Fighting Malnutrition and Making a Difference at Edesia

Nico Derr '18 loves working at Edesia Nutrition in North Kingstown, Rhode Island

Nico Derr '18 developed her interest in culinary nutrition from a young age — sparked in large part by frequent family visits to Tijuana, where she saw hardship, hunger and a good deal of poverty. She chose JWU’s College of Culinary Arts because the culinary nutrition program struck a happy balance between cooking and science. Now she has an internship-to-hire position at Edesia Nutrition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to treating and preventing malnutrition around the world. Here she discusses why she chose Edesia, and why it was important to her to make a difference:

Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to study the culinary arts. My parents raised my older siblings and me in a very healthy household. It was during high school that I found a passion for science and developed a deeper interest in nutrition. When it came time to choose a school, I wanted to find a balance between cooking and science — and I truly believe that JWU has found that happy balance with their Culinary Nutrition program. It was also extremely important to myself and my parents that I received a bachelor’s degree.

The first time I heard about Edesia Nutrition was in Associate Professor Paula Figoni’s class my junior year at JWU. I immediately began to research the organization — right away, I knew I wanted to intern here. It motivated me to work harder for the next year in hopes of receiving this nutrition internship.

"Through Edesia, I have gained new levels of confidence in myself."

Edesia is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help treat and prevent malnutrition in the world’s most vulnerable populations. They produce life-saving, ready-to-use peanut butter that is packed with vitamins and minerals, then exported to developing nations across the globe and distributed to undernourished children. The products have varying amounts of nutrients to ensure that each child receives the amount of vitamins and minerals that their bodies need.

I am a Mexican-American who was born and raised in San Diego, which is right on the border of Tijuana, Baja California. Since most of my family and friends live in Tijuana, crossing the international border was done extremely often (nearly every Sunday for family lunches). Through this I was exposed to some levels of poverty. Tijuana, although a beautiful and vibrant city, also has much hardship. It is common to see people who are performing in the streets, or just asking for money or help at intersections. These images have stayed with me as I’ve grown, and remind me every day to be grateful for this life I live. By working at Edesia, I feel as though I am giving back to the community. I know that I am not helping the exact individuals that are imprinted in my memory, but I do know that I am helping people that are in need.

Edesia’s products give individuals much-needed nutrients; they also give hope and love to communities around the globe. I am proud to be a member of the Research & Development (R&D) team at a company that does such noble work — special shout out to Nicole [Ilic, nutritionist, who works remotely as she lives in California], Tim [Meier, food technologist], Charley [Morrill, also a JWU alum], Zenia [Adiwijaya], and Tom [Stehl, deputy director]. Thank you all for everything you do!

Edesia’s headquarters are located in a business park in North Kingstown (about 20 minutes south of Providence). The factory is absolutely beautiful, spacious, clean, and well lit. Big glass windows are seen throughout the facility which allows for a clear view of the production floor and the R&D test kitchen (which is where my computer and desk are located).

My first week at Edesia was wonderfully overwhelming. I was overwhelmed with excitement, the emotions that accompany graduation and the transition from school to a work schedule; I was also overwhelmed by the hospitality from the entire staff. The first week was filled with the range of training sessions that all new hires must attend. These included such topics as respect in the workplace, good manufacturing practices (GMPs), and proper safety protocols.

I immediately began working closely with the R&D team, which consists of Nicole, Tim, Charley and Zenia.

Charley and Zenia were extremely welcoming and immediately took initiative to show me the test kitchen and monitor simple tasks to help me understand how things work within the team. I learned so much about inventory and how to keep track of it, as well as how to properly use some pieces of equipment to run tests on the products and record the results. I was also trained in organoleptic testing — which, simply put, is looking and tasting the product to ensure that the color, appearance, aroma, and flavor is acceptable.

Those are all tasks that I am still held accountable for. From there my responsibilities expanded to include the following:

  • executing formulas created by the food technologist
  • conducting stability tests on some products
  • assisting in the organization of sensory panels and meetings
  • even minimal formula manipulation

Edesia also recently launched a product line for babies in the United States in order to help fund their production of products to be exported. Little Nut is an easy-to-swallow peanut butter designed to help reduce an infant’s risk of developing a peanut allergy. There are 3 flavors:

  • peanut banana
  • peanut strawberry
  • peanut apple cinnamon

Every day I learn something new — whether it’s about business in general, food science, how production in a plant works, and even about myself, which is what I love about this job! I love that I can leave the office after working a full day and have learned something useful, still feel positive, have high energy, and be proud of my day. I believe that this speaks not only to my personality but also to Edesia’s company culture, because there are jobs that can have opposite impact on an individual. Through this job, I have gained new levels of confidence in myself. I truly believe that I have more trust, understanding, and faith in myself and my ability to execute tasks successfully.

BELOW: NICO DERR '18 WORKING at Edesia Nutrition in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Photographed with NICO are R&D TECHNICIANS Charley Morrill (ALSO A JWU ALUM) and Zenia Adiwijaya. Photos: Mike Cohea

NICO DERR '18 WORKING at Edesia Nutrition in North Kingstown, Rhode Island

NICO are R&D TECHNICIANS Charley Morrill (ALSO A JWU ALUM) and Zenia Adiwijaya