Monday, April 28, 2008

A look back at a semester of eating healthy on campus

TUCSON, Ariz. – So the journey ends.

The impending end of the semester – and my collegiate career – means the end of this blog on where to eat healthy on campus.

I hope the blog will continue to be visited by future UA students looking for a green place to eat on campus.

I’m happy with the work that I’ve done, navigating through the healthy options at the UA while taking a detour to discuss stadium food, among other things.

For those of you late to this blog, below is a one-sentence summary link of all the blogs I’ve done:

Introduction – What is eating green?

Many celebs, common folks flock to M Café for microbiotic eating in LA

How to eat a microbiotic diet

Cellar Restaurant to undergo health-related renovations

Newly-opened Core offers variety of salads on campus

IQ Fresh: a healthier alternative in the Union

Unions offer gluten-free food

Staples Center not all that healthy

Verizon Center not much better

Pro arenas starting to provide healthier alternatives once you get past the junk

Oy Vey Café offers a vegetarian menu in a family atmosphere

How to be a vegetarian at the UA

Eating green easier for Jews during Passover

I hope you enjoyed reading the blog as much as I did writing it.

My final reflections are that in the four years I’ve been a Wildcat, the student unions have made great strides in becoming healthier. When I made my so-called recruiting visit back in the spring of 2004, IQ Fresh wasn’t even around and you pretty much needed to order a salad that had been sitting out for who knows long to eat healthy.

But with students putting more and more emphasis on living a healthy lifestyle, Union operators such as David Galbraith have taken notice and given them what they want.

I anticipate a similar amount of growth in the next four years to the point that not eating healthy on campus will be a personal choice.

Hopefully that means fewer and fewer students will spend their collegiate careers as Panda Express-gulping carnivores like me.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Striving for a green Passover

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Jews hoping to eat healthy this week are probably asking themselves the question, “Why is this week different from all other weeks?"

The answer, of course, is that it’s Passover, an eight-day holiday that started Saturday night in which Jews are not supposed to eat any leavened products because the Jews in ancient Egypt did not have time for their bread to rise while fleeing.

That means saying goodbye to bread, pizza and cereal and a host of other options that a Jew might choose to eat during a normal week.

On the bright side, that makes Passover “one of the easiest and most convenient holidays to eat healthy,” Naomi Winner, the wife of UA Chabad rabbi Yossi Winner, wrote in an e-mail.

Because all flours and grains besides matzah are omitted from an observant Jew’s diet, many of those calories are substituted with fruits and vegetables, Winner wrote. Also, Jews who strictly follow Passover’s dietary laws would likely prepare their food on their own, which is typically healthier than eating out.

“One can eat any fish, chicken or lean cut of meat prepared in a healthy way with any fruit or vegetable,” Winner wrote.

For a Jew looking to eat particularly healthy for Passover, Winner suggested buying whole wheat or spelt matzah instead of the white flour variety.

I’ve uploaded pictures from my family’s seder in Scottsdale, which was fairly healthy thanks in part to my mom, who brought asparagus and fruit.

However, I was very disappointed my grandma did not bake the matzah muffins she’s famous for.

Matzah is a hard cracker Jews eat instead of bread during the holiday, which tastes incredibly plain and dry unless cooked as part of something such as matzah brie (basically matzah soaked and cooked in eggs) or my grandma’s muffins, which are also pretty much eggs and matzah.

My grandma said she chose not to make them this year because nobody should be eating them based on how unhealthy they are (my mom says Grandma puts a whole stick of margarine in there), still a disappointment for me but understandable.

For those having a seder in the future I found this site that explains how to have a healthy Passover, with low carb Gefilte fish, low carb soup and low carb, low fat lemon ice cream.

I found another site on how to have a sustainable Passover. It includes tips such as buying and grating fresh horseradish, substituting a roasted beet for the roasted lamb shank on the seder plate, serving local and ethically sourced meat, buying vegetables at a farmer’s market and most interesting hosting a vegetarian or vegan seder to get rid of your “gastronomical chametz.”

The site says the menu could consist of “almond quinoa salad, matzah lasagna, vegetarian matzah ball soup, roasted new potatoes with rosemary, Israeli salad, borscht (and) garlic sautéed fiddleheads.”

My family certainly did not go that far, although matzah ball soup made up part of a menu that included not very green but incredibly tasty brisket.

