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MA 2001 -- Slow Food Maven
Erika Lesser is smart, thoughtful, and passionate. Sitting with her in her open office in Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood, Erika, Executive Director of Slow Food USA, is describing her recent visit to Atlanta for a day of meetings at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Lesser is careful to emphasize the word prevention in the CDC's title, commenting that the second part of the governmental agency's name is too often left off or forgotten. She explains that the meetings, which featured journalist Michael Pollan as keynote speaker, were two years in the making with Alice Waters' visit in 2007 as a catalyst. The meetings were a sustainable food systems approach to health and wellness.
What is Slow Food? According to the organization's website, "Slow Food is an idea, a way of living and a way of eating. It is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment." Through educational events and partnerships, the company defends biodiversity in our food supply, spreads taste education throughout the world, and connects producers of excellent foods with co-producers through projects and initiatives.
Much of our hour-long conversation focuses on the primary issues: time, money and access. It is clear that through her post at Slow Food, Lesser is committed to changing our country for the better. Her carefully chosen words throughout the meeting demonstrate her ability to see the bigger construct that impacts American's eating habits - policy, legislation, education - and that she wants to do something about it.
A native of Boston, Lesser completed her undergraduate work at Brown University and has worked for Slow Food USA since it founding in 2000. She made a decision to study at New York University's Steinhardt School after taking Amy Bentley's course on Food History and Marion Nestle's class on Nutrition for Food Studies students. She enrolled and earned her Masters in Food Studies in 2001.
When asked why she chose the program, Lesser explains it was "a personal connection that I felt to the multi-disciplinary lens to food, and to the role it plays in our culture and our planet. It's not a field that exists [the way] other disciplines do, like comparative literature or environmental sciences. Food studies is still largely overlooked...I came from a liberal arts program and was interested in lots of things, so when I learned about Food Studies I thought, ‘This is something I can do and would never get bored, and will always want to learn more.' " And learn she has.
Having spent a year at Slow Food Internationals's headquarters in Bra, Italy, Erika speaks confidently about the way different cultures approach food differently. She explains, "The international office closes from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM so that you can go and enjoy your lunch. It is frowned upon to eat at your desk and it's nearly impossible to do anything besides eat during this hiatus because shops are closed." She says that the Slow Food USA staff "does gather at a common table to enjoy each other's company and to embrace the meal, but not for the same time duration."
"Slow Food has been translated all over the world; different expressions, but there is a common idea," says Lesser. The issue the organization confronts is the idea that you have to completely overhaul your lifestyle to adhere to the Slow Food way of thinking, but that isn't the case. "Anyone can incorporate [aspects of Slow Food] into their lives; it comes down to two things. Time and money." She notes that the current economic downturn gives people a good opportunity to incorporate Slow Food into their daily lives because it not only saves money, it is better for your health.
An advocate of being a better-educated consumer, Lesser is a big proponent of farmers markets, which she views as a positive social experience around good food. "I don't know people at the supermarket. It is a solitary experience; a transaction. At the farmers market, it's natural to interact about the food with the vendor and other shoppers...it is a social and energizing experience for the same amount of money and maybe a little more time."
Turning the conversation to the bigger issues -- access, policy, and funding - Lesser explaines that she is currently paying close attention to the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, which is up for renewal in House and Congress this fall. The Act, which has a significant impact on child nutrition programs in our country, directly plays into the thoughts and theories behind Slow Food. Slow Food works on the local level in schools to educate future generations and to create meaningful experiences for kids around food by introducing them to farmer's markets, healthy cooking techniques, and gardening. It should be noted that since First Lady Michelle Obama planted her garden on March 20 on the White House lawn, Slow Food has been inundated with inquires and interest. Lesser commented, "it has been an onslaught [of interest] and [been] happening really fast...we received hundreds of emails after...and are trying to figure out how to direct energy, organize as a campaign instead of just a program, and fuel the potential to expand."
Another significant concern is linking conservation, environmentalism, food safety and security, to our day-to-day efforts to eat organic and good food. The ideas and issues related to each of these areas have taken rise over the last decade, but far too often we fail to see how closely they are intertwined. Lesser explains that "our current system for food production is a major contributor to our environmental issues. The food system is one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gases because of the way we grow (fertilizers, methane from livestock confinement) and transport our food. There is a big missing link between climate change and our food production system. Industrial agriculture is not addressed in the current efforts to educate the public." Likewise, the systems and backstops in place to regulate how our food is produced are often not addressed until issues arise.
When asked to share some advice on changing eating habits for the better, Lesser offered two things we can all do. "On a day-to-day basis, don't eat alone. Try to eat lunch with someone. Eating at your desk and checking email is not healthy or productive. And think about not eating meat one day per week. Meat production is a big contributor to greenhouse gases. Eat something good in its place. Swap out the steak for an apple...well, something like that."
Lesser hopes that Slow Food USA's emerging alliance with the CDC will help place more emphasis on disease prevention and better educate the average consumer in the US so that we can demand better food. In the meantime, she urges that awareness and education are key.
