The De Neve Flex Bar: Shifting from Animal-based to Plant-based Protein

The De Neve Flex Bar is at the forefront of the UCLA Dining Services’ new initiative of moving from animal to plant-based proteins. The triangle-shaped Flex Bar at De Neve Dining commons opened at the beginning of UCLA’s academic winter quarter in 2017 and its popularity has continuously grown. Peter Angelis, Assistant Vice Chancellor of UCLA Housing & Hospitality Center, came up with this idea about a year ago and with the help of Al Ferrone, Senior Director of UCLA Food and Beverage, and the rest of the Healthy Campus Initiative Team, the project has been implemented and has already seen much success. All of the dishes, over 12 different salads in total, have plant-based proteins as the main ingredient with animal-based proteins as the “condiment.”

The De Neve Flex Bar. Photo by Phillip Cox.

De Neve dining commons has long been thought of as the “classic dining hall,” serving American foods such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza every day of the week. The goal of the Flex Bar as Dr. Cowgill, of the Department of Health Policy and Management, says is to “ultimately make the healthy option the default option.” Having tried the new Flex Bar at De Neve a few weeks ago, I found all the different salads delicious and refreshing, and was left wanting more! Just reading the names peaked my interest: “Charred Cruciferous Salad with Cotija & Almonds,” or “Ecuadorian Chicken & Vegetable Pasta Salad,” or “Kale, Spicy Lentil, Quinoa, Date & Almond Salad.” I found myself getting full from many of these different salads and not having to go for that extra slice of pizza or that unneeded hamburger.

Some of the salads offered at the De Neve Flex Bar. Photo by Philip Cox.

It is these salads that I would normally find myself ordering at a nice restaurant out in Los Angeles, but to think that I could just get it on campus in a dining hall really attests to why UCLA has some of the best college dining hall foods in the United States.


UCLA Dining is not just simply providing food for hungry students, they are constantly looking for ways to implement healthier foods that students actually like. For example, Mr. Ferrone mentioned how a significant portion of the high salt and high sodium content in De Neve was removed without sacrificing taste or interest from the student’s perspective. However, like any scientific experiment, we need evidence to prove whether these types of changes in UCLA Dining are having an impact. Through UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative’s Research Well Pod, Dr. May Wang of the Department of Community Health Sciences, Dr. Burt Cowgill, and many graduate students are the hidden data detectives of this initiative, helping us discover whether the Flex Bar is having an impact. With their help, we will soon be able to tell if this idea is generally changing student’s protein consumption from animal-based to plant-based foods in De Neve.

Categorizing De Neve’s dining menu into meat and plant based-proteins was a necessary first step to allow them to analyze changing consumption. An initial survey of almost 500 students, using a food questionnaire designed by public health graduate students, was then issued to gather information on a variety of different student consumption patterns, including how students were consuming protein and specifically how much came from animals versus plants. Dr. Wang and a few graduate students were also able to recruit excited undergraduate students to assist with gathering additional data using a 3-day food diary to validate the food questionnaire. This aspect of the study adds rigor to the research methods used to gain insights into protein consumption patterns among students.

After a few months of the Flex Bar being implemented, the goal is to collect a follow up survey that will allow them to compare their baseline survey and food study data. The hope from this initiative is to see an increase in the acceptability factor (i.e. popularity) and ‘take rate’ of Flex Bar salads. Looking at the purchasing/consumption in 2016 and comparing it to 2017 patterns, the expectation is to see a shift in the purchasing patterns from animal-based to more plant-based proteins like legumes, quinoa, and broccoli for example. Who knows, maybe this type of salad bar will eventually be implemented in the other dining halls!

Mr. Ferrone mentions that the idea of a triangular salad bar is important because “it never ends” and ideally “students will fill their plates and won’t need to get other food.” (I can personally confirm this). It is this never ending salad bar that reminds me of our continual and everlasting pursuit towards healthier eating. There is always something that we can do to make our lifestyles healthier and I think the first step that we all can take is to go try the new Flex Bar at De Neve dining hall.

