the show’s host, John Oliver, and interviewed FLPC’s director Emily Broad Leib for further insight to the issue.

Politifact’s Rating
“Oliver said, ‘With the exception of baby formula, the federal government does not require any food to carry an expiration date, and state laws vary widely.’

While Oliver’s underlying argument for more regulation can be debated, he’s right to say that the federal government doesn’t require expiration dates on food, and state laws filling in that gap are inconsistent.

We rate his statement True.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 10.51.42 AM

Read the full article from Politifact.

Food Security: Businesses learn there are tax incentives and laws to help them recycle mountains of food

Written by: Niina Heikkinen, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Read the article on ClimateWire

Each year, Americans waste 30 to 40 percent of all the food that is grown, harvested and bought. In 2010 alone, the Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Chief Economist estimated that the amount of food loss and waste at the retail and consumer level was about 122 billion pounds, worth about $161 billion.

At the same time, close to 50 million Americans (14.3 percent of all households) do not have sufficient access to food because they don’t have the resources to obtain it. Of those individuals, 12.2 million people are eating less than what they need to maintain a nutritious diet, according to data from the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

While the two problems are daunting separately, three New England states may have found an avenue to address both waste and hunger at once. Their solution — regulate the amount of food that businesses can throw away, and encourage them to donate the portion that is still wholesome to charity.

It’s an approach that U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy supports.

“Wholesome, useable food could be donated to the millions of food insecure Americans who live in our communities, rather than sent to landfills,” she said in a statement. “Reducing wasted food is good for the economy, good for the environment, and helps fight climate change. And it’s a great reminder that solutions to environmental challenges can double as solutions to social challenges.”

Despite these benefits, fears of lawsuits over spoiled food, coupled with a lack of financial incentives to cover additional labor costs for preparing donations, mean getting more businesses, universities and other institutions to donate their extra food is no small task.

Last October, Massachusetts joined Vermont and Connecticut as the third state to restrict the amount of commercial food waste it sends to landfills (ClimateWire, July 21). Under the new Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) regulation, businesses and institutions that produce a ton or more of food waste in a given week will have to keep that food out of the trash.

The regulation applies to most major supermarkets, colleges and universities, as well as to larger hospitals. Even seasonal businesses may have to comply, according to Lorenzo Macaluso, director of green business services at the Center for EcoTechnology, which is employed by the state to implement the regulation.

According to MassDEP, 15 to 19 percent of the state’s waste is unused food, depending on the season.

Most of the food that is being diverted is destined to become compost, but groups within the state are working to ensure that more of it goes to Massachusetts residents in need.

For-profit business becomes ‘matchmaker’

Sasha Purpura, the executive director of the food rescue program Food for Free, is leading one of those groups. Her program collects fresh food from donors, including wholesale distributors, universities, farms and bakeries, and delivers it to more than 100 food programs in Boston and the greater metropolitan area.

Since March, she said she’s seen an increase in the amount of prepared foods Food for Free receives, which she attributes to businesses complying with the new regulations on food waste.

“Personally, I think we have a window right now because so many organizations are trying to figure out what to do. If they all turn to compost, it will be a lot harder to get them to change,” she said.

Preserving food for donation requires more training and coordination with outside agencies, which can discourage businesses and institutions from participating, she said.

That’s where Steve Dietz comes in. Dietz is the business development director at the for-profit company Food Donation Connection. His job is to convince restaurants and other food service organizations that it is in their best interest to donate their excess food and to help them find the easiest way to do that in their area.

The staff at the Food Donation Connection helps businesses develop a food donation program and connects them with qualified nonprofit agencies, and it will continue to provide support once the program is up and running. That includes helping to create documentation to track donations, providing daily support through a hotline and reporting donations to corporate offices. Since it began in 1992, the company has expanded to work with 18,000 locations, donating food to 9,000 recipient agencies. The Food Donation Connection works in all 50 states and has clients in Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“We’re kind of like matchmakers, we don’t pick up the food or touch it, we just manage the connection,” Dietz said.

Before any of that work can begin, Dietz has to overcome a few common roadblocks to get businesses onboard.

“Initially, people will say they don’t have any food waste,” he said, adding that he always calls out business that try to make that claim. “Once we get through that BS, they’ll say, ‘OK, so we’ve got some surplus.'”

Often business leaders are reluctant to talk about waste because they do not want their board of directors to realize just how much food they are throwing out. Many businesses and institutions are also afraid of lawsuits from recipients who may become sick from the food, according to Dietz.

In fact, 67 percent of wholesalers and retailers in the United States listed liability concerns as one of the barriers to donating food, according to a 2013 survey by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, which is led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Food Marketing Institute and National Restaurant Association. Transportation constraints and insufficient cold storage and refrigeration were other main concerns.

Dispelling fears of liability

Yet fears of liability are generally unfounded, thanks to a largely unfamiliar law, advocates say.

