Blog

Planting the Seeds for Healthy Food Access

Written June 2019 by Grace Truong, J.D. ’19 for Harvard Law School’s Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs.

I joined the Health Law and Policy Clinic because I wanted to experience firsthand how communities use policies to promote a culture of health. As a JD/MPH Joint Degree student at Harvard Law School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, I have been exposed to health policy largely in a classroom context. My coursework showed me the complexities of the U.S. healthcare system and the barriers to healthcare access that many Americans face. But while my classes taught me the problems associated with this lack of access, I wanted to put my learning to practice by actually implementing policies to address these problems.

Through the Clinic’s Community Approaches to Public Health Projects, I was able to work on both national and local policy to expand access to healthcare for vulnerable populations and reduce health disparities. My projects largely centered on the social determinants of health. In particular, I worked with communities to build a culture of easy access to healthy, affordable food. Food insecurity and overconsumption of unhealthy food is associated with a multitude of negative health outcomes, including: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. The clinic has worked with national and local advocacy groups across the country to implement innovative policies that reduce sugar consumption and increase healthy food access.

On the national level, our team provided law and policy technical assistance to various state advocacy leaders, empowering these advocates to enact policies that will lower population-level consumption of sugar. I had the chance to meet and work closely with community champions to build a strategy for short- and long-term policy change. On the local level, my projects focused on broadening access to nutritious and affordable foods. The Clinic gave me the opportunity to travel for site visits around the country, meeting our clients where they were to better understand their questions and goals. In one site visit, I found myself in a freezer room wearing a hairnet and gloves, surrounded by packaged vegetables and fruits. We were meeting with a  community kitchen to build community-use policies that increased access to vital and unique food production resources. In another, I found myself trekking across vegetable fields and herb gardens. We were meeting with a community farm dedicated to providing healthy produce to vulnerable populations and promoting agricultural education opportunities. Together, we created policies for the farm that increased the community’s access to the space for education, recreation, and healthy food production.

The Health Law and Policy Clinic was an incredible experiential learning opportunity. The hands-on experience of shaping health policy has been a unique highlight of my HLS education, and I look forward to honing these skills further throughout my career in law and in public health.