Food Policy Center Staff
Charles Platkin, PhD, JD, MPH, Executive Director
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 DietDetective.com, 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).
Dr. Platkin is also the founder of The Health Lab (www.thehealthlab.com). The Health Lab collaborates with innovators and entrepreneurs to create sustainable, commercially viable businesses that solve health-related problems. The goal is to fully support innovators who tackle an exceptional, untapped opportunity related to health and wellness.
Alexina Cather, MPH, Deputy Director and Managing Editor
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. Alexina 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.
She previously worked as a project manager at the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Medical Center on a number of research initiatives targeted at improving cardiovascular health among New York City residents.
Prior to joining the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, Alexina 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, Alexina 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.
Alexina currently serves on the boards of the NY State Chapter of Slow Food USA and the NYC Healthy School Food Alliance.
May May Leung, PhD, RD, Research Director
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.
Melissa Gallanter, RD, Operations Manager
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.
Leah Butz, Staff Researcher
Leah Butz earned her Bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University, where she studied Linguistics & English. Before coming to the Food Policy Center, Leah did research under Dr. Janet Randall at the Northeastern University Linguistics & Law Lab, working to improve comprehension of jury instructions. She also previously worked in the restaurant industry in Boston, Massachusetts, where she developed a strong interest in food and sustainability. She is especially passionate about the issue of food waste in this country and finding sustainable alternatives to sending excess food and scraps to the landfill.
Lily Zaballos, Staff Researcher
Lily Zaballos is a graduate of NYU. She holds a B.A. from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study and is currently pursuing her M.S. in Urban Policy and Leadership at Hunter College, where her research focuses on urban food policy, education policy, and community sovereignty movements.
Raised in Oakland, CA, she is a former homeschooler who fell in love with cooking at a young age, and has been fascinated with food, cooking, and the cultural and communal aspect of gathering around the table ever since. Lily has a background in nonprofit youth education and has worked for 826NYC, the Brooklyn Youth Company, and City Parks Foundation, teaching youth in kindergarten through high school in a wide variety of academic and creative subjects. She is currently a Food Educator with Spoons Across America, where she creates educational resources about healthy cooking and food systems for youth and their families across the country.
Marissa Sheldon, Contributing Writer
Marissa Sheldon earned a Bachelors degree in Community Health from Brown University and an MPH from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. She was a Public Health Prevention Specialist fellow at CDC and gained valuable experience working at both the federal and local levels. When the three-year fellowship ended, she became the Community Outreach Coordinator for a research study at NC State University that focused on increasing access to healthy foods and safe places to be active.
Marissa currently works as a child care provider for her nieces and nephew while maintaining a passion for hunger relief efforts and nutrition research and education.
Yvonne Chow, Graphic Designer
Yvonne Chow earned her MFA in communications design from Pratt Institute. At Hunter College, she received her BA in geographic information systems (GIS), emerging media, and music. She has worked with several government agencies, including the NYC Department of Transportation, and has taught graphic design at Hunter College and Pratt Institute. An advocate of zero-waste living, she co-created a map of NYC Food Scrap Drop-Off sites, and volunteers with community gardens and food rescue programs. You can view her portfolio at yvonneochow.com.
Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, PhD
Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, PhD is a Senior Advisor to President at Hunter College additionally she is the Chair of The Board at NYC Health + Hospitals. Dr. Barrios-Paoli is the former Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli. Dr. Barrios-Paoli is an experienced leader known for innovation. She has managed five city agencies under three mayors, and has spearheaded major reforms, such as the opening of 10 senior centers, including those servicing the visually impaired and LGBT populations. She brings a deep background in working with New York’s nonprofit community.In 2008, following a long career in both city government and the nonprofit sector, Dr. Barrios-Paoli was appointed commissioner of the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA). Prior to this appointment, Ms. Barrios-Paoli’s public service included appointments as commissioner of several agencies during the Giuliani and Koch Administrations, including the New York City Human Resources Administration, the nation’s largest public welfare agency with a budget of $6 billion. Before that, she headed the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the New York City Department of Personnel. From 1987 to 1989, Ms. Paoli also was commissioner of the city Department of Employment, where she oversaw employment services to more than 85,000 city residents annually.
Dr. Barrios-Paoli also has been a leader in the nonprofit sector. Prior to joining DFTA, she was president and CEO of Safe Space NYC, Inc., a nonprofit organization serving more than 25,000 at-risk children and families in nearly 40 different program sites throughout Queens and Manhattan. With an annual budget of over $18 million, Safe Space provides counseling to thousands of at-risk children and families facing poverty, child abuse, domestic violence and medical problems. As senior vice president and chief executive for community investment of the United Way of New York City (UWNYC), a nonprofit fundraising organization that distributes over $88 million annually to New York City nonprofits,
Dr. Barrios-Paoli was instrumental in creating and implementing standards and goals of the September 11th Fund, among other achievements. The fund received contributions/donations of well over $500 million.Dr. Barrios-Paoli also served as vice president for education with the New York City Partnership from 1990 to 1992, and as executive director of the Literacy Volunteers of NYC from 1992 to 1994.Dr. Barrios-Paoli has a Baccalaureate degree from Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the New School for Social Research. She has taught at the Bank Street College of Education in New York City; Rutgers University and Montclair State College in New Jersey; and at Hunter College of the City University of New York.