Under the 1996 Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, a person or gleaner (someone who picks leftover unharvested food from farms) can’t be held criminally or civilly liable for donating a food or product as long as that person donated it to a nonprofit organization in good faith. The law also protects nonprofits from liability for providing food they believe is wholesome. The only instances where businesses or nonprofits could be at risk legally is if an individual is harmed or dies from a food product due to “gross negligence or intentional misconduct.” State and local laws also take precedence, which has caused problems for Dietz in the past.

Last year, Boston’s health officials stopped an estimated 200,000 pounds of Whole Foods hot bar food from being donated because of concerns about the lack of ingredient labeling, according to Dietz. He added that such situations are unusual.

“Most of the time, health departments are very supportive; they have hearts, too,” Dietz said.

What qualifies as wholesome remains a sticking point for some restaurant and grocery owners who aren’t sure what level of effort they need to make to determine food is safe, said Laurie Beyranevand, the associate director of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School. Beyranevand is studying the barriers to food donation and is specifically looking at why more farmers don’t allow gleaning on their fields after harvest.

“There is a question about whether they have to make an evaluation about whether the food is safe for consumption,” she said. “Is this just an eye check to see if there are worms or maggots, or is it something more than that?”

Then there is the issue of date labeling. Altogether, 41 states have regulations requiring that perishable foods have “sell by” or “use by” date labels, said Emily Broad Leib, the director of the Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School. Consumers, businesses and state regulators often treat food close to or at those dates as spoiled, which she said was a mistake.

“You shouldn’t fear the date, it’s not a question of safety,” she said, adding that the concerns about the wholesomeness of food can make donating food at or near its expiration date more difficult, particularly in Massachusetts.

Even if donating food is legal, the added labor and material costs associated with preserving donations often make it a less attractive option than sending leftover food to a composting facility. To overcome this, Dietz works with businesses to help them apply for tax exemptions that can boost their bottom line.

Currently, businesses in the best position to get tax credits from food donations are C corporations. Under the 1976 Tax Reform Act, C corporations can receive a permanent enhanced tax deduction for donating food to either a public charity or private foundation. According to Dietz, his clients can recoup up to 60 percent of their losses, which can offset the added cost of preserving food for donation.

Meanwhile, smaller businesses like restaurants and farms have not had permanent tax incentives. This has discouraged some from participating in donation programs, he said.

In Massachusetts, state officials are still working to make sure that all obligated parties are complying with the food waste ban, and although many of the big generators are diverting their leftover food, lots still aren’t, Macaluso said.

As for whether that food will be donated, it may be too early to tell.

“Feeding hungry people is certainly a much higher beneficial use for food from supermarkets, colleges and universities,” Macaluso said. “We are looking at the best way to do this. I think some places see it as too much of a barrier.”

Copyright 2015 E&E Publishing, LLC. This article was reprinted from ClimateWire with permission of E&E Publishing.

HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” Takes On Food Waste, Citing FLPC’s Research

On July 19, 2015, “Last Week Tonight,” HBO’s satirical news program highlighted the enormous problems of food waste, expiration dates, and challenges to donating products to food pantries. Using clips from other news shows and the documentary Just Eat It, Host John Oliver pointed out the negative consequences of the current regulations while lampooning America’s obsession with consumption.

At 10:22 minutes into the segment, a clip from Emily Broad Leib’s appearance on the Today show was used to explain how arbitrary and disjointed expiration date labeling policies are nationwide, due to the fact that food manufacturers are in charge of setting the dates for the vast majority of products.

In addition the clip of FLPC’s Director, Oliver noted that 91 percent of consumers reported that at least occasionally they had discarded food past its “sell by” date out of concern for the product’s safety, a data point pulled from FLPC’s 2013 report, “The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America.”

See the segment from “Last Week Tonight” below.

CHLPI Welcomes Visiting Scholar Kirsten Van Fossen

Kirsten Van FossenKirsten Van Fossen is a first-year PhD student from the University of Cambridge Department of Engineering, where she researches with the Centre for Industrial Sustainability. In her project, Kirsten is taking a systems engineering approach to investigate how actors within the industrial food system and healthcare system might further integrate to help shift consumers towards healthier diets and improve public health. The project aims to elucidate the implications for the three key dimensions of sustainability—social, environmental and economic. Her research strongly ties into CHLPI’s Food is Medicine work.

Kirsten’s interest in sustainability as it relates to food and health follows from a long time professional interest in sustainability paired with a personal interest in nutrition. Before starting her PhD, Kirsten’s work primarily focused on the environmental dimension of sustainability. From 2013-2014, Kirsten worked on a sustainable aviation fuels initiative with the Energy Analysis and Sustainability Division at the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, MA.