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



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.

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.52.40 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 9.13.39 AM

Answers to your Food Week questions on food, health, and climate

In fall, the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative hosted a Food Day panel discussion with three experts to help us better understand the environmental footprint of our food—our “foodprint.” We followed up with the panelists to answer some outstanding questions from our audience.

Meet the experts:

Dr. Jennifer (Jenny) Jay, PhD – Professor, UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability

Dr. Dana Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD – Senior Dietitian, UCLA Medical Center and Assistant Adjunct Professor, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Elliot Mermel – CEO and Cofounder, Coalo Valley (Cricket) Farm

1. Are there alternative options (better than beef) that are meat-based?

Beef and lamb are the most resource-intensive meats, with production resulting in 26 and 23 kg CO2-eq per kg, respectively. This includes methane emissions that occur during ruminant respiration along with the carbon footprint of the feed and maintenance of the animals. In contrast, pork and poultry produce 7 and 5 kg CO2-eq per kg, respectively. Eggs and nuts generate 4 and 2 kg CO2-eq per kg. Beans produce just 0.8 kg CO2-eq per kg. – Jenny

(In other words, poultry and pork have a smaller carbon footprint than beef and lamb; but eggs, nuts, and beans are best!)

2. People say soy is bad for you. Should we limit the amount of soy protein we eat?

Soy is not bad for you at all! Asian countries eat a ton of soy and they are some of the healthiest long-lived people! I’m more worried about the naturally-occurring hormones in dairy products than I am in soy. – Dana

3. What is the “role” of packaged/processed food in this conversation (e.g. vegetable chips, etc.) or is the message that we need to emphasize cooking and preparing meals from scratch?

Eating as close to nature as possible is best. Cooking and preparing meals from scratch is always healthier than restaurant or packaged foods. However, looking for packaged/processed foods with as few ingredients as possible, recognizable ingredient names, and that are also low in sugar and salt can also have a place in the diet. For instance, frozen fruits and vegetables with no added ingredients can be just as nutritious as fresh. – Dana

4. What are the best nutrient rich grains and foods to incorporate into a plant-based diet? I know a few: quinoa, amaranth, lentils, mung beans.

Farro, bulgur or barley, split peas, whole-grain/brown rice, black beans—almost any type of bean really! Wheat berries, spelt, etc. – Dana

5. I’ve heard feeding seaweed to cows reduces methane production. Is this technique legit?

Livestock are responsible for a huge fraction, 44%, of anthropogenic methane, a greenhouse gas with much more warming potential than carbon dioxide. There is some recent work showing that in a laboratory simulation of a cow’s digestive system, additions of relatively small amounts of seaweed (equivalent to 2% of the cattle feed) did result in greater than a 70% decrease in methane production. Some work with live sheep also has shown significant decreases.

The technology is new, so long term impacts on productivity and animal health have not yet been evaluated. Also, this technology would only apply to the feedlot segment of the animal’s life. Typically, cattle spend most of their lives on pasture and then move to a feedlot for “finishing.”

It is important to note that due to methane production throughout the lifespan (pasture and feedlot), the carbon footprint of ruminants is much, much higher than that of other protein sources (see my response to question 1). Even with the substantial reduction of methane from ruminant respiration during the feedlot period, there are still more climate friendly ways to gain protein. – Jenny

6. What should we do with our food waste if we don’t have access to compost bins?

Given the important role that reducing food waste can play in lessening our “foodprint,” we can all strive to get better at generating less waste. For example, we can take plastic containers with us to restaurants, which encourages us to pack up and eat later what we might have thrown away. This saves the disposable take out containers as well!  

Careful meal planning does take time, but it provides huge benefits in the way of reducing waste, increasing our consumption of healthy foods (and decreasing our reliance on those typically less-healthy last minute options), and saving money.  