At present, Slow Food USA has an active dues-paying membership of 18,000 people with 212 volunteer-led chapters nationwide. However, Lesser estimates that the real reach is approximately 50,000 annually, a number she would like to see grow 2-million over the next few years.
To learn more or become involved with Slow Food, please visit their website http://www.slowfoodusa.org.
B.S. '95, Nutrition and Dietetics
“At NYU, my nutrition and dietetics course work and clinical experience prepared me for all areas of the field, including community and clinical nutrition, fitness and sports nutrition, and food preparation and service. In addition, my liberal arts courses helped me to learn how to analyze and to communicate effectively on many topics. All these experiences proved to be excellent preparation for my positions as associate supervising dietician at Bellevue Hospital Center and clinical nutritionist at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center. In my current work as a consultant, freelance writer, professional speaker, and private practice dietician, I specialize in HIV nutrition and also help people battling obesity, diabetes, cancer, and eating disorders.”
Alan Lee, who graduated from NYU in 1995 with a major in nutrition and dietetics, is currently a nutrition and fitness consultant for Housing Works, a community-based organization providing services to homeless New Yorkers living with HIV and AIDS, and also lectures extensively on fitness and nutrition..
Julie O'Sullivan Maillet
2001 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award
The 2001 Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award was presented to Julie O’Sullivan Maillet. Dr. Maillet earned her Ph.D. from what is now the School’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies in 1989. She has served as associate dean for academic affairs and research at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey since 1992, and as chair of its Department of Primary Care since 1989.
Since graduating from NYU, Dr. Maillet has become nationally recognized as a distinguished dietetic educator. Most recently, she was elected president of the American Dietetics Association, an organization with nearly 70,000 members. She has also served as president of the New Jersey Dietetic Association and on numerous professional committees. Dr. Maillet’s many publications focus on topics such as dietetic education and ethical concerns surrounding patient care.
Among Dr. Maillet’s awards are the UMDNJ Excellence Award for Education and the Award for Excellence: Dietetic Education, American Dietetic Association. Her research currently focuses on interactive learning; she holds several grants in Web-based course design, and is a member of the New Jersey Virtual University Design Team.
MPH '03, Community Public Health
Originally from Brooklyn, Jamillah Hoy-Rosas spent her undergraduate years at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia majoring in the Biological Basis of Behavior, an interdisciplinary curriculum focusing on anthropology, psychology and sociology. After her 1998 graduation Jamillah worked for two years as a research coordinator – first at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and then at Presbyterian Medical Center in the Department of Family Practice and Community Medicine. Those positions really strengthened her interest in community health and research.
Getting ready to move on to graduate school, Jamillah drew on her undergraduate coursework when considering a course of study. “I had taken a couple of nutrition courses as an undergrad at U Penn. I thought it was fascinating. My interest in nutrition arose from the opportunities for research in the field and its focus on disease prevention and health promotion.” Jamillah decided to return to New York and enroll at NYU to pursue a master of public health degree in public health nutrition. Ultimately, she says, “I saw public health nutrition as a way to affect not just individuals, but large groups of people about the importance of making wise lifestyle choices regarding nutrition.”
Jamillah found that NYU had the best program to meet her needs for both academic training and practical fieldwork, since she was able to obtain both an RD and MPH within the same department. She was looking for an “integrated experience” that would prepare her for diverse employment opportunities. “I was very interested in doing clinical work but I also wanted to do research and work within the community. The program gave me the opportunity and skills to do that.” Her clinical nutrition placement at New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn was the mix of academic and practical experience she was seeking. “I completed six months of clinical coursework at NYU and then six months on site at the hospital.” Jamillah worked with a group of patients with different illnesses such as diabetes and cancer. “Our primary duties were clinical assessment of the nutrition status of the patient, calculating optimum calories for their diet and determining the appropriate content of their diet specific to their illness or condition.”
Academically Jamillah excelled at NYU as well. She presented a poster for a research project on the effects of acculturation on the diet of Mexican American children at an American Dietetics Association national conference in 2002. “Assistant Professors Beth Dixon and Kristy Lancaster mentored me from beginning to end, helping me identify and refine my topic, analyze and present the data.” Jamillah’s work was so well received that she was interviewed by the press about her thesis.
After her May 2003 graduation, Jamillah began interning in the Bureau of Chronic Disease with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH). She was quickly offered a full-time consulting position to work with the “Wellness at Work” program as a Nutrition Associate. Her contract ended in March 2004, only weeks before giving birth to her daughter Olivia. Already a registered dietitian, 28-year-old Jamillah plans to pursue a Ph.D. focusing on maternal and infant nutrition within the next 2-3 years. At the moment, however, she has her hands full with Olivia and the part-time consulting work she does for the Visiting Nurse Service and other private clients. “This kind of arrangement is very convenient and suitable for working mothers.” She plans to continue consulting with the NYC DOHMH as well as start a new position as a Nutritionist at Betances Health Center in lower Manhattan, creating health programming and doing nutrition education and counseling with an underserved, minority population.
