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Carly Dunster
Food Lawyer
Carly Dunster Law
November 29, 2011

The state of politics these days is enough to make the most courageous food advocate want to put his or her forehead on the kitchen table and cry. But Carly's story perks us up (which is lucky, because our granola was getting soggy) and proves that innovation makes anything possible. You're probably anxious to go straight to Carly Dunster Law, and start getting your burning questions answered, but don't miss out on the free advice she's laid out for you below?

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

The love of food has been with me forever. The exploration of food, be it cooking it, tasting it, or learning about it, has long been how I spent virtually all of my free time. Last winter I left a job working for a large non-profit, and decided to take a food writing course, and then I started a food blog (it's called Carly's Whey ). I thought I'd take a stab at being a food writer.

Around that time, I stumbled on a blog post from a woman who wanted to start something called the Toronto Underground Market, based on a market in San Francisco that showcased the food of home cooks that I had read about. She said that she'd need to talk to a lawyer, to figure out how to allow home cooks to sell their food to the public legally. I thought 'hey, I'm a lawyer, and I love food', so I called her. We met and totally connected, and I started digging in to our municipal and provincial food laws to figure out how to make the market work. We developed a viable framework, and started engaging with all kinds of burgeoning food entrepreneurs who wanted to be vendors at the market. Many of them had these brilliant products and ideas, but couldn't figure out how to navigate the complex legislative and regulatory structures that govern food. One night it became, well, clear as day: I realized that I could be the person that helped them to navigate through all that complexity. I'd take my love of food and combine it with my legal skills and boom! Food lawyer. I started up the practice a couple of months later.

How did you get your current good food job?

I made it up! I had never heard of a food lawyer before I started calling myself one, to be honest. And when I decided to start up the practice, I thought it was crazy that there weren't more food lawyers out there. Since starting up, I've found a few with whom I've connected, but it's such a new area of law (at least in the way that I'm articulating it). I assist small food entrepreneurs and producers, and anyone working to build more sustainable food systems. I help with food laws proper, and also provide accessible and affordable general counsel to those same individuals and organizations. Ultimately I want to be an advocate for food innovators, and help to create a friendlier legislative context so those innovations are fostered, not stifled.

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?

I think because I care so deeply about food, it feels completely natural to help people that have the same basic philosophy on food that I do. I was also lucky to learn fresh out of law school that it didn't feel right to devote my time to things that didn't seem in line with my value system. Not to be all Pollyanna about it, but I made more money as an articling student on Bay Street (Canada's version of Wall Street) than I have since, and it completely didn't matter, because I usually felt like I was fighting the wrong fights. That experience, and some other professional missteps (or rather, learning experiences) since then, have prepared me well for what it feels like when you really love your job.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?

I think the biggest obstacle was, and still is, the tremendous self-doubt and stress that accompany starting your own business. This job has brought me the greatest sense of gratification, and at the exact same time, the deepest level of stress. As a lawyer, I don't have money without clients. And because my target client group is often made up of start-up businesses themselves, sometimes the whole endeavor feels like trying to squeeze water from a stone. But even with the stress, it could not be more worth it.

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?

I think there are huge opportunities for innovation and creativity in the world of food. In Toronto right now, if you look at projects like the Toronto Underground Market, or a new ongoing food truck festival called Food Truck Eats, or this fantastic new taco pop-up, La Carnita, just to name a few, there's just so much energy and optimism and boundary-pushing right now. It's an awesome time to be working in food. I think, in Toronto and Ontario at least, we're still over-regulating food and farming, and legislation often favors the big players, not the little ones. But people are not letting that stop them from executing great ideas. Lawyers that specialize in food can help create more sustainable food systems by lending their skill sets to the cause.

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?

Oysters! Or chicken liver pate. Or steak tartare. I'm dead serious.

Starting and/or running a small food business comes with a whole host of legal questions. What questions do you have for Carly?

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