Eat, Pray, Law: Lewis & Clark Law Forum Discusses Food Law
Portland’s Lewis & Clark Law School, the top-ranking law school in the country for Environmental and Energy Law, opened its doors for the first “Eat, Pray, Law” food forum on March 13, 2015. Food affects pretty much every part of our lives, and concerns about food exist at every level. From an individual perspective, we all obviously want to be comfortable with the nutrients we put into our bodies; on a larger scale, questions of sustainability, regulation, and equality all have their parts to play in a discussion about the ethics and legal issues of our food industry. In an attempt to answer some of those questions, Lewis & Clark brought together a day of panels to engage in lively discussion on some of the most pressing questions in food law.
I had the opportunity to speak to two of the event’s organizers, Janice Weis, the Associate Dean and Director of the Environmental & Natural Resources Law Program, and Vytas Babusis, a 2L and the President of the law school’s Food & Wine Law Society, in order to answer some of my questions about the event’s inception, purpose, and reception.
The fact that there’s been rising interest in topics such as sustainable eating, food justice, and food ethics is no surprise. But Dean Weis reports seeing a noticeable uptick in applicants who cite food law and policy as topics of interest in recent years. Given Lewis & Clark Law’s cutting edge environmental, animal, and business law programs, delving into the different facets of those issues seemed like a natural fit. It was out of this collaboration that the “Eat, Pray, Law” forum was born.
The event hosted at least 120 attendees, although Babusis told me he believed there were more who were drawn in at the last moment who had not registered. The day started out with a keynote speech from Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who represents Oregon’s third district.
Just addressed Lewis & Clark’s Eat Pray Law food summit -no wonder my alma mater was judged #1 enviro law program in the nation! @lclarklaw
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) March 13, 2015
Blumenaur discussed the ongoing attempts to overhaul the “Farm Bill” to reflect current food policies and public consciousness.
Each of the three departments–environmental law, business law, and animal law–had a panel that loosely corresponded to it. Weis told me the panels touched on a veritable “potpourri” of hot issues in food law. Most interestingly, she also reported that while each panel had its own focus, consistent themes were apparent across the discussions–a good reminder that so many aspects of food law and policy intertwine and intersect.
One of those consistent themes was a focus on transparency–consumers want to know what is in their food, where it comes from, and the collateral effects of its production. This applies across the board–from consumers reporting these concerns, to the possibility of government regulations to ensure greater transparency, to businesses making the commitment to provide greater transparency.
The day wrapped up with a discussion on food justice. Babusis explained food justice as he sees it by saying,
For me “food justice” is doing the right thing for the planet and for the people in every aspect along the food chain.
If we truly understand where our food grows, how to grow it sustainably regenerating the soil and what we have to do to feed people the right food from plants to animals, then we are better prepared to make laws which encourage that and know best how to help those in the industry from employment, IP and business law, to environmental and animal advocacy.
An important facet of food justice is the accessibility of food for many of our low-income citizens. “Food deserts” are defined by the Department of Agriculture as:
Urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options.
Essentially, it’s all very well and good if sustainable, transparent food is made a higher priority, but it needs to be made a higher priority for all of our citizens. The last panel at “Eat, Pray, Law” brought in members of the community for a tangible discussion on promoting food justice and accessibility.
Weis said that they plan on reprising the event again next year, and continuing to expand opportunities for students to discuss and become involved in food law. Overall, this panel was a great example of the innovative work going on at Lewis & Clark Law with regard to the intersections between food, animal, business, and environmental law.