Roy Choi Serves Up LocoL at UCLA – and Tells Us How to Eat Well on a Student Budget

By: Hannah Malan, PhD Student, Community Health Sciences, UCLA; Graduate Student Researcher, UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative EatWell Pod

Chef Roy Choi describes his delicious and trailblazing Kogi tacos as “LA on a plate.” Growing up as a Korean American “immigrant kid” in Los Angeles, Roy says he embraced his mother’s relentless “gangster” spirit, ultimately establishing himself as a leader not only in the kitchen, but also in the community.

His wild success with Kogi earned him recognition as a founder of the food truck movement that quickly spread across the country. Now, he is redefining the role of chefs in connecting with and feeding their communities. His latest endeavor, a Watts-based burger joint called LocoL, was just named the Los Angeles Times Restaurant of the Year. In explaining his selection, renowned food critic Jonathan Gold said, in a nutshell, “It should feel like LA.” In other words, it should be provocative, purpose-driven, and reflective of people that bring it to life.

LocoL does just that – and more. It calls for a fast food revolution and states this in its mission: “We fundamentally believe that wholesomeness, deliciousness and affordability don’t have to be mutually exclusive concepts in fast food. We believe that fast food restaurants can truly empower the communities they currently underserve.”

When it came time to choose the eats to serve up at our UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative Celebration, we couldn’t think of a better chef to contribute to our #DreamRevolution themed event. With a few days to go before the celebration, I asked Roy to share his dreams and insights about food justice and eating well.

His answers? Quick, juicy, and impressive – just how I imagine his food will be at our event on May 4th. Enjoy the words of wisdom, and join us at the celebration for live performances and, yes…FREE food by the team at LocoL. As a bonus, check out the recipe below (inspired by Roy’s advice) to make at home.

HM: What does food justice mean to you, and how does it inform your work?

RC: I’m not political. Justice to me is action and love. My role is to heal and build, not debate and destroy. I am a healer.

HM: A recent University of California (UC) study found that 42% of UC students have experienced food insecurity, defined as the uncertain or limited ability to get adequate food due to lack of financial resources. I was recently involved in facilitating focus group discussions with UCLA students and heard that students often find it challenging to get and prepare food that is healthy, delicious, and affordable. How might students elevate inexpensive ingredients to improve their diets and enjoy their food?

RC: I always say rice. If you have rice then you can build. Rice allows you to explore vegetables and flavor like nothing else. Start with rice and eat it with the things you hate, watch, you’ll hate them less. Now imagine that with things you love. It works all ways.

HM: Time is also a barrier for students who are often working in addition to taking rigorous course loads at UCLA. Any advice around making time to eat and/or prepare wholesome food?

RC: Eat small meals throughout the day. Snack on nuts and fruits not candy. Drink lots of water. Eat lots of fatty foods and spicy foods.

HM: What’s your message for students interested in improving not only their own health and wellbeing, but also working on food justice and health promotion in their communities?

RC: Food is life in almost every culture except the United States. Think about that.

HM: Given the theme of our Healthy Campus Initiative Celebration is Dream Revolution, what’s your dream for the food movement?

RC: I’m living it. LocoL is a dream that came to life. But dreams aren’t clouds with buffets of hot fudge. It has twists and turns. A dream turns into a nightmare daily then back to a dream.

HM: Your team will be serving some LocoL menu items at the celebration. Lucky us! Can you give us a little taste of what to expect?

RC: Foldies. Burgers. Rice bowls. Aguas frescas. Yum.

Come experience LocoL and the #DreamRevolution spirit at our UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative Celebration from 4-7pm on Thursday, May 4th. The event is open to the community. Tickets are FREE at UCLA’s Central Ticket Office or $25 online.

If you can’t make it to UCLA on May 4th, visit LocoL in Watts and follow the revolution on social: @welocol @healthyUCLA #DreamRevolution

Dream on!

Budget Bytes Vegetable Not Fried Rice


  • 2 cloves garlic (1)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger (1)
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 4 green onions
  • 2 Tbsp cooking oil (2)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cups cooked and cooled* rice (3)
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • ½ Tbsp toasted sesame oil (2)

Total cost: $3.33 ($0.83 per serving)

Get the full recipe here.

