“I try to focus on the fun elements of food,” says Jessie Curran, a registered dietitian at Brown University. Instead of talking about food groups and carb intake, Curran may organize foods by whimsical themes, such as color. She recently hosted a mixer featuring “purple mocktails.” “People at Brown are very well informed about nutrition,” she adds. “They know all about allergies and plant-based diets. You have to listen to them, or they’ll shut you out.”
Many of us think of nutritionists as sinewy, type-A drill sergeants armed with clipboards, but Curran is youthful and good-humored. She grew up in Scituate, Massachusetts, and studied nutrition at the University of Vermont. She aspired to become a health worker, but physical therapy didn’t appeal to her, partly because of the long and rigorous training. Still, Curran ended up earning a master’s degree and took a job as a public health specialist in Burlington. Later, she volunteered for AmeriCorps, working for a food bank in Austin, Texas, where she helped with perishable food rescue.
The dietician position at Brown brought Curran to Providence. Today, she helps create menus, engage students, and host special events. Her advice goes a long way here; most students find their meals at the Refectory (nicknamed “The Ratty”) or other university-run cafes. “I thought I would be doing counseling with individuals,” says Curran, but her work has been widely systemic. “The food that you make available to [students] is most of what they eat.”
“I think Brown is an atypical Ivy League,” adds Curran. Unlike the stereotype of privileged heirs raised on foie gras, many undergrads wish to reduce their consumption of meat and eat only ethically sourced foods. Indeed, Curran had never heard of the FODMAP diet, which analyzes nutritional content on a molecular level, until she spoke with Brown students. “I’ve had nothing but positive experiences,” she says.
Ever since she moved to Rhode Island three years ago, Curran has loved her life in the East Side. She regularly gets together with fellow runners at the Rhode Runner store and jogs around the neighborhood. She likes visiting Rock Spot in Lincoln for some climbing, and during the summer, she often visits RISD Beach in Barrington.
Yet health and fitness aren’t Curran’s only pastimes. “I love food,” she says with a laugh. “I love dessert. I have such a sweet tooth. I’m the person who will wait in line for an hour at PVD Donuts.”