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The Professor Is In: Christen Cooper

News Story

Founding Director of CHP's Nutrition and Dietetics program, Christen Cooper discusses her academic goals and vision, as well as common health and wellness misconceptions for this month's The Professor Is In.

Christen Cupples Cooper, EdD, RD, is the Founding Director of the Nutrition and Dietetics program at the College of Health Professions. She's already made a significant impact on the Pace Community during her 18 months as a Setter, bolstering the offerings of CHP and serving as a major voice in the world of nutrition. This month, we asked Cooper about what she's currently working on, health tips, and a dream dinner party for four. 

1. Is there anything you’re currently working on that you’re particularly excited about?

I am new at Pace (I became Founding Director of Nutrition and Dietetics in CHP about a year and a half ago) and I am excited about all of the possibilities in store for our incredible University! I live in Pleasantville and I want to work hard to connect the local community with our campus. Pace shouldn’t be a well-kept secret; we should be a major force in Westchester and beyond! I am also excited to welcome our first class of Nutrition and Dietetics master’s students to CHP this fall. I love teaching and can’t wait to get to know each and every student and any other students who wish to pass by to say hello to us. Everyone is welcome.

2. What are three easy things the average person can incorporate into their daily routine to maintain a healthier life?

I have a holistic view (meaning a “whole person” view) of wellness and yet I am a proponent of moderation.

In the US, and now in most of the developed world, there are steep challenges to living healthfully. Here at home in particular, processed food is omnipresent; we have a largely driving versus walking culture; we have a “bigger is better” mentality about food portions and a food system that makes healthful foods expensive and junk food, cheap. I think that focusing on eating “real” food (things that don’t come in packages) is an important first step. Eating mostly plant foods, as the author Michael Pollan suggests—lots of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains—is another great move. And finally, enjoying, savoring, and taking time to eat real meals that nourish the body, mind, and soul is critical to our well-being. In our constantly rushed lifestyle, we have strayed from actually tasting our food and enjoying the company of others while we eat. To me, connecting the whole circle of mental, physical, and even spiritual well-being is the most important thing we can do.

3. What is one of the most common misconceptions/factually incorrect attitudes you’ve come across regarding health and nutrition?

This comes to mind every time I go to a dinner party because registered dietitians like me are never the star guests! I think that most people fear nutritional changes because they think that they need to go home and throw out everything in their cupboards and replace it with “health food.” This is not the case. People should understand that nowadays, dietitian-nutritionists are also foodies. We love good-tasting food, but we can teach people to prepare the dishes they love with really terrific, healthful ingredients rather than lots of salt, fat, and sugar. For example, we can take a recipe for tacos and reduce the fat and salt content by swapping in cilantro, peppers, and other flavor combinations that give the dish zing, lower its calorie content, and spare the eater a lot of indigestion.

Don’t get me wrong: there are times when only Aunt Linda’s pecan pie, with all its fat and sugar, will do. And that’s okay, too. It’s important to enjoy the things we love and enjoy all foods in moderation. Variety is the spice of life and it’s important to enjoy lots of different foods, especially the ones that are meaningful to us. Furthermore, making small changes is the way to go. Make a small change, build confidence in doing that, and then make another small change. Eventually, a lot of small changes add up to big changes and we end up with better health.

4. Where do you see the MS in Nutrition and Dietetics in five years?

Oh boy, this is where someone needs to grab me by the ankles and keep me in one place. I daydream about all sorts of things for our program. Our program, unlike any other, will focus on culinary nutrition and food policy/food justice. Therefore, I think that we can do a lot of cool things right here on our campus. I think that because nutrition is so critical to our health and because so many students find it challenging to eat on a budget or meal plan, I want our nutrition students to work with any students at Pace who would like some food guidance. We have plans to cook with students in the dorms, work with Pace athletes, and work with environmental studies so that students can learn about food, how it’s grown, the costs and challenges of growing it, and how our choices affect the environment. We’ll be working with food banks and the Pleasantville Farmers Market as well. The opportunities are endless.

5. What is your favorite thing about working at Pace?

I like just about everything about working at Pace. I think I have two favorite things. First, there’s our students, who are amazing go-getters. They know what hard work is and they are driven to be the best they can be at what they do. Second, I love the fact that under President Krislov we have this new atmosphere of growth, change, and innovation. I’m from a business background originally, so I’m in my glory feeling like I can create and think and grow.

6. You can host a dinner party for any four people, living or dead. Who would you invite and why?

I wish this were possible because I would have my students cook a terrific meal for the occasion! I would invite Steve Jobs (no intro needed), Anaïs Nin (French-American writer), Eva Perón (Argentine leader), and Lev Vygotsky (early childhood education theorist). If somebody canceled, I’d invite George Washington.