2017 Symposium Speaker Bios

2017 ATXRD Wellness Symposium Speaker Bios:

Keynote speaker:

Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.
Food Sleuth®, LLC … “Helping People Think Beyond Their Plates






Melinda Hemmelgarn, a.k.a. the Food Sleuth®, is an award-winning writer, speaker, and nationally syndicated radio host, with more than 35 years’ experience in clinical, academic, and public health nutrition. Recognizing the power of media to influence food choice, Melinda created and directed the Nutrition Communication Center at the University of Missouri – Columbia, and blazed the trail blending media literacy with nutrition education. She wrote a weekly newspaper column for 25 years, and hosted “Food Sleuth TV” on community access television. Her weekly Food Sleuth Radio program, in its 8th year, is syndicated through Pacifica and Public Radio Exchange, and ranks among the nation’s top “green food radio shows.”

As a nutritionist, Melinda embraces rigorous, independent, peer-reviewed research. However, her work in journalism and training in media literacy taught her to recognize the power of words, images and storytelling in shaping public opinion, influencing policy, and promoting social and environmental justice. With her photographer husband, Dan Hemmelgarn, Melinda created “F.A.R.M.: Food, Art, Revolution, Media – A Focus on Photography to Re-Vitalize Agriculture and Strengthen Democracy.” Their project combines compelling images with farmers’ stories, and contrasts food and farming media spin with rural realities.

Melinda received her B.S. in Food and Nutrition from Florida State University, and earned an M.S. in Human Nutrition and Food Systems Management from the University of Missouri. She completed her dietetic internship through Cornell University/ New York Hospital, in New York City, and holds a certificate in adult weight management through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In addition to her formal training, Melinda counts her former patients, and organic farmers among her most influential teachers.

Melinda and her husband are most grateful for their two grown children. Avid nature enthusiasts, they enjoy canoeing, biking, hiking and camping in state and national parks.


Reihaneh Hajibeigi

Regional Volunteer Services Officer, American Red Cross serving Central and South Texas

Reihaneh Hajibeigi has been with the Red Cross since January 2013. She first served as an executive coordinator, then led the international services team before transitioning in July 2016 as the Regional Volunteer Services Officer and Regional International Services Lead. Hajibeigi has been involved with the Red Cross since the age of 15 — she was a founder of the club at her high school in Dallas. When she began her studies at UT Austin, she again became involved with the Red Cross and completed an internship before joining the team as an employee. Reihaneh has played competitive soccer since she was 10 years old and enjoys any sort of physical, and of course, competitive, activity. She also paints and does calligraphy when time permits.


Judith McGeary

Executive Director, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance

Judith McGeary is an attorney, activist, and sustainable farmer.  After earning her Bachelors of Science from Stanford University and her law degree with high honors from the University of Texas at Austin, she clerked for a Federal Appeals Court and went on to private law practice.  During that time, she became a passionate advocate of sustainable agriculture, and she and her husband established their own livestock farm.  After seeing how government regulations benefit industrial agriculture at the expense of family farms, she founded the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance to promote common-sense policies for local, diversified agricultural systems. Judith has been profiled in the Texas Observer and Edible Austin, appears in the documentary Farmageddon, and has been interviewed on numerous radio shows across the country. Judith has served as the Vice Chair of the U.S. Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health and is also active with Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the Weston A. Price Foundation, and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.


Janet Pichette

Chief Epidemiologist, Epidemiology and Public Health Preparedness Division, Austin Public Health

Janet Pichette is the Chief Epidemiologist with the Austin Public Health, Epidemiology and Public Health Preparedness Division. Janet also serves as the Director for the Epidemiology Public Health Preparedness Division.  The Division includes the Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance and Public Health Emergency Preparedness programs and the Office of Vital Records.  She received her B.S. degree in Health Education from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a M.S. in Health Research focusing on epidemiology from Texas State University, and a Public Health Informatics Certificate from the University of Texas at Austin.

Janet has 33 years of public health experience.  In her current position, she has led the medical sheltering response for Hurricanes Gustav and Ike and served in medical operations for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  She has also led the public health response for the Halloween Floods in 2013 and 2015.

Prior to joining the City of Austin in 2004, Janet worked as an epidemiologist for the State of Texas for 18 years in the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Department of Health (TDH).  Her work focused on health studies and disease surveillance activities defining the epidemiology of occupational disease, cancer, respiratory diseases and other environmental health problems, toxicology and risk assessment, policy development, and strategic planning.


Eddie Rodriguez

State Representative, Texas’ House District 51

Representative Eddie Rodriguez, first elected to the State Legislature in 2002, will serve his eighth term in the Texas House in 2017. He proudly represents the people of House District 51, which consists of East Austin and Southeast Travis County.

Eddie is the co-founder and Chair of the Texas House Farm-to-Table Caucus. The first of its kind in the nation, the bipartisan Caucus focuses on increasing access to healthy foods, encouraging local food production and supporting local farm based-economies. He is the Policy Chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC), the oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus in the United States, Chair of the YMCA Caucus and an active member of the House Democratic Caucus and the Legislative Study Group. Eddie currently serves on the House Committees on Economic & Small Business Development and Environmental Regulation.

Eddie was born and raised in Rio Grande Valley, where he graduated from McAllen Memorial High School. He studied Government at The University of Texas at Austin and earned his Law degree in 2008 from The University of Texas School of Law. Prior to his election, he served as both the Chief of Staff to Representative Glen Maxey and as the Executive Director of the Travis County Democratic Party.

Eddie’s legislative agenda has addressed environmental issues, hunger and nutrition, urban agriculture, job creation, housing, education, and health and human services. Some of his legislative accomplishments include; the ‘Cottage Foods Bill’, which promotes local farm-based economies and access to healthy foods for all Texans, the ‘School Breakfast Bill’, which helped ensure that Texas students are able start their school day with a healthy breakfast, as well as a package of bills reforming the craft beer industry and supporting small Texas breweries.

The Representative has served on the boards of the Alliance for Public Transportation, the Anti-Defamation League (Austin), Austin Habitat for Humanity, Austin Pets Alive!, the Capital Area Council of Governments, the City of Austin’s Working Group on Sustainable Development, the Economic Growth Business Incubator, and Urban Roots.


Sarvenaz Vandyousefi, RD

Registered Dietitian, PhD Student in  Nutritional Sciences

Sarvenaz Vandyousefi is a registered dietitian and PhD student in nutritional sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. Her current research assesses the landscapes of Austin school gardens. Vandyousefi has received numerous awards including the Graduate School Continuing Fellowship and Dean of Graduate Studies Recruitment Fellowship.  In her free time, she enjoys playing tennis, swimming, listening to music and traveling.

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