Nancy Rutter Clark © Joe Gaffney

Where for many, plentiful and easy-to-access food is a sign of well-being, Nancy Rutter Clark sees a growing crisis.

"I grew up in the 1950s at the beginning of packaged food, and we ate all of that food because it was modern," she says. "But there was a lot of flawed science around the food. Now we have an obesity epidemic that is completely out of control."

As principal of The Octavia Foundation, a charitable organization that focuses on issues of food, health and nutrition, Ms. Clark is actively moving the needle on the issue of obesity. One very tangible way is through the recently established Octavia Foundation Endowed Fund, which will support the Drexel Food Lab in the University’s Center for Hospitality and Sport Management.

The Drexel Food Lab is an interdisciplinary research group that aims to solve real-world problems in the areas of recipe development, product development and product ideation. Current projects are focused in the areas of sustainability, health promotion and non-communicable disease prevention to develop affordable, sustainable and healthy food products and recipes.

Ms. Clark’s donation has been "transformative," says Jonathan Deutsch, professor of culinary arts and food science and founding director of the Center. "Nancy’s gift enabled us to unite varied and piecemeal projects into a clean and polished comprehensive structure where we have the consistency of student engagement to be ready for anything that comes our way."

The people who come to our website are sick; they need reliable information, and [the Drexel Food Lab] gives us information that we know people can trust.

That sense of student engagement was one of Ms. Clark’s biggest motivators in deciding to support the Lab. "This is very important for Drexel students, who get to be part of hands-on projects," she says.

The Foundation’s gift to Drexel goes in part to support the efforts of Cook For Your Life, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching healthy cooking to people touched by cancer, through free cooking lessons and through its website. Ms. Clark is chair of the board and a founding director.

Drexel students will be working in the Lab to validate recipes for use by Cook For Your Life - testing that forms a crucial part of that organization’s work. "The people who come to our website are sick; they need reliable information, and this gives us information that we know people can trust," explains Ms. Clark.

Ms. Clark’s leadership in public food and nutrition extends beyond the Octavia Foundation and Cook For Your Life. She serves on the advisory board for Drexel’s Center for Hospitality and Sport Management. She also is active as an advisory board member of the Edible Schoolyard Project, which has a mission to build and share a national edible education curriculum for pre-kindergarten through high school.

As she looks across the culinary landscape, Ms. Clark says she is pleased to see the local-food movements and farm-to-fork trends that are encouraging local and regional ingredients.

"It’s a good thing," she says. "Would you rather eat a freshly picked apple or one that is flown across the world from Peru? It’s obviously much better to eat an apple in New England in the fall, when it still has all its nutrition packed inside."

The Drexel Food Lab