As Winner wrote, eating green can be easier for a Jew during Passover because of all the bread-related products eliminated from people’s diets, making more room for fruits and vegetables.

Still, even for somebody trying to eat green, it couldn’t have hurt that much if Grandma had just made those delicious matzah muffins.

Monday, April 14, 2008

It’s no problem being a vegetarian at the UA

TUCSON, Ariz. – I really needed a cheeseburger when I stepped off a plane at the Oakland International Airport during a basketball road trip to the Bay Area schools in January.

When I asked my trip partner, Daily Wildcat photographer Andrew Russell, where he wanted to eat he let me know a surprising secret about himself: he doesn’t eat meat.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, except for the fact none of my friends really practice vegetarianism. That and the other Daily Wildcat photographer I’ve made a road trip with orders a hamburger at practically every restaurant we go to.

Surprisingly, Russell was still up for what I feel to be a must-eat on a short trip to California, In-N-Out Burger.

Russell ordered a lettuce burger without any meat on it, which is the last thing I would ever do when eating at In-N-Out.

“For me it’s not the meat I like, it’s the stuff they put on it,” Russell said about the burger chain.

For all subsequent meals we always had to factor in what a vegetarian could eat, a different experience for me because I typically only think about what place has a good meat entrée when choosing where to dine. Surprisingly, we never found much difficulty finding a place that suited both of us.

I was curious where a vegetarian like Russell eats on campus, short of going to a vegetarian restaurant like Oy Vey Café profiled in this blog last week.

Russell said he often eats lunch on campus, with veggie burgers at the Park Student Union being a favorite of his, and other times he opts for one of the sandwich joints on University Boulevard, such as Which Wich?, Silver Mine Subs and Jimmy John’s.

“Everywhere has at least one thing,” Russell said. “I’m not going to go to a steakhouse or something.”

Russell, who eats food some total vegetarians won’t like gelatin, started eating this way in the middle of last summer after seeing how the diet works for his girlfriend. He said if they had not started dating it likely would not have entered his mind as a life choice, but meeting her introduced him to the whole new world of vegetarianism.

“I like to think at times it can be healthier,” Russell said. “I went a couple weeks without eating meat and I ate meat again and it gave me a headache every day for the next week, so it’s not that right now I feel, ‘Oh, I feel so much better not eating meat,’ but I know if I eat meat I won’t feel (as well) as much.”

Russell said he does not personally know anybody else on campus who is a vegetarian but figures there must be a number of them in the Students Organized for Animal Rights (SOAR) group, which has put on meatouts the past few years to encourage students not to eat meat.

On the UA College of Agriculture & Life Sciences Web site, Dr. Scottie Misner – a nutrition specialist – writes about the different levels of vegetarianism.

Total vegetarians do not eat any animal products, like Russell’s girlfriend. Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy but no other animal products including eggs, ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but no other kinds of animal products, lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat just dairy, eggs and plant food but no kind of meat and semi-vegetarians avoid red meat but eat food like chicken and fish.

Russell falls into the category of being a lacto-ovo-vegetarian.

The site also goes through a sample daily food guide for vegetarians, which includes pasta, dark-green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, nonfat dairy products and tofu.

Misner finishes with a final word on the importance of eating from each food group. In a vegetarian diet lacking meat it’s still essential to make sure you get enough protein.

That’s one problem I’ve never had to worry about.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Oy Vey Café provides vegetarian food, personal atmosphere

TUCSON, Ariz. – If you regularly enjoy lunch at Oy Vey Café you probably know Joyce Terry.

Terry, the manager of the vegetarian café located in the Hillel Center’s building, offers healthy, kosher food and a friendly atmosphere steps outside the main Student Union.

Oy Vey Café’s menu includes salads, quiches, sandwiches and paninis made fresh daily by Terry and her staff.

“The students are so bogged down and they use up so much of their energy, so if they can eat healthy they’re just going to be a lot better off,” said Terry, who has spent 10 years at her position and knows many of the students’ typical orders by heart.

Just this year the café, which has been open for about 17 years, has integrated some organic products into its mix, and next year plans are in the works to make the menu completely organic, although Terry could not guarantee that would happen.

Terry said the café also has been doing research into buying reusable, recyclable products such as silverware, utensils, cups and paper goods, hoping Oy Vey Café can do away with the Styrofoam cups it currently uses.