Tracy Dennis-Tiwary Ph.D.
Dr. Tracy Dennis-Tiwary (Ph.D., The Pennsylvania State University) is a Professor in the Psychology Department at Hunter College, The City University of New York, Co-Director of the Hunter College Center for Stress, Anxiety, and Resilience Research (STARR), a faculty member in the Health Psychology and Clinical Science and the Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience doctoral programs, and a member of the Hunter College Center for Translational and Basic Research. She has received cross-disciplinary training in clinical psychology, affective-cognitive neuroscience, and developmental psychopathology. Current projects include an NIH-funded clinical trial of biobehavioral mechanisms in a computerized cognitive behavioral modification treatment for anxiety and stress, and the development of digital mental health tools that overcome treatment barriers and increase engagement and acceptability of treatment options. She is also conducting research on school-based methods for teaching youth mindfulness-based stress and anxiety reduction, which is the topic of the documentary film “Changing Minds at Concord High.” Read more about her work at dennis-tiwary.com.
Khursheed Navder, PhD, RD, FAND
Dr. Navder is a consummate nutritional professional who has made numerous contributions in a career that spans over a quarter century as a professor at Hunter College. She joined Hunter in 1988.
Dr. Navder is the Director of the accredited didactic program (DP) in Nutrition and Dietetics at Hunter College and has been serving in this capacity for over 15 years. She has served as the Director of the Nutrition program where she oversaw the BS, dual BS-MS, MS, MPH and Dietetic Internship Programs. The MS Nutrition Program that she created and directs is a unique, dynamic graduate program that is the first within CUNY, and is one of only eight programs in the country, to offer didactic dietetics education at the graduate level and provides evidence of her ability to think creatively and futuristically.
She is credited for creating unique pathways that make it less onerous for inner-city students to pursue a full time, day program. Through the cohort model of structured, sequential learning she has been successful at creating a stimulating and intellectually challenging program that promotes a sense of community with near perfect graduation rates in her undergraduate and graduate tracks. She is also the advisor to the Kappa Omicron Nu Honor Society for Nutrition students and has created a vibrant Nutrition Club.
Dr. Navder’s research area has involved studying the effects of various food components on biochemical and metabolic regulations of lipid and alcohol metabolism. She has also looked at ethnic differences in fat distribution patterns in children and neonates, and has examined the effect of maternal diet and obesity on fetal growth and offspring adiposity. She encourages active student involvement on research projects and has built a strong research foundation for students she mentors.
Dr. Navder has been a recipient of the national Outstanding Dietetic Educator Award from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She has served as the Chair of the Nutrition and Dietetic Educators and Preceptors, a Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy and is currently serving as a Commissioner with the Commission on Dietetic Registration (2014-17).
Ming-Chin Yeh, PhD
Ming-Chin Yeh, PhD is an Associate Professor of Nutrition at Hunter College, City University of New York. His research involves developing innovative intervention strategies to promote a healthy lifestyle such as increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity for health promotion and disease prevention. Other research interests focus on obesity and diabetes prevention and management in multi-ethnic populations. Some of his recent projects include a NIH R34 translational study examining lifestyle intervention for diabetes prevention among Chinese immigrants; collaborating in cutting-edge behavioral research studies targeting approaches to prevent stroke recurrence in veterans; examining the relationship between parenting style/home environment and childhood obesity; qualitative research in nutrition such as understanding barriers to fruit and vegetable consumption; assessing the role of gut microbiota in health promotion in vegan diets. Currently Dr. Yeh is a Co-Investigator on two VA-funded randomized controlled trials testing the effectiveness of a comprehensive personalized behavioral intervention that aim to improve foot self-care, foot self-monitoring, and modifiable risks (e.g. A1c, BP and LDL) in diabetic patients. Dr. Yeh teaches graduate-level nutrition research course as well as undergraduate-level courses in community nutrition and institutional management. Dr. Yeh received his PhD in Public Health Nutrition at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill, a MEd at Teachers College, Columbia University, a MS at New York University, a BS at Taipei Medical College, Taiwan, and a post-doc training at the Yale University Prevention Research Center.
Christina Zarcadoolas PhD
Christina Zarcadoolas PhD is a sociolinguist and expert in public understanding of health and science. She focuses on analyzing and closing the gaps between expert & lay knowledge and understanding of health and safety information. Chris is a Professor of Linguistics in the Anthropology Dept., Hunter College and prior to that she was on the faculty at the CUNY School of Public Health and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She had a long tenure on the faculty at Brown University’s Center for Environmental Studies. She is the Founder and Director of the New York Roundtable on Public Health Literacy. She is currently writing a textbook, Health Navigation: Putting it Into Practice (Jones & Bartlett Learning, publication 1/2017) as well as a book entitled, The Simplicity Complex, exploring the limits of simplifying information in a complex world.
Chris recently created the healthliteracylab.com – an ever-expanding free online library of animated lessons for health and safety communicators.