This article was originally published in the March 2018 Princeton Echo.

As director of operations Catharine Vaucher seeks to bring sustainability to the program founded by Dor Mullen.

It’s 12:15 on a recent Monday afternoon, and a group of women gather around a dining room table in a Princeton home. They are eager to share the meal they have prepared together. The menu includes herbed lentils; a beet, cabbage, and orange slaw; roasted tofu cubes; kraut; almond crackers; and two kinds of soup: vegetables and herbs in a coconut broth for vegans, and a combination of chicken and vegetables for those who opted to include meat.

The menu is based on eating whole foods: no sugar or flour from milled grains, and limited dairy or processed foods.

It might seem like a one-of-a-kind luncheon party but it’s not. In fact lunches and dinners much like this one are being held frequently throughout Prince­ton every week. The meal is part of the 12-year-old Suppers program, started by Princeton resident Dor Mullen with a goal of creating “a world free of suffering caused by processed food.” Suppers recognizes vegan, paleo, omnivore, low carb, and other dietary styles. This meal, for example, is based on the theme “Vegan Plus One,” a plant-based meal that also includes one entree for non-vegan participants.

In 2017 Suppers hosted more than 300 lunch or dinner meetings — about 25 meetings per month. More than 2,011 meals were served. The nonprofit charges a nominal fee for each meal — $8 to $12. In addition Suppers also offered more than 40 workshops to the community, many of them held at the Whole Earth Center.

Until recently Mullen was running all the programs while managing part time staffers and the board as well as marketing projects. At some point, Mullen and the board realized they needed a person on staff to manage the big picture, to help them grow, and bring in sustainable income.

‘A friend took me to a Suppers meeting where I learned over time how I could eliminate chronic migraines and mood swings just by making some simple changes to my diet.’

That person turns out to be one of the women at this lunch, Catharine Vaucher, hired late last year to be the director of operations. Vaucher has a long resume of qualifications that would make her a likely candidate for such a position, including launching the annual Hi-Tops Half Marathon. In addition to all that, however, was one other thing.

At the lunch the participants are asked to share some information about themselves. A talking stick (in this case, a wooden spoon) is passed around the table as each person shares what drew them to Suppers and today’s lunch. When it’s Vaucher’s turn, the group learns that she discovered the program about nine years ago. “A friend took me to a Suppers meeting where I learned over time how I could eliminate chronic migraines and mood swings just by making some simple changes to my diet,” says Vaucher.

Vaucher’s experience reflects the fairly recent expansion of Suppers’ scope, working on various pilot courses that explore the effect of eating styles on health issues, such as diabetes and cognitive loss. Research-based education is a critical component of Suppers’ growth in this area. Mullen and board member Maria (Adi) Benito-Herrero, M.D., a Princeton-based endocinologist, are piloting an eight-week series on diet and blood sugar for people who are pre-diabetic or recently diagnosed with diabetes.

“At the end of the pilot course, I’ll go in and do a focus group with them and get feedback from the participants,” Vaucher says.

Other offerings Suppers is developing include a workshop and a pilot series focusing on brain health. The focus will be on the reversible causes of cognitive losses like environmental toxins, infections, and compromised immunity, especially as they relate to digestion, fitness, and stress.

“The program will be appropriate for people who are concerned about cognitive losses, preventively through diet and lifestyle changes,” Mullen says. The syllabus is based on the work of Suppers’ collaborators at Sharp Again Naturally, a Larchmont, New York-based Alzheimer’s prevention group, plus Dr. Mark Hyman’s docu-series, “The Broken Brain,” and Dr. Dale Bredesen’s book, “The End of Alzheimer’s.”

“Dor collects testimonials from people who attend the Suppers meetings,” says Vaucher. People have reported they have reversed diagnoses, reduced their medications, lost weight, and stabilized blood sugar.

In addition to offering programs and workshops to the public, Suppers works in partnerships with other organizations. In 2017 Suppers teamed up with the Northeast Organic Farming Association to host an event titled “Sourcing Health Locally.” “That partnership helped extend Suppers’ mission to include farmers, food consumers, cooks, and medical practitioners in one forum to support healthy eating and a vibrant community,” says Vaucher.

