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Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center

Charles Platkin, PhD, JD, MPH

Charles Platkin, PhD, JD, MPH is a Distinguished Lecturer at Hunter College in New York City and the Director of the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center. Additionally, Dr. Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate, whose syndicated health, nutrition and fitness column, the Diet Detective appears in more than 100 daily newspapers and media outlets. He is also the founder of, which offers more than 700 articles and interviews on nutrition, food, and fitness. Additionally, Platkin, was the founder of Integrated Wellness Solutions (IWS). IWS worked to develop corporate wellness initiatives including sophisticated online health tools, algorithm based diet and fitness programs, as well as print related content to market health behavior change. IWS also worked with pharmaceutical companies (including Roche and Pfizer) creating digital strategies and tools to assist with patient behavior change. These programs included the first ever Registered Dietitian nutritional counseling via email program with more than 100,000 patients.


Dr. Platkin was the president and founder of Marinex, a forerunner in health consulting and media relations. Additionally, he was the General Counsel and Vice-President of News Communications, Inc., a publicly-traded newspaper and magazine company based in Manhattan that published The Hill in Washington, and Dan’s Papers in the Hamptons, among others.Dr. Platkin is the author of seven books. His first book, “Breaking the Pattern” was a bestseller in hardcover; it has been used by addiction clinics to assist patients with resolving drug and alcohol-related issues and more than 20 universities around the country as a text to teach behavioral change techniques to nutrition and dietetic counseling interns. His latest books are The Diet Detective’s Count Down (Simon and Schuster, 2007), The Diet Detective’s Calorie Bargain Bible (Simon and Schuster, 2008), The Diet Detective’s Diet Starter Kit (Diversion, 2011), and The Diet Detective’s All American Diet (Rodale, 2012).

May May Leung, PhD, RD

May May Leung, PhD, RD is an assistant professor of Nutrition at the Hunter College School of Urban Public Health. Her research expertise includes the development and evaluation of innovative health communication and community-based interventions to prevent childhood obesity. She also uses community-based participatory research methods, such as photovoice, to engage and empower youth residing in vulnerable communities. May May’s research projects have lead to partnerships with various community-based organizations in New York City, such as the Children’s Aid Society and New York Cares. In addition, she focuses on the translation and dissemination of evidence-based interventions and policies to reduce the risk of chronic diseases with the goal of enhancing the public health impact of initiatives. May May’s work extends internationally as she has worked with the World Health Organization, Shanghai Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. She completed her doctoral degree in Public Health Nutrition at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health (UNC). She earned her BA in Psychology from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and her MS in Nutritional Sciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Prior to her time at UNC, May May was an adjunct faculty member and project manager at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing.

Alexina Cather, MPH

Alexina Cather, MPH, is the Deputy Director at the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center where she works to develop innovative, evidence-based solutions to prevent diet-related diseases and protect food security. She works closely with policy makers, community organizations, advocates and the public to create healthier, more sustainable food environments and to use food to promote community and economic development. Ms. Cather works tirelessly to connect community-based organizations, academics, advocates and entrepreneurs to combat hunger and other food-related issues such as food waste, food insecurity, food inequity and access to nutritious, whole foods in underserved communities in New York City and beyond. Prior to joining the New York City Food Policy Center, Ms. Cather was a contributing writer for Food Tank, where she wrote about our food system and helped to promote a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters. Before moving to New York City, Ms. Cather worked as a family resource coordinator and a science teacher at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland where she worked to provide children receiving medical assistance and their families with healthy food, education and social and emotional support. Additionally, she worked to promote female empowerment and healthy bodies through her work coaching soccer for a number of girls’ soccer teams in the Bay Area and through her travels to West Africa to coach girls soccer in Ghana. Ms. Cather currently serves on the boards of the NY State Chapter of Slow Food USA and the NYC Healthy School Food Alliance.

Melissa Gallanter, RD

Melissa Gallanter is a registered dietitian with a background in medical nutrition therapy, nutrition education and health communications. Before moving back to the New York City area, she worked on the Louisiana Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Public Policy Team to expand Medicaid coverage of nutrition-services in Louisiana as well as with the Doc Griggs Foundation to open a community center in New Orleans and create an accessible nutrition education and healthy cooking program for all community members. Melissa holds a Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Science and a minor in Public Health from Boston University and completed her Dietetic Internship at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

CUNY Urban Food Institute

Nicholas Freudenberg, PhD

Nicholas Freudenberg is Director of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute and Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the CUNY School of Public Health and Health Policy. His research and scholarship focuses on diet-related chronic diseases, urban health, the evaluation of complex urban interventions, and the role of the food industry in health and disease. For 30 years he has assisted NYC organizations to plan, implement, and evaluate policies, programs, and advocacy campaigns to improve community health and reduce health inequities, and he was the co-founder, with Janet Poppendieck, of the NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College. He holds a PhD and a Masters degree in Health Policy and Management from the Columbia University School of Public Health.

Nevin Cohen, PhD

Nevin Cohen is Research Director of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute and Associate Professor of Public Health at the CUNY School of Public Health and Health Policy. For the past 10 years his scholarly work has involved community-based research on urban food policy and food systems disparities, and he is an expert on the food policies and policymaking processes of New York City where for 7 years he also held staff positions in city government. He is the author of Beyond the Kale: Urban Agriculture and Social Justice Activism in NYC (The University of Georgia Press) and holds a Ph.D. in Urban Planning from Rutgers University and a Masters degree in City and Regional Planning from U.C. Berkeley.

