Food as Fuel: If You Bike To For Work, Is Your Lunch Tax Deductible?


the late Peter Jennings on food as fuel

TreeHugger complains often about food as fuel, but what about if it really is exactly that? If you use your car for business purposes, then fuel can be a legitimate deductible expense, so what if you use your bike? We looked at this three years ago, but with more people cycling longer distances for work, we raise the issue again.

According to Bikes at Work, moderate cycling burns about 300 calories per hour in excess of what a sedentary worker might burn. So if you bike for a living, or to meetings, shouldn't the food consumed to deliver those calories be considered fuel? In Canada, it is.


Wayne Scott receiving award from Jack Layton, then a City Councillor in Toronto

Ten years ago, bicycle courier Wayne Scott fought Revenue Canada (the Canadian version of the IRS). The Judge wrote (in 1997!)

"Just as a courier's automobile requires fuel in the form of gas to move, the applicant alleges that he requires fuel in the form of food and water. The foot and transit courier and the automobile courier are engaged in identical activities the only difference being one uses a car as a means of transport and the other his body or a bicycle. Because the courier who drives the automobile is allowed to deduct his or her fuel, the foot and transit courier should be able to deduct the fuel his body needs. However, because we all require food and water to live, he can only deduct the extra food and water he must consume above and beyond the average person's intake in order to perform his job. This is similar to the automobile courier who is only entitled to deduct that portion of the fuel used for a business purpose. The extra fuel consumed for personal needs cannot be deducted. This result takes into account the different methods by which the same job is done and puts all couriers on an equal footing. Arguably, it also recognizes and encourages [rather than discourages as a prohibition on this expense would] new environmentally responsible ways of producing income."::Alan Wayne Scott vs Canada

Revenue Canada now lets bicycle couriers deduct $17 per day for food without receipts. In the UK, cycle couriers can deduct £6.50 per day. (which buys a lot less food than C$17!)

However in the United States, Tax lawyer Paul Caron quotes a letter from the IRS's office of Chief Counsel: "

Expenditures for food, the "fuel" for all human activities, whether or not business related, are considered inherently personal in nature. Therefore, the cost of food generally is not deductible as a trade or business expense unless it is paid or incurred while traveling away from home overnight or, under some circumstances, in connectior with business entertainment.

The courts have consistently agreed with this position. For example, the Board of Tax Appeals in Smith v. Commissioner, 40 B.T.A.1038 (1939), aff'd per curiam, 113 F.2d 114 (2nd Cir. 1940), stated at pages 1038-39:

[T]he cost of the laborer's raiment... the very home which gives us shelter and rest and the food which provides energy, might all... be construed as necessary to the operation of business and to the creation of income. Yet these are the very essence of those "personal" expenses the deductibility of which is expressly denied."

So once again, in America, the system is biased towards four wheels and against two. Time for a change!

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