Growing up in the South, Tommy Tobin was part of a family that loved food.
“We liked to eat a lot,” said Tobin, who graduates in May with degrees from Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School and a plan to build his career around food law and policy.
When a severe speech impediment left him struggling to be understood, food became a way for Tobin to connect with others. In high school he volunteered at a food bank and with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and watched his actions speak volumes.
“I didn’t need to speak, I could just do,” said Tobin. “And speaking through service became a theme for me.”
That commitment to service continued in college. At Stanford University he led the Stanford Project on Hunger to help reduce food waste in the dining halls and to support a nearby homeless shelter. After graduating, in 2010, he served as an intern with the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, working on reducing food waste around the country.
Tobin spent a year in Ireland doing graduate work in food business. Back in the United States, he applied to the Master in Public Policy program at HKS.
“Harvard’s a wonderful place to go to study food,” Tobin said. “People all over this University work on food issues.” Not least at the Law School, which has a clinic devoted to food law and policy. Before long, Tobin was cross-registered in HLS classes. Then he was applying. Then he was accepted.
“To actually get in was incredible.”
Tobin’s passion for food justice is matched by his fascination with language, which developed in part when his speech issues forced him to scour the thesaurus for word substitutes. “I became really interested in the phrasing of things,” he said.
His passions merged at Harvard, where he led the Harvard Food Law Society, joined the Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, and held editing posts with both the Harvard Journal on Legislation and the Harvard Law and Policy Review.