Try to spend some weekend time deciding what you’ll eat during the week. You might really like the extra time this gives you to buy and prep the foods you’ll be eating. If you do tend to change plans a lot, you’ll need to be careful with buying perishables. Remember you can always freeze your veggies and leftovers.

Finally, it’s great to learn how to make a simple soup that can help you use up stray veggies, beans, and pasta in your fridge. This can be as simple as boiling up veggies in broth, and running it through your blender. Cashews and white potatoes will add a creamy texture.  Similarly, smoothies will help reduce fruit and greens waste—you can freeze fruits and greens ahead, and then spin them up for a quick and healthy breakfast. – Jenny

7. Is eating insects really a promising alternative to conventional meats?

Traditional diets across Asia, Africa, and Latin America incorporate insects as important sources of protein—often as delicious delicacies! While the act of eating insects is not yet a widely appreciated source of sustainable protein in the western world, with dwindling land, water, and resources and trending environmental-consciousness, insect consumption is more than just a fad; it’s the food of the future.  

Tens of millions of dollars has been injected into the edible insect industry across North America and Europe over the past few years and hopefully this belief in sustainable protein production will trickle down to the plates of consumers. – Elliot

8. How many crickets would you have to eat to make the protein gained in beef? Does this offset environmental benefits?

Comparing raw crickets and raw beef, per 100g, crickets have 8-25g of protein while beef has 19-26g of protein. In general, insects require six times less feed than cattle to produce the same amount of protein and emit less greenhouse gasses.

From personal experience and basic research, I say that there are many environmental benefits (less land use, water and feed use, greenhouse gas emissions) of raising crickets compared to traditional techniques of beef production.  – Elliot

9. Can you talk about DIY, home-based insect production? Are you thinking about offering classes in mealworm husbandry?

One of the toughest parts of insect farming is dialing in the variables specific to the space you are raising them in. Since this is a natural aspect of all DIY projects, I encourage people to take the leap and go through the trial and error period. There are many open-source forums online that can help solve problems.

We are willing to offer basic help to anyone in need of insect raising advice but keep in mind that the majority of hindrances in an individual’s farming will be lack of insect-specific equipment, a market that is still in its larval stages.  – Elliot

“Sustainable diets are those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally accepted, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritional adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.” – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Written by Hannah Malan, Graduate Student Researcher, EatWell

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 7.21.04 PM

Global Food Initiative Student Fellowship Blog Series: Lessons from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

Written by Carly Randolph

1. What degree/program are you pursuing at UCLA?

My name is Carly Randolph and I am currently pursuing my Masters in Public Health at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. I am in my second (and final!) year of the program. My focus is in Community Health Sciences and I am especially interested in nutrition, stress, diabetes, and chronic diseases.

2. What is the Global Food Initiative Fellowship?

The UC Global Food Initiative (GFI) was launched by President Napolitano in 2014. It asks each of the 10 UC campuses to think critically about how we can nutritiously and sustainably feed a population that is expected to reach 8 billion by 2025. This issue is of direct importance to the UC community, where food insecurity among students and staff is of growing concern. The GFI Student Fellowship program provides funding to students working on research, internships, or other projects with a focus on food.

3. Can you tell us a bit about your project as a GFI Fellow?

During the summer of 2016, I worked for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) in the Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention Research and Evaluation Unit. I was able to get my feet wet in a variety of projects surrounding research, evaluation, and health education! I assisted with several projects pertaining to increasing healthy food options for consumers (employees, hospital visitors, and locals) and I researched traffic light classification systems for food, contract and solicitation processes, and tool validation techniques. During one of my projects, I created a recommendation sheet for the County to use in developing a traffic light classification system for food at County institutions and universities, where food is easily classified as healthy or unhealthy based on a red, yellow, green classification system. I also worked on gathering food environment, demographic, and geographic information on several County institutions and hospitals in order to assist the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). My favorite part of my internship was that I was able to participate in health education events at grocery stores, conduct key informant interviews with store-owners, and attend focus groups at a healthy food business conference.