Katherine Tomaino Fraser, RD

Katherine Tomaino Fraser has joined our team as Director of Evaluation. She is a Registered Dietitian and specialist in nutrition research and evaluation with nearly a decade of experience across clinical, community-based, and large-scale public health interventions. Prior to joining The Institute, Katherine led evaluation efforts for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, supporting a portfolio of over 35 program partners in strengthening their evaluation efforts and capturing high-quality intervention data. She has worked on a range of urban health initiatives domestically and abroad, most recently consulting for the New York City Department of Health on its sodium reduction intervention, and on nutrition-focused projects in locations as diverse as Lima, Peru and the University of Alma Ata in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Katherine has a passion for food security and urban farming initiatives, and even curates her own small Brooklyn farm featuring three laying hens. She has a B.S. in Nutrition from Rutgers University and a M.S.P.H from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy

Pam Koch EdD, PhD

Dr. Koch is the Mary Swartz Rose Associate Professor of Nutrition Education and the Faculty Director of the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Koch conducts research about the connections between a just, sustainable food system and healthy eating. She translates the results from her research into useful resources such as curricula for schoolteachers and recommendations for policy makers. Dr. Koch is the primary author of the three Linking Food and the Environment (LiFE) curriculum series books: Growing Food; Farm to Table & Beyond, and Choice, Control & Change and coordinated the development, evaluation and dissemination of the LiFE. Pam frequently speaks about nutrition education and sustainable food systems at meetings and conferences across the country. Pam also collaborates with several groups conducting food and nutrition education and working to increase access to healthy, sustainable food around New York City. She completed her BS and MS degrees in nutrition at Rutgers University, The State University of New Jersey, and her EdD and RD from Teachers College, Columbia University.


Sara Abiola, PhD, JD

Sara Abiola is the Executive Director of the Tisch Food Center and studies the intersection of public health law and social determinants of health to determine how policy can promote healthy eating behaviors. Her investigations of food policy before and during the COVID-19 pandemic have concluded that a multi-faceted, multi-level policy approach that integrates health and social services holds the most promise for creating more equitable outcomes for noncommunicable diseases and other nutrition-related outcomes. She has co-authored publications on food policy and related topics in the New England Journal of Medicine, Health Affairs, and the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics and contributes to public health and food policy conversations on NPR Radio and Vox. She was on the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health faculty in the Department of Health Policy & Management from 2012 to 2021. She completed her BA in Psychology and International Studies at Yale University and earned her JD and PhD from Harvard University.


Julia McCarthy, JD

Julia was the Deputy Director of the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to that position, Julia was the Food-Ed Hub Director at the Tisch Food Center, facilitating a coalition of the more than 80 food and nutrition education organizations across New York City. Before Tisch, Julia was a senior policy associate at the Center for Science in the Public Interest where she oversaw the organization's Healthy Retail and Food Marketing to Kids initiatives. Julia has previously worked at the Natural Resources Defense Council and Food and Drug Administration. She has a B.A. in History from Georgetown University and a J.D. from New York University Law School where she was a Root-Tilden-Kern scholar.


Lesley Kroupa, JD, MS, RD

Lesley Kroupa, JD, MS, RD was the Interim Deputy Director of the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, Teachers College, Columbia University. She provided strategic policy recommendations for ongoing research projects and participated in local, state, and federal campaigns related to child nutrition and nutrition education. Prior to joining the Tisch Food Center, Lesley spent 11 years practicing law in New York City. Before law school, she worked at the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. She has a B.A. in Government from Smith College, M.S. in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University, and JD from The University of Michigan Law School.  


Jen Cadenhead, PhD, RDN

Jen Cadenhead, PhD, RDN is the Goldberg Postdoctoral Researcher in Food Trauma in Children. Her work has focused on understanding the relationship between diet quality, the level of ultra-processed foods people are eating, and health outcomes, including among individuals with celiac disease and breast cancer. She also assists individuals of all ages in addressing their assorted diet-related issues, especially those in underserved groups and facing food insecurity. Jen received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics and sociology from Duke University and spent more than a decade in actuarial consulting. She is a registered dietitian with clinical training at a variety of institutions. She received her masters degree in Nutrition with an emphasis on public health, as well as her doctoral degree in Behavioral Nutrition with a specialization in Nutritional Epidemiology from Teachers College, Columbia University. 


Raynika Trent, MS, EdM

Raynika Trent has conducted community-based research and education research with K-12 populations in formal and informal learning environments. She received a BA from the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, an EdM in Human Resource Education and Organizational Development from the University of Illinois, and a Master's in Food Studies from New York University.

Fiona (Xiaoge) Gao is the Doctoral Research Assistant at the Tisch Food Center. She is a doctoral student studying Behavioral Nutrition at Teachers College. She is originally from Nanjing, China, and received her BS degree in Food Science and Engineering from Nanjing Agricultural University in 2019. She then started her graduate study at Columbia University, where she received an MS degree in Human Nutrition in 2020.

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