As far as NYU goes, Jamillah has only positive things to say about her experience. “NYU has a very strong reputation in the world of work. People respect and understand the depth and breadth of our training and professional education. We have an extensive skill set by the time we graduate. There are also many NYU alumni in positions of power and leadership in nutrition and public health. Anyone who is interested in preventative health care and wants a diversified educational experience– this is the program for you. You will enter the public health world as a very strong candidate.”
Written by Heather Marie Graham
MPH '03, Community Public Health
Raised in Queens by way of Guyana, Ginelle Nelson did not intend to study public health in graduate school. “I actually applied to NYU under the adult nurse practitioner program and then deferred for a year. My plan was to take a year off from school [after graduating from the University of Vermont at Burlington]. I applied for admission to NYU in my senior year and then I worked for a year in a doctor’s office.”
With her undergraduate degree and a year of work experience under her belt, Ginelle began her master’s coursework at NYU by participating in Steinhardt’s study abroad program at the University of Cape Town in the summer of 2002. As it turns out, her first semester in the advanced nurse practitioner program would be her last. She spent two months with other NYU students, taught by Professor Sally Gutmacher, learning about public health. “We did a lot of international community health and I switched my major from nurse practitioner to community public health.”
Ginelle said witnessing the AIDS crisis in Africa first-hand is what changed her mind. “Traveling to southern Africa was a life changing experience. One of the goals of the study abroad program was to teach us about the explosion of HIV/AIDS.” Ginelle witnessed not just the devastation of the AIDS epidemic but the sub-par conditions of shantytowns where so many people with the disease live. “Being a nurse practitioner here [in the U.S.] means I would mostly be in an office,” says Ginelle. Instead, she opted to modify her career goals so that she could play an active role in global health issues by traveling directly to communities with looming health problems.
Returning from Africa in the fall of 2002, Ginelle focused her studies at NYU on international community health and made sure her internship requirement was filled with an assignment in that realm. Though NYU offers internship leads and listings, Ginelle found her own internship while looking into international health agencies. She spent a summer working at USAID, a federal agency that provides international economic, agricultural, medical and humanitarian assistance around the world. “I worked in the urban health bureau. In poorer places the slums are health hazards to the people who live there.” Though Ginelle stayed right here in the U.S., she says she spent her summer examining health issues around the globe. “I looked at all the slums around the world and wrote briefs on the status of the area. I gathered this information by looking at USAID progress reports and conducting interviews.” The data Ginelle culled can be found on the “Making Cities Work” website. Engrossed and inspired by her work, Ginelle took on extra assignments and surpassed her internship requirements within a month. Wanting to stay at USAID, Ginelle parlayed her work for the month of August into a three-credit independent study.
Encouraged by Stephanie Wilcock, her internship supervisor at USAID, Ginelle also used the experience to get to know professionals within the bureau. Ms. Wilcock’s advice paid off: Ginelle learned about a three-year program that would train her to become a Foreign Service officer. She interviewed in October and landed the job in December just as she finished her coursework at NYU. After the in-depth security clearance process was completed, Ginelle was sworn in by the Foreign Service administrator, a position appointed by the president.
“As a foreign service officer, I’ll have three years of training – one year in D.C. and two years at a mission abroad.” During her first leg of stateside training, Ginelle has been rotating through offices in the USAID Global Health Bureau including the Population & Reproductive Health Office and the Office of HIV/AIDS. By the summer of 2005 Ginelle will have relocated to Zambia to begin a two-year training program at the USAID mission. “After three years,” says Ginelle, “I will become the health officer at that mission. Then I can move around to different countries.”
Ginelle believes that where she went to school has helped her in her budding career. She says that in the field of public health NYU is on the level with Johns Hopkins and Georgetown. “NYU opens you up to so many different opportunities.” She is quick to laud her teachers and her coursework – based on real-life scenarios as well as academic theory – for the expertise she gained in public health. “I liked that the professors were in the public health field working with the New York City Health department or working at community agencies. Learning should be didactic and you should go out there in the field and see what’s happening. I thought the MPH program was great. I took courses such as epidemiology and research in public health that I use in my work today.”
Written by Heather Graham
Jean Minskoff Grant
Member, Dean's Advisory Council; M.A. '79, Clinical Nutrition
I am an owner and manager of commercial properties, for which MGRMC provides both asset management and direct management for a diversified portfolio of urban and suburban office buildings and retail properties, totaling approximately one million square feet.
Prior to 1984 I worked in the field of Nutrition. I held the position of Chief Dietitian and then a teaching fellow at NYU working towards a Ph.D. I served as a Director and then President of The American Dietetic Association Foundation. I was a Medallion recipient of the American Dietetic Association in 2003, the 1992 Distinguished Alumna of UMDNJ as well as the 1988 Distinguished Alumna of School of Allied Health Professions, UMDNJ.
My interests include contemporary art, nutrition, cooking, theatre, reading, and sailing. I served on the BOD of The New York Women's Foundation for two terms and am now a member of their Chairs Council. I am on the "U.S. Foreign Policy and Women" Advisory Council of the Council on Foreign Relations. I am on Professional Council at the Urban Land Institute, a Real Estate industry organization. I am a member of, and served for 3 years as the Chair of The Women's Leadership Board at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. I am a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard College Committee on University Resources (COUR).