Profile: Michael Fakhri

In the lead up to the 3rd Annual Canadian Food Law & Policy Conference (September 25-27, 2018), we will be profiling leading Canadian practitioners and scholars of food law and policy. This is part of our mission to provide opportunities for knowledge sharing and diffusion within the growing field of Food Law and Policy.

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Name: Michael Fakhri

Title: Associate Professor at School of Law, University of Oregon and Co-Director of the Food Resiliency Project

Education: SJD (University of Toronto), LLM (Harvard Law School), LLB (Queen’s University), BSc (University of Western Ontario)

How does your work involve food law and/or policy?

I always start with a question that centers on food. So things like: Why is hunger being used to punish people in Yemen? Why is there so much wheat in North America? How can the way we eat be understood as an ecological relationship? From there, I look to how a multitude of legal systems create the conditions that make something a problem in the first place. I then tell that story about food in a way that pays attention to how law is often a result of social movements, indigenous peoples, or transnational solidarity campaigns engaged in institutional politics.

How did you get involved in food law and/or policy?

My background is in international trade law as well as law and political economy. Initially, I started off focusing on international trade law, and every time I asked question about food and agriculture, it opened up the field in new and exciting ways. When I started my SJD, I decided to shift the emphasis of my work to food and agriculture, and let food lead me through my legal research.

On a personal level, I chose to focus on food law and policy because no matter how many years you spend doing this research, food always retains its pleasure and excitement, and reminds you of who you are.

What skills are important to be successful in this field?

The skill I really try to teach my students through food law is the ability to connect together different parts of law that may not be obviously related to each other at first glance. It is difficult but I try to teach how to think systemically about the spaces in which different types of law are reacting and agitating. It forces you to think about law in dynamic and unanticipated ways.

What do you see as emerging issues in food law and policy?

In the last 10-15 years in North America, there has been a rise in food movements. These movements have been successful at making the point that food matters, and that we can’t continue to grow, share or eat food in the same way we have for last 50 years. But how do we go about changing food systems, and who is the “we” in this equation? Importantly, how can law play a role in this transformation? This is one of the big issues facing the field today.

What is your favourite part of working in food law?

Food is such an intimate part of peoples’ lives. Because of that, working in food law and policy has taken me to new places and introduced me to new people in ways no other research project would allow.

Do you have any advice to lawyers/students interested in engaging in food law?

As a new lawyer, it is difficult to go out on your own to start a legal practice, but it is important to remember that law allows you to have control over your professional life in a way that other jobs couldn’t. Find and meet people in the food system who you want to work with, and through your relationships with them develop your practice. Let the movement, people, or industry you are serving dictate the technical skills that you need to serve your clients successfully. As their practice grows, yours will too. Also learn and derive support from other lawyers in the field. There are a number of good lawyers who are willing to provide mentorship for new lawyers.

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