The love of food is not just about posting a photo of duck confit poutine on Instagram for “likes”. True food enthusiasts know that a delicious bite can lead to a sensory, social, cultural, and even professional experience.
I spoke with three lawyers who have found exciting ways to integrate their love of cuisine with their passion for the law: in practice, as a form of expression and as an effective networking tool.
The Food Lawyer
Sara Zborovski loves food, so much so that she has worked it into her legal practice. A partner at DLA Piper in Toronto, she has practised in the area of food and beverage law for about five years.
What exactly is food law? “‘Food law’ means different things to different people,” Zborovski explains. “Lawyers can have different practices, each with a focus on the food industry. A “food law” practice can focus on litigation, corporate/commercial, employment, intellectual property … the list goes on.”
First and foremost, Zborovski is a regulatory lawyer. Every level of government – federal, provincial, and municipal – have food-related regulation, whether it’s training and handling, licensing and permits, recalls, nutrition and additives, labeling, and more.
In her practice, Zborovski helps companies bring new products to market and to ensure compliance with applicable legislation and regulation. “When I do that for food and beverage companies, I’m practising my own version of food law”, she says. By way of example, her practice includes ensuring that additives and the composition of products are acceptable for the Canadian market, and that a company’s labelling and advertising are aligned with regulations. She also deals with crisis issues and quality control, including product recalls. According to Zborovski, “food law at its highest is a multi-faceted practice.”
Outside of the office, Zborovski enjoys writing for her blog, TheFoodLawyer.ca, which is “all about what’s cooking in the regulation and branding of foods and beverages.”
Topics range from gluten-free designations to energy drinks to treatment of livestock. In one recent post, she discusses whether there should be a requirement to post nutritional values on beer and wine coming to Ontario grocery stores. “Consumers have been pushing the food industry for more information in a number of different forums,” she adds.
When asked to name her favourite restaurant in Toronto, she is hesitant to play favourites. “I cannot say what my favourite restaurant is, but I like dining in the Ossington (“Little Portugal”) area.”
On her Twitter profile, Zborovski states, “I love to geek-out on all things related to the regulation of food and beverages.” With 425 followers to date, it’s clear there are many others who love to “geek out” too.
“I come from a family that actively debated what to each week” says Annie Chu, a Toronto-based lawyer and popular food critic.
A recent graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School, Chu is equally ambitious in her career and in her passion for food. When not in the office writing affidavits, Chu dedicates her attention to Chu on This, a popular culinary travel blog with emphasis on honest restaurant reviews and in-depth event and travel coverage.
She started the blog as an undergraduate in France on her exchange year. In 2010, while in Quebec City for work, she found herself with a lot of free time during the day and surrounded by amazing food. “I started taking photos and writing about my experience while I was at the table. It was around that time I realized I really enjoyed writing about food, and my haphazard public personal journal suddenly became a food blog.”
After she moved to Toronto, she further focused on establishing herself as a blogger. “The blogging world has grown very sophisticated, and I realized that I needed to create a brand in order to keep up,” she explains. Today, creating good content is only half the battle. To be successful, bloggers also have to be effective social media users and entrepreneurs.
In the meantime, Chu has also been developing an interesting intersection between food and her legal career. Before articling, she did an internship at Fresh City Farms in order to better understand how urban farming works and the kind of struggles farmers are faced with in terms of food security and legislation. In her last semester of law school, she completed a placement with the Taiwan Association for Human Rights where she independently created a documentary about Indigenous land rights and food security in Taiwan called “Conflict Cabbage”.
How does such a busy young lawyer make time for her passion? “I often write blog posts while on the TTC and even on the treadmill. I always keep a few little notebooks handy. It also helps that a lot of the ‘work’ (say, dining out with friends) is very enjoyable. Even though I invest a lot of time and energy into it, it doesn’t really feel like work because I love it so much”. Chu continues, “the intrinsic joy I get from telling a great story is hard to describe. The blog has given me a platform upon which to unleash my creativity. It's allowed me to connect with other like-minded individuals and even some of my idols. It has allowed me to do things (a chocolate dinner at a hidden artist's studio for example) that I might not otherwise have. Most of all, the blog is my personal reminder and excuse to always actively experience things around me. Whether it's a dish, a city, or even a plant, I'm constantly framing the world in connected stories and images.”
When asked what’s next career-wise, her response is candid: “I am still early in my legal career and cannot answer this question with complete confidence. However, I have a feeling that it is not necessarily the areas of law that will determine my practice so much as the kind of clients.”
Chu believes today’s young lawyers are driven to build more well-rounded, fulfilling lives outside of practice, and that “this generation of law school graduates wants a legal practice that is dynamic and adaptable”.
Chu’s all-time favourite dish? “Xiao long bao” (a Shanghai-style steamed pork dumpling). “It's been my favourite dish since childhood, and actually makes me emotional when done really well.”
Check out some of Chu’s other favourite dishes at chuonthis.ca
The Social Maven
Charlene Theodore is legal counsel at the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and the creator of “Chew Street”, a social enterprise that hosts food events to raise money for children’s charities. A foodie who had long been an active OBA and community volunteer, she was inspired to start the organization after being moved by the care her late nephew received from the staff at the Hospital for Sick Children and other community agencies. Chew Street events have supported The Family Legal Health Program, a partnership between SickKids and Pro Bono Law Ontario, which is Canada’s first program to provide free in-hospital legal support to patients and their families.
Theodore was not raised in the kitchen - her interest in food started in law school at Dalhousie University in Halifax, when she found herself searching for a creative outlet between study breaks. So began her interest in quality cuisine.
She soon became a ‘culinary traveller’ and when at home in Toronto, she explored the local food markets for inspiration. Theodore’s passion for food and company led to regular entertaining, and she realized how much she enjoyed bringing people in her network together.
Chew Street’s first official gathering was called “Sip” – sparked from her work with a holistic nutritionist – and included a roundtable discussion on healthy methods for curing a hangover. Praising coconut water, kombucha and ginger as natural cures, attendees enjoyed a mixology class of clean drinking and holistic cocktails using the hangover cure ingredients.
Events are now held every few months, including a very successful evening with Top Chef Nina Compton.
Chew Street brings a healthy balance between fun and games and business. “These events do not necessarily have a business tone, but when you bring together people with a common interest, business connections will be made. The ultimate goal, however, is for everyone to have a good time”.
When asked what her favourite food to eat is, she says “I eat almost everything so, it’s easier to answer that question by telling you what food I don’t like. I hate ice cream!”
Learn more about Chew Street at ChewStreet.com
About the Author
Samantha Peters is a lover of all things food, which comes from her grandmother, a Toronto chef. Samantha a third year law student in the English Common Law Program at the University of Ottawa.