“All over social media, people were demonizing carbs and exercising a lot. They were trying to take control of their health, but it wasn’t in a way that was healthy,” says Jeanine Toussaint (Steinhardt ’25) as she recalls the home cooking and baking videos that proliferated online during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time, Jeanine—then in high school—was closely following the news of school children facing food insecurity.
Motivated by those developments as well as a desire to create balanced meals for family members with health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, Jeanine headed to her kitchen. As she began to grow as a cook, she took a nutrition course at Brooklyn College during her senior year of high school and realized that she wanted to work in nutrition for the rest of her life.
As an eager first-year student in NYU Steinhardt’s nutrition and food studies program, she seized the opportunity to join Club E.A.T., where she could network with other students and gain experience cooking and learning about food outside of the classroom.
Despite her limited experience, Jeanine’s diligence and knowledge earned her a summer internship as the specialty food liaison at Cedar Lake Camp, a kids’ sleepaway program in Milford, Pennsylvania, where she was responsible for tracking allergens in foods and working with staffers to ensure that campers received specialized meals that met their dietary needs. While her priority was the campers’ safety, she found that her coursework gave her additional insight into their diets—beyond the ingredients.
“My first year I took a lot of classes that put nutrition into perspective in the outside world. Relationships to food differ depending on cultures, their backgrounds, gender, even sexuality—and all of that comes together to explain people's eating habits,” Jeanine says. “So I would see the way they ate and the way they talked about their foods in different ways, and I would understand why.”
Now in her second year, Jeanine serves as the director of partnerships in the Black Student Union, a mentor in the Academic Achievement Program, and as the secretary for Women of Excellence, Strength and Tenacity (WEST).
While her graduation date is a few years away, Jeanine is looking forward to attending graduate school to pursue a career as a dietitian.
“I think that nutrition is just a misunderstood field. It's not just giving out diet plans to people,” she says. “There's eating disorders, there's sports dietetics, there's people who after surgery need specialized eating plans so that they can be okay. I hope part of my future involves advocating for the role and importance of nutrition. It's misunderstood, but it's something that everyone should really know about and care about, because it affects all of us in different ways.”