1EatWell Tip: Spices and herbs are smart options for adding flavor without extra salt – some may have added health benefits, too.

2EatWell Tip: Fats are a major source of energy and play an important role in a healthful diet. Eggs, avocados, nuts, and oils are great sources of healthy fats.

3 EatWell Tip: By switching from white to brown rice, you’ll get more fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. As a whole grain food, brown rice can help with weight control and reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. You can also make a big batch of brown rice and simply freeze what you don’t use. Here’s the how-to guide from Budget Bytes.


The Brain and Your Bacterial Microbiome

Ever hear the saying “you are what you eat”? Well that’s actually true, to an extent. The food we put into our bodies can significantly affect how our brain operates.

There’s been an explosion of new studies that are looking at how the millions of bacteria or microbial changes in our stomachs are affecting our brain function and mental health. And what makes this new research so perplexing is how the results show that some bacteria are actually good for our bodies, contrary to popular belief. This fact is even seen in our everyday lives with rows of grocery store shelves filled with probiotic pills, yogurts, drinks, and more!

The microbiome within our bodies has an extensive symbiotic relationship with us that dates back to even before humans were alive. Bacteria cells have evolved alongside human cells and it seems that we are just now recognizing that not all bacteria cause diseases or make you get sick. Studies have even found that some bacteria may even produce many of the brain’s neural chemicals as seen in the table below.

In one study, mice born without bacteria were studied and researchers discovered that the mice moved and explored more abnormally, had reduced levels of serotonin and brain derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF) in the amygdala and hippocampus, and boosts in corticotropin-releasing factor and adrenocorticotropic hormone, both signs of high stress. To think that any bacteria could have such a huge impact on our mental health and behavior is fascinating to say the least.

Studies consistently demonstrate how much diet and mental health truly correlate. In another recent Oregon State research study, researchers discovered that diets loaded in high fat and sugar have been shown to reduce cognitive flexibility, thinking, and memory. That’s actually pretty scary to think about! As finals are approaching and lectures aren’t slowing down, many of us might not think much about the types of food we eat, let alone how much it could affect us come test time. We often simply go for either the easiest or fastest option, and more often than not, we find ourselves choosing foods that are not necessarily conducive for our stomach’s healthy microbial environment.

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As you already know, choosing a healthy balanced diet is not only important for your physical health, but now you know it is arguably even more important to enhance your learning and support your ability to succeed in school. Diets with fish, such as salmon or tuna, are rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which supports active neuron function. Green vegetables like kale, spinach, and broccoli are also good sources of vitamin E and folic acid while avocados and berries have good antioxidants that reduce memory loss. Tomatoes also promote higher brain function because of its large amount of licopene, which has been shown to reduce neural cell damage (Health Benefits of Food). Even probiotic supplements such as acidophilus pills or drinks/yogurts like kombucha or kefir seem to foster and enhance the healthy stomach bacterial microbiome while also providing a myriad of other health benefits. Taking control of our own diet will help put us in control of our mental health. Check out even more foods that are great for your brain here. As we take control of our own diets in midterm season and maintain a healthier microbiome environment within our stomachs, maybe we’ll even see the effects of these changes on our memory and stress levels.

Its also important to note that our stomachs are, in fact, not the only microbiome that is important to maintain. The oral microbiome is a rich environment full of ‘good’ bacteria that can both affect a lot of other functions in your body and also is a good indicator of your overall health. Sugars are not only destroying the bacteria and components in our saliva that protect our teeth but are making us more prone to cavities. A healthy alternative to sugars, Xylitol, is now widely popular and is protecting our oral microbiome. According to numerous studies, a healthy oral and stomach microbiome are both crucial to good mental health and this can be accomplished through a mindful diet.

While all the research thus far has expanded our knowledge of the body’s very own microbiome and how our diet impacts our mental health, we have just began to graze this huge field. With new studies popping up each month, it’s fascinating to see what researchers are discovering. Making myself more aware of how my own body functions has empowered me to change my own diet and supplement it with healthy bacteria/probiotics. I hope this overview has made you more aware and interested in this field and potentially influenced you to always be mindful of what you are eating.

Phillip Cox is a 4th year Bioengineering major and blogger for the Eat Well Pod within the Healthy Campus Initiative.