But you won’t find the restaurant more than referenced with the vending machines on the Student Union’s dining site because it’s not a Union entity, and Terry prides herself on building up a strong customer base mainly from word of mouth.

“That’s when you know it’s good,” Terry said. “We do no advertising whatsoever. Nothing.”

When Terry started 10 years ago she said the restaurant served about 60 people daily, a number that has since ballooned to about 150-200 people per day.

Although it features a Jewish name and is nestled inside of the Hillel building, Terry said Oy Vey Café is much more than just a Jewish place. She said students from the Newman Center are frequent visitors, as are vegetarians and others who enjoy the Mediterranean fare offered.

Terry admitted the prices at Oy Vey Café are a bit higher than what students might pay at the Union because it’s a kosher product, but she said she keeps an edge on that to make sure the prices are comparable.

“I think that we’re strong as what we have to offer for the quality of our food, and it’s a little more personal,” Terry said, “so I think a lot of people like to come here also because it feels comfortable and it’s kind of like a place for them to go that they know that they’re welcome, and I don’t think that they get that at the Union.

“I think people don’t mind paying because you do, everybody that comes in here I know their name, and I think that they’re getting a little more special touch. … So I think that’s important to them, too.”

After saying that Terry looked over to a student enjoying a panini for lunch and said, “Don’t you think, Jacob? I’ve known Jacob for how many years? Three?”

That personal atmosphere – not to mention the vegetarian, kosher food – makes Oy Vey Café one of the hidden gems of healthy eating on campus.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Pro arenas healthier beneath the surface of junk

TUCSON, Ariz. – I’ve been quite critical of stadium food in the past two entries based mainly on the eye test walking around the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., but any good journalist knows there’s often more to the story than what can be found on the main concourse.

That’s what Patti Green, the marketing director in the West for Levy Restaurants, explained to me. (Levy Restaurants takes care of arena fare for about 100 locations around the nation, including Staples and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Chase Field, US Airways Center and Dodge Theatre in Phoenix.)

Green said many of the stadiums offer a chef’s harvest selection in their restaurants, such as Staples’ Lexus Club, which focuses on “natural, locally-grown and organic ingredients, things they would maybe find at a farmer’s market.”

“We really take great care in making sure that at all of our locations we have a selection of options for people looking for healthier choices or the lifestyle they have,” Green said.

Dodger Stadium has what Green called a “healthy cart” where specialties like an oven-roasted turkey wrap, a grilled vegetable wrap, hummus, fruit salad and apples can be found.

She said it was very popular last season in its first year, so they’re adding another cart.

“With it being LA they seem to be very conscious there of what they eat,” Green said.

Closer to Tucson, Chase Field – the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks – serves veggie dogs and plans are in the works to offer grilled chicken tenders with a fresh fruit cup and vegetables on the kids menu so children don’t have to eat the usual hot dog, fries and soda.

Levy Restaurants started out as a restaurant company, so Green said it aims to serve its customers with a variety of options just as if it were a physical restaurant without a stadium attached to it.

“We look at it the same way when you come into a sporting event,” she said. “It’s not just about who’s playing on the court or on the field, it is the overall experience, and we do recognize there are people that have differences, be it dietary needs or want a healthier lifestyle. A lot of people are very into green and local sustainable options as well, so we just work to make sure to try to offer those.”

When asked about her take on UA concessions manager Brett Brestel’s comments concerning people not caring as much about eating healthy at a game as they do the rest of the week, Green did not completely disagree.

“For us it’s just about offering the options,” she said. “We understand we have a lot of different people from a lot of different walks of life. Some people want beer and brats and some people might not.”

Stadium food has always gotten a bad rap for being unhealthy, something the newly-instituted “healthy cart” aims to counterbalance.

Nobody’s asking ballparks and arenas to become Whole Foods, but it’s nice that at least the consumers have the choice of if they want the dog and a beer or something like a grilled vegetable wrap at pro arenas staffed by Levy Restaurants – even if the majority of the options are often quite unhealthy as I learned during my investigation.

“We want to try to cater for all of our fans and not the select group,” Green said. “Our goal is anybody who comes into one of our venues has options and is happy with the options and recognizes we’re trying to provide them something above and beyond what their expectations might be.”

Although college arenas like McKale Center sell food to smaller audiences than those Levy Restaurants offers meals to, the company’s commitment to providing healthy options proves it can be done.