4. What inspired you to get involved in this project?

My mom has struggled with diabetes ever since I can remember, and I have watched her have pick and choose specific foods to eat or not to eat as a result. Because of this personal connection to diabetes, I became especially interested in how nutrition and diet can mitigate some of the effects of diabetes. After taking a tour of LACDPH and learning about the nutrition and diabetes research performed there, I thought it would be the perfect fit for me!

5. What has been most rewarding about your experience thus far?

The most rewarding part of my experience was attending health education events at Northgate grocery stores. I was able to take children on tours of the produce section of the grocery store and play a scavenger hunt game with them. They had to go find certain fruits and vegetables and I would explain nutritional facts to them about each fruit or vegetable they found.

6. How does your work relate to the broader vision of the GFI?

My work relates to the broader vision of the GFI since it addresses food security through providing the Los Angeles community with information about healthy food and access to nutritious food. My work surrounding healthy food procurement and nutrition education serves as a method to reduce food insecurity and address nutritional needs of Los Angeles citizens.

7. How can other students get involved in this issue or topic?

Other students can get involved in this issue by either working in collaboration with the Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention or performing their own research on methods to implement healthier foods into various institutions, restaurants, and cafeterias.

8. What’s one of your favorite articles, documentaries, books, or video clips about food?

One of my favorite articles about food is “Do We Waste A Lot Of Pumpkins We Could Be Eating?” I love the taste of pumpkin and thought this was fascinating since pumpkins can be used in so many different ways, rather than being wasted and thrown away.

9. Anything last thoughts you would like to share?

I learned so much during my field studies and I am excited to continue to share all that I have learned with other GFI fellows, as well as with the general public. Feel free to contact me at with any questions or ideas you may have!


Global Food Initiative Student Fellowship Blog Series: School Gardens Grow Healthy Students

By Meghan O-Connell

What degree/program are you pursuing at UCLA?

I’m a second year graduate student pursuing my Master’s in Public Health. I study nutrition and food systems because I think the food we eat is integral to our health and well-being.

What is the Global Food Initiative Fellowship?

The UC Global Food Initiative (GFI) was launched by President Napolitano in 2014. It asks each of the 10 UC campuses to think critically about how we can nutritiously and sustainably feed a population that is expected to reach 8 billion by 2025. This issue is of direct importance to the UC community, where food insecurity among students and staff is of growing concern. The GFI Student Fellowship program provides funding to students working on research, internships, or other projects with a focus on food.

Can you tell us a bit about your project as a Fellow?

As a GFI Fellow, I spent my summer working with Seeds to Plate, a volunteer organization based at Mark Twain Middle School in Mar Vista, CA. Six years ago, Seeds to Plate created a gorgeous 1/3 acre garden at Mark Twain that they use as a living classroom. Their mission is to “create and maintain a school garden that is integrated into the academic environment. The garden promotes a healthy food culture, nurtures physical and mental well-being, and provides hands-on gardening and eating experiences for students, families and staff to foster mutual respect, appreciation of diversity, community spirit, and sustainability of the earth.”

Seeds to Plate has a growing body of lessons that teach core subjects (math, science, history and language arts) through exploration of the garden. This summer I helped developed their curriculum.

How do school gardens align with the GFI’s mission?

Gardening can have a meaningful impact on many aspects of a student’s well-being. A 2009 review of 11 garden-based interventions found that working in a garden helps students build self-efficacy, fosters positive mental and emotional health, and aids in the formation of healthy eating and physical activity habits.

The review determined that youth who participate in school gardens experience a connection with nature that often results in successful academic and personal outcomes by building critical knowledge, attitudes and skills. Growing their own food also increases students’ willingness to try fruits and vegetables. Plus, they get a chance to be physically active in the process.

