By Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist
It's hard to believe I have been working as the nutritionist/dietitian for the Co-op for the last 25 years. I was able to secure this job along with many different consulting nutritionist jobs after returning to my hometown of Putney following about nine years of absence to attend graduate school and my first job right as a dietitian at a public health department in Illinois. As I reflect upon my vision of a job possibility at the Co-op, I know I wanted to educate members about the importance of good nutrition and to provide workshops or programs for schools and community agencies about nutrition and the variety of different products at the Co-op, many of which members were not familiar with or actively using.
At the time I was very enthusiastic about the idea of doing community nutrition work, since those types of jobs were not as frequently available as they are now. Back then, nutritionists or dietitians were mainly employed in clinical settings such as hospitals and health-care facilities. Working at the Co-op seemed to be an exciting option since it appeared to be a natural place for a nutritionist to work; a site where there were lots of healthy food options to choose from and an opportunity to educate people about them! My mother had gotten into natural foods at the Putney Co-op when I was very young so I felt I already had a head start on awareness of many products and foods sold at the Co-op. I arranged a meeting with Alex and we discussed our different ideas and visions about what a nutritionist could do for the Co-op. We both thought that offering nutrition services to members of the Co-op on a limited basis due to budgetary constraints would be a viable option, as well as becoming involved in the nutrition education committee that existed at that time and offering nutrition education classes either at the Co-op or out in the community. We also agreed that doing food demos with an education component as well as group tours would be another positive thing for the Co-op to offer to those who were on special diets or to new members who were not familiar with many products sold at the Co-op. Much of this work continues to be done by staff in the Marketing Department.
Anyway, I was glad to be hired, even with very limited hours since the budget did not then and still does not cover for even a part-time position. My job here has evolved from doing group tours of the Co-op, nutrition education classes in the community, ongoing involvement in a nutrition education committee, occasional nutrition consultations, conducting food demos with an education component, writing monthly nutrition education articles in the newsletter, as well as continuing involvement in educating the community whether it be schools, seniors, cardiac rehab patients, or new mothers. The nutrition education committee was involved in producing shelf talkers (label facts for shoppers) and food policy at the Co-op. It also developed the first series of classes called “Feed Your Head,” which was offered to all of the local schools on sugar, healthy fats, fiber, and local farms. Many of the classes we still offer in the education/outreach program branched off from these. We also did several nutrition education programs for parents and children (“Better than Big Macs”), women (through “Making the Most of I”) and seniors at the Senior Center. The education/outreach program is now a major part of the Marketing Department.
As a nutritionist, I feel like I continue to play a vital role at the Co-op. There are many shoppers and members who are hungry for ideas and education about the various foods and products sold at the Co-op. They are always looking for proper guidance in navigating the overwhelming amount of nutrition information that can often be misleading. I continue to be available for nutrition consultations at the Co-op and my contact information can be found at Shareholder Services or at the Wellness Department. I feel very grateful to be an ongoing part of this Co-op and I am always glad to answer questions, even when I happen to overhear shoppers in the aisles questioning ingredients or nutrients. Of course I love to see people of any age get excited about a healthy food that they were not familiar with and giving them quick preparation ideas. These are just a few of the things that make my job here at the Co-op so gratifying, stimulating, and fun.