Winter 2020

Graphic for "A Seat at the table" There is a fork, gavel, and plate

A Seat at the Table: Legal Careers in the Food Industry

By Lori Atherton

For this issue’s main story, we’re focusing on food and the varied career paths related to it that our alumni have chosen. We profile a U-M alumnus who, as a leading food lawyer, “has participated in the development of virtually every law and regulation affecting the food industry in the last four decades.” We also highlight a food writer who specializes in from-scratch cooking; an alumnus who started a second career as the owner-operator of a Culver’s fast-food franchise; alumni who serve as in-house lawyers for a large dairy company in the Northeast and a national chain steakhouse known for its Texas flair; and an environmental lawyer and rancher who advocates for sustainable and humane meat production.

 Paul Nightingale
Paul Nightingale, ’86

Dairy Innovator

In his 16 years as senior vice president and general counsel of the Massachusetts-based dairy company HP Hood LLC, Paul Nightingale, ’86, has witnessed many changes in the industry. One of the biggest is a consumer shift toward dairy alternatives.

“It’s a big trend in the beverage industry, as producers of oat-, nut-, and plant-based milk alternatives are growing market share,” Nightingale says. “People are looking for healthier ways of consuming the same kind of product, and that’s an area where HP Hood spends a lot of time and effort on innovation.”

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Nora FitzGerald Meldrum
Nora FitzGerald Meldrum, ’99

‘Legendary’ Legal Service

“Legendary food, legendary service” is the mission statement of the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain. And for in-house lawyer Nora FitzGerald Meldrum, ’99, legendary legal service is what she aspires to provide to the company and its nearly 60,000 employees.

“Although we aren’t serving up steaks in the legal department, we are definitely in the hospitality business,” says Meldrum, the associate general counsel of litigation and employment at the Louisville, Kentucky-based Texas Roadhouse. “And we want to provide our legal services in a legendary way so that our clients feel positive about their interactions with the litigation team. For us, it’s not just about what we do but how we do it.”

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Gary Jay Kushner
Gary Jay Kushner, AB ’72

Shaping Food Law

When Gary Jay Kushner, AB ’72, began his legal career in the mid-1970s, he had dreams of becoming the next Perry Mason. So it was by accident that instead of becoming a famous litigator, Kushner became one of the leading experts in food law—a niche area in which relatively few lawyers specialize.

Kushner—a 1975 Georgetown University Law Center graduate—had interviewed with a law firm that specialized in white-collar criminal law and was representing one of the Watergate defendants. It didn’t lead to a job there but instead to a staff counsel position with another of the firm’s clients, the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), a trade association that, at the time, represented the largest food manufacturers in the country, including General Mills, General Foods, Kraft, Conagra, Nestlé, and Procter & Gamble.

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Nicolette Hahn Niman
Nicolette Hahn Niman, ’93

Food Activist

On Nicolette Hahn Niman’s Northern California ranch, just outside San Francisco, beef cattle and heritage turkeys roam freely on wide-open spaces. Fresh air, clean water, and grassy pastures are in abundant supply. And buildings that continually confine large herds of animals are nowhere to be found. This type of farming, which Hahn Niman describes as humane and ecologically sustainable, is what she advocates for as a food activist, environmental lawyer, and writer.

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Emily Paster
Emily Paster, ’99

Cooking from Scratch

Take a peek at Emily Paster’s West of the Loop blog, and you’ll find recipes for braised beef brisket, potato latkes, and kreplach. Hungry yet? Paster has more recipes to share, including beginner peach jam, apple and honey cupcakes for Rosh Hashanah, and parmesan green bean fries made in an air fryer.

Paster, ’99, is a Chicago-area food writer and cook who specializes in from-scratch cooking, particularly Jewish cuisine, and home preservation. She develops original recipes in her own kitchen, many of which appear on her blog or in publications such as Midwest Living, Allrecipes Magazine, and The Nosher.

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Kevin Scott
Kevin Scott, ’83

Franchise Owner

It was a busy Friday night, and Kevin Scott, ’83, was learning how to work the fryers. It was his first day in the kitchen of a Culver’s fast-food restaurant, and Scott—unaccustomed to the cacophony of buzzers going off—was doing his best to keep up with the orders.

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