In the year preceding her work at Volpe, Kirsten researched water filtration, wastewater treatment, and water reuse topics with a team of academic researchers at the University of Sao Paulo’s International Reference Center for Water Reuse. Her water engineering research in Brazil followed from her BSc thesis, in which she designed and evaluated a carbon-nanotube/polymer hybrid water filtration membrane. Kirsten graduated with a BSc in Environmental Engineering from Harvard in 2012, where she also competed on the varsity rowing team.

New Publication| Food is Prevention: The Case for Integrating Food and Nutrition Interventions into Healthcare

Food is Prevention report cover“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates

CHLPI has just released a new report, Food is Prevention: The Case for Integrating Food and Nutrition Interventions into Healthcare. Chronic illness is taking its toll on the health of America. Half of all adults in the United States have one or more chronic illnesses. The financial toll of chronic disease on the economy is staggering. In 2007, the Milken Institute attributed an estimated $1.3 trillion to costs of chronic illness-related medical care and productivity loss, and projected that costs could reach $4.2 trillion by 2023.

Food can and should be used as a medical intervention to prevent chronic illness or to mitigate the symptoms and complications that accompany the diagnosis of diet-related and other chronic diseases. Specifically, food and nutrition interventions that facilitate or encourage the consumption of foods that are appropriate for identified health conditions or disease risk factors should be fully integrated into healthcare.

The report explores the link between food and diet-related disease and discusses nutrition interventions that could be further integrated into delivery of healthcare to advance the goal of preventing or mitigating chronic diet-related disease. It also examines the role food plays in several prominent diet-related chronic illnesses, shares examples of food and  nutrition interventions currently underway across the United States, and offers recommendations to integrate food interventions into healthcare delivery in order to improve health outcomes and reduce costs.

Read Food is Prevention: The Case for Integrating Food and Nutrition Interventions into Healthcare.

The Economist: Is Lemonade Legal?

Article excerpt from The Economist:

Americans increasingly like to buy local food. The number of farmers’ markets offering local produce, cakes and jams around the country has more than doubled to nearly 8,300 in a decade. Sluggish job growth has also encouraged more people to start home-based businesses. But regulating the sale of goods made in ordinary kitchens is a “grey area”, says Emily Broad Leib of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic. So states are passing “cottage-food laws” allowing people to sell “non-potentially hazardous” foods, such as baked goods and almost anything canned, from their homes. But the rules are often odd or fussy, and no two states are alike.

Read the full article here.

New Publication: Food Banks as Partners in Health Promotion: Creating Connections for Client & Community Health

7.9.15 Food Banks as Partners in Health Promotion - coverIn July 2015 CHLPI released the white paper Food Banks as Partners in Health Promotion: Creating Connections for Client & Community Health.

Food banks are embedded in local communities across the country. They are central to the
economic well-being of clients, who often struggle to find regular access to food. Food banks partner with government agencies, donors, and private companies to serve the interests of the more than 46 million individuals in the United States at risk of hunger.

Food banks do not need to be experts in health care, but they can be important partners in health promotion for their clients and local communities. Feeding America has
increased national efforts to provide Foods to Encourage, or foods that align with the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, at member food banks. Recent changes in health care delivery may enable food banks to play a more formal role in health promotion and tailor some services to food insecure populations with specific health needs. There are new incentives for health providers to increase community engagement in order to improve health outcomes for clients. For food bank directors and partner agencies, this means potential opportunities for partnership and new sources of funding.

This White Paper aims to describe some shifts in the health care landscape that open up new opportunities for the nation’s food banks. It will also discuss several of the ways
that food banks can take advantage of these developments to become a partner for health care providers. It outlines some top concerns for food banks seeking to form these partnerships, including capacity to invest resources in building new relationships and/or tailoring and expanding services.

Read the White Paper.

New Publication: Reconsidering Cost-Sharing for Diabetes Self-Management Education: Recommendations for Policy Reform

6.11.15 Reconsidering Cost-Sharing for DSME - coverThe Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation PATHS program just released the report Reconsidering Cost-Sharing for Diabetes Self-Management Education: Recommendations for Policy Reform (June 2015).

Diabetes self-management education (DSME) provides a valuable opportunity for individuals living with diabetes to gain the knowledge, skills, and motivation to effectively manage their condition, and thereby avoid or postpone the onset of serious and costly complications. However, reports from providers, educators, and patients like Joan indicate that the costs associated with DSME may be acting as a significant deterrent to participation in the program.

In this white paper, the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) at Harvard Law School therefore examines the role of DSME in diabetes treatment and whether the reduction or elimination of cost-sharing obligations associated with DSME would be a cost-effective strategy for increasing program enrollment. Based upon the findings of recent cost-benefit analyses, the authors conclude that insurers should provide coverage of DSME with little or no cost-sharing in order to both improve patient health and curb costs.

Read the Report.

Next Page »