It might hurt the profit margin a bit, but I wouldn’t be surprised if healthier food sells well in McKale – and Arizona Stadium for that matter – next to the pretzels, nachos and hot dogs it would be going up against.

As America becomes more health conscious, McKale should take a look at making its concession stands go green, at least a little bit.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Unable to eat green in the Verizon Center

WASHINGTON – After taking a look at the lack of green items in the Staples Center in Los Angeles last week, my trip to the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. to cover the Arizona men’s basketball team in the NCAA Tournament provided the perfect opportunity to see how things compared on the East Coast.

The verdict: things aren’t any greener on the other side of the country.

I took a walk around the main concourse of the stadium for lunch Thursday to see if any green options existed, but all I found were the same types of stadium food at Staples and on a smaller scale McKale Center.

Maybe UA concessions manager Brett Brestel was right, fans just don’t care about eating healthy.

I certainly didn’t mind chowing down on a delicious beef sandwich, but what about those trying to eat green?

Smithfield BBQ hit the spot for me with a piping hot beef on a bun and other stations offered carved meat, but that’s not going to do much for anybody trying to eat green.

I saw a “power grill,” but all the power it was serving up comes in the form of the calories from its burgers, hot dogs, chicken fingers and fries.

I also passed by plenty of places offering hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn, pretzels and other assorted junk food at station after station, with one sign even saying, “Fill up, Buster!” above pictures of four hot dogs surrounded by popcorn and nachos.

The only thing you’ll be filling up is the bathroom with that kind of a diet.

The Verizon Center also has a Chinese concession stand that seemed like a glorified version of Panda Express with orange chicken as one of the featured entrees, but again, there’s nothing green about that.

In my previous article, Brestel basically explained to me that fans go to games to get away from their normal diet and just want to eat food that will get them back to their seats as soon as possible.

That’s really a shame, because by not offering these types of healthy options arenas are giving fans no choice but to eat junk food. As I learned when I interviewed a few students in McKale Center, the public would likely respond to healthier choices.

It also seems like it would create an economic boost for the arena’s concession stands. When I go to a game as a fan, I try to avoid the concessions altogether and eat either before or after the game because I know what kind of food is generally offered, not to mention the jacked up prices.

Offering healthier foods would likely attract a larger concessions audience and thus more dollars.

And we all know what dollars mean in the world of sports.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Trying to eat green in Staples Center

LOS ANGELES – After working on a story for The Cat Scan on eating green in McKale Center, I wondered how things differed in a professional arena in a big market.

My trip to
Staples Center in Los Angeles this week to cover UA basketball in the Pac-10 Tournament provided the perfect opportunity to find out.

But like everything else in LA, it was complicated getting any answers.

I spoke to a worker at the media buffet, who brought me somebody who deals with food at Staples Center, who brought me Staples Center executive chef Matthew Herter. He gave me the number of
Patti Green, the sales and marketing director of Levy Restaurants in the West Region, who apparently is the only person the company wants talking about its food.

Then when I called her on Friday, Saturday and Monday all I got was her answering machine, so unfortunately I won’t have an official source on what Staples Center brings to the table and how it differs from other major arenas.

Although UA concessions manager Brett Brestel told me people don’t care about eating healthy at sporting events, I wondered how things differed in a much bigger venue in a much bigger market.

Besides the fact it offers many more choices, the eye test says Staples isn’t much different from

Both stadiums feature your typical assortment of hot dogs, pretzels and nachos, which are literally the staples of arena fare. It seems like every stadium has that o
ne concession stand that keeps repeating over and over with these typical food choices.

Beyond that,
California Pizza Kitchen has a deal to be the exclusive pizza supplier of Staples Center and represents a chain not found in McKale Center. I enjoyed the pizza there but not the price.

The arena also sells sushi, a delicacy that certainly cannot be found anywhere near McKale, but the healthiest offering could be deli sandwiches it offers along with the typical concession food and a Mexican food stop.

Besides the concessions, the stadium hosts the AMEX Arena Club, Lexus Club and Fox Sports Sky Box, as well as the Royal Room for season-ticket holders

I will keep trying to reach Green for a future blog where she will likely be able to enlighten me on some green options in Staples Center, but from my walk around the main concourse, it didn’t look too different from McKale save for the increase in choices expected from a major arena.

Maybe Brestel was right about sports arenas not being a place where people want to eat green.

Keep reading this blog to find out about green eating choices in the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.