Lesley Kroupa competes in Ironman triathlons, so she appreciates the importance of eating well. Yet she likes to quote Joan Gussow and Pam Koch, two of her nutrition professors at Teachers College: “Nutrition starts long before the first bite — it starts with the soil.”

“As the daughter of a Midwestern cherry farmer, I always have been interested in where our food comes from and the policies that govern our food system,” Kroupa says.

At TC, where she enrolled two years ago, leaving her job as associate general counsel for a major real estate development firm, Kroupa has received ample inspiration for how to focus that interest. In Gussow, the 91-year-old doyenne of the sustainable food movement, she’s found an embodiment of persistence any Ironman athlete would appreciate: “She was seen as a radical. Now everyone realizes she was right about integrating sustainability into the nutrition guidelines.” John Allegrante, Professor of Health Education, “has been very supportive in pushing me to use my advocacy skills in the public health context.” And Koch, Executive Director of TC’s Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, “is on the ground, always advocating. She really walks the walk.”

As the daughter of a Midwestern cherry farmer, I always have been interested in where our food comes from and the policies that govern our food system. —Lesley Kroupa

So does Kroupa, though it might be more accurate to say that she runs it. During 2018, she spent a week providing pro bono legal services to immigrants at a government detention center in Folkston, Georgia. She did a close reading of new federal legislation governing funding for prevention of gun violence and presented her findings at the annual conference of the Society for Public Health Education and in an article for the American Psychological Association (her verdict: Counter to media reports, the legislation undermines prevention efforts, advancing the aims of the gun lobby).

But all of that was more or less a warm-up heat. During 2019, Kroupa was awarded the Nutritional Ecology Scholarship of the Nutrition Program. True to form, she has already worked closely with a sustainability nonprofit and briefed Brooklyn Borough President (and vegan) Eric Adams on how plant-based food policies in New York City could help combat climate change.

“The scholarship was really meaningful to me,” she says. “I was nervous about stepping away from my prior career, but the award and my experience at TC has made me confident I’m on the right path.”

Currently, Kroupa is finishing her master’s degree in nutrition and public health and completing requirements to become a registered dietitian. Long term, she plans to combine her nutrition and public health studies with her legal background to advocate for a healthful and sustainable food system.

Anyone taking an opposing stand should be forewarned: This is one lawyer who rarely rests her case.