Vaucher says partnerships and community have been always been important aspects of her career. As the director of development for the teen sex-education and wellbeing program, HiTops, Vaucher founded and managed the fund-raising event, the Princeton Half Marathon.

The motivation behind the event was to help the HiTops board and staff raise money and express the need for sex education and AIDS awareness.

“We had all those different people working together. It’s nonprofits coming together to address aspects of their missions through collaboration,” Vaucher says, adding that you can’t do everything by yourself all the time. “It gave me such pleasure, and it still does. When I see people running to prepare for the half marathon, that’s awesome. In creating that event, I feel that I’ve left some sort of legacy for health in Princeton.”

“The half marathon satisfied a HiTops need. The runners wanted the event, and the town wanted to do it. I could tell from the first race that this was a community affair. This was more than just a local nonprofit event. The part I really enjoyed was working with all the stakeholders, from the mayor, the town administrator, the police, the churches, the downtown businesses, the Chamber, and the residents.

“If challenges came up during that year and a half of planning, we just came back to the table and worked them out,” Vaucher says. “The marathon brings people together and creates a platform where HiTops can talk about its work. The event draws people from around the world and has been sold out every year.”

In addition to her work in Princeton, Vaucher has taught courses in nonprofit management at Mercer County Community College.

‘I really do consider how I use my time on this earth to be the best person I can be and to contribute in a way that helps others be the best they can be.’

Vaucher credits her interest in health and lifestyle to growing up in southern California, and she credits her ability to combine intuition and logic to her family. She says her mother — a kindergarten teacher and family home maker — was creative, and her father — an engineer — was practical.

Her grandparents had an even stronger influence on her life, she says. Her grandfather was an artist and her grandmother was a yoga teacher. Vaucher would eventually pick up her grand mom’s path, but her first love was dance.

Before college, she took a gap year and performed with local dance companies. Eventually, she enrolled at the University of California, Irvine where she received degrees in fine arts and philosophy, and went on to receive a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The combination served both body and mind, she says. And that grew into body, mind, and spirit.

She then taught at the University of George, Athens, and New York University. She opted to settle in Princeton rather than live in the city. Her son, Theo, who recently received a degree in industrial design from the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, has just moved back home.

Vaucher taught dance and contact improvisation from 1995 to 2001 and also in 2008. During that time, the Arts Council of Princeton was the home-base for her dance company Animage (an image of anima) which performed in Princeton, New York City, Philadelphia and D.C. This past April, she spoke at her Wisconsin alma mater where she encouraged dancers to model for and inspire others through their art. Today she teaches movement and improvisation for various groups and spiritual communities.

Her love of movement and body-mind awareness eventually led her to yoga. She enrolled in an Iyengar yoga class and noticed her practice on the mat was having a positive effect on her body throughout the day.

Seeking deeper understanding, she completed an Iyengar teacher training course. She has been teaching for four years and currently holds classes at Princeton University; Smart Asana, Kingston; and a local masonic lodge.

Vaucher is enrolled in an advanced training program and finds the Iyengar style to be very deep. “There is wisdom behind each of the sequence and poses. It’s a practice for coming to terms with who you are. Some yoga classes are about keeping people moving and keeping them happy and feeling good,” she says. “The Iyengar style puts more attention on the body-mind aspect. It’s beautiful to see people [come to class] with all their idiosyncrasies and different bodies and different energies and begin to explore this practice for self-realization.”

“It’s just like Suppers,” she says, adding that people approach the lunch or dinner meetings with their particularities, challenges, and a common desire for wellbeing.

Pursuing her interest in the body-mind connection, Vaucher visited a monastery in Colorado about 10 years ago. She recalls a conversation with a resident monk that explored the topic of human evolution and consciousness. He suggested she read the works of American philosopher Ken Wilber and Jesuit philosopher and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, who predicted that the next evolutionary shift will happen through social connection.

“I firmly believe this is our next phase, acknowledging ourselves as evolutionary beings, and that we’ll be evolving together,” Vaucher says.

“For me, everything is about evolution. Everything,” Vaucher says, adding that this perspective ties in to her work with yoga and her work with Suppers.

“We’re not stuck in the limitations of who we think we are or who we were yesterday. We’re on this path,” she says. “I really do consider how I use my time on this earth to be the best person I can be and to contribute in a way that helps others be the best they can be.”