Originally written by Regina Paparo on HLS Clinical and Pro Bono Programs on May 11, 2022.
There is something really special about a homemade meal. This is what drew me to the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic’s home kitchens project, which I worked on during the 2021–22 academic year as an advanced clinical student. The Food Law and Policy Clinic (“FLPC”), housed in Harvard Law School’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, works to increase access to healthy foods, support sustainable and equitable food production, reduce food waste, and promote community-led food system change. I first learned of the home kitchens project during my first semester as a clinical student as a 2L and asked to be placed on the project as an advanced student when I returned as a 3L.
I focused my work on the project in two areas: information sharing and advocacy. My first task, along with my partner Patrick Montgomery, was to update a large spreadsheet that tracked legislation introduced in each state related to home food production, sometimes called cottage food, home kitchen, or food freedom bills. In updating this spreadsheet, which had been started by past FLPC students, Patrick and I found a record 51 unique bills introduced in 2021 across 31 states and the District of Columbia—more than had been introduced in any of the past five years that we had researched.
As we proceeded with this work, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture called for a hearing on a cottage food bill that had been introduced with FLPC support earlier in 2021. With two weeks of notice, Patrick and I worked with our supervisor, Professor Emily Broad Leib, to compile oral and written testimony and moot the testimony in preparation for the hearing. We had to work quickly, but we had the benefit of FLPC’s previous research on the subject and were able to point to the research we had done on similar bills across the country—explaining how Massachusetts compared to Vermont, or New Hampshire, or California. In November, I had the privilege of testifying before the Joint Committee and answering Massachusetts legislators’ questions about the bill. It was the most exciting opportunity to be part of meaningful legal change that I have had in law school, and I was happy for the opportunity to share the research we had done with an audience that could change the law.
A few weeks later, as the semester drew to a close, I loved the project too much to let it go. A staff aide for the Chair of the Joint Committee reached out to me to ask for a meeting, and one of our tech clients, an online platform that connects home cooks with consumers in their state, hired a lobbyist who also began setting up meetings with legislators. I spent the Winter Term working remotely on the home kitchens project from Hawaii, waking up early for East Coast time meetings with the bill’s sponsor (also my state representative) and working on the bill and our research in other states in between meetings. At the request of our client, I drafted amended language for the existing bill, using my and Patrick’s research on home kitchen laws to put together language allowing home cooks to sell an even broader range of foods, including fully prepared homemade meals.
I continued my work during the spring semester, eventually putting together a table that compares the law on what may be sold from a home kitchen in all 50 states. Based on burgeoning interest in the Massachusetts bill and our work, I helped lead a meeting for home cooks in April, sharing with them what the bill would do and the opportunities that home cooks have had in other states. When the floor was opened to questions, a woman came forward and explained that she had been cooking in her home kitchen, emphasizing how important it had been for her sons to see their mother starting her own business and feeding the people around them. Her experience was powerful and reminded me of the importance of the work we had been doing.
The majority of home cooks are women, and the home cooks on our client’s platform are largely People of Color and members of immigrant communities, starting small businesses from their homes and selling local food to local consumers. This is especially important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as more people than ever were confined to their homes and left without work. Not only did I gain important skills by researching home kitchen laws, working with partners and legislators, and formally testifying before the Joint Committee, I had the chance to advocate for small home cooks like the woman who shared her experience. I am grateful for my partners and the opportunities I’ve had at FLPC, and I look forward to continuing to advocate for home cooks, so that they can make and sell homemade meals from their kitchens to our homes.