Teaching students from a young age to grow their own food, appreciate nature, and feed themselves nutritious food can go a long way to ensuring future generations approach food self-sufficiently and sustainably.

Can you talk about your favorite lessons that you worked on with Seeds to Plate?

Every lesson has three components: a classroom presentation, a hands-on gardening activity, and a healthy snack. My favorite lesson I worked on is a 7th grade history lesson on the Columbian Exchange. The lesson begins with the students taste-testing a batch of very basic guacamole, using only the ingredients native to the Americas: avocados, tomatoes, and jalapenos. Students are asked to identify the flavors they think are missing. They are then presented with a map of the world showing the place of origin of most of the edible crops they see at the grocery store or farmers’ market today.

A discussion follows that touches on the major economic and social effects of the Columbian Exchange on Eurasia, Africa and the Americas. Students are asked to think critically about colonialism, the globalization of our food system, and how the exchange of food crops during and after the Columbian Exchange impacted the foods we eat today. Finally, students get a chance to go out in the garden and harvest the remaining ingredients for their guacamole (onions, garlic, cilantro, and limes). They finish making it together and then eat it with corn chips.

I loved this lesson because it got the students thinking critically, being physically active in the garden, working on their cooking skills, and trying a healthy snack all at the same time. It was exciting finding ways to use their own garden to teach the students more about the world and to make them aware of the origins of ingredients that they eat all the time.

Some other favorite lessons include a math lesson that lets students plan and plant their own garden bed to learn about perimeter, area and volume, a science lesson that uses peas from the garden to teach about Punnett Squares and genetics, and a history lesson that challenges students to design their own irrigation system after learning about agricultural techniques in Mesopotamia.

What was most challenging part of your fellowship?

This project was definitely a challenge for me. I have previous experience working in schools — I worked at a secondary school in Kyrgyzstan while I was in the Peace Corps helping to develop their English as a Second Language and Health curriculums. But this was my first time working in a garden and with the Common Core standards. I also had to familiarize myself with the 6-8th grade curriculums for math, science, history and language arts. Trying to develop interactive lessons that incorporated all of these elements was pretty tough!

Most rewarding?

Getting to see the students participate in lessons I worked on was a great experience for me. I think there is so much value in learning that happens outside of the traditional classroom. I watched core subjects come alive for students when they could actively experience them instead of just reading about them from a text book. The garden became a space for students to explore learning outside of their comfort zones. The lessons teach students to explore nature with inquisitiveness and appreciation instead of fear, disgust, or indifference. They learn about each component of their garden’s ecosystem, from the soil, to its water source and climate, to the birds and insects that pollinate the plants, to the fruits and vegetables that they plant and watch grow.

The garden helps establish healthy social norms in their school and provides them with the knowledge and skills they need to form healthy habits. When students learn what it takes to grow their own food they understand its value in a way that is not possible to comprehend by eating a bag of chips in front of a television screen.

I was honored to work with Seeds to Plate this summer and to see firsthand the benefits of garden-based education in middle school students. Their future goals include implementing a basic version of their curriculum in other neighboring schools. The opportunities they provide students at Mark Twain are so valuable and I am excited to see the program grow!

How can other students get involved?

You can learn more about Seeds to Plate here. They are always looking for volunteers!


Photo via Meghan O’Connell


Developing a Healthier University with Walter Willett


Walter Willett has become a household name to the thousands of professionals working in the expanding field of food science and nutrition. He has achieved more than you can imagine. The physician, nutrition researcher, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, and chair of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health

is the most cited nutrition researcher in the world and the second most cited author in clinical medicine, with over 1500 published scientific articles, a full nutrition textbook, and 3 best-selling diet and nutrition books. It’s safe to say he holds a lot of influence in this field, playing an especially large role in the science of the American diet. Willett is now a Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and the Chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, as well as a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

I had the opportunity to attend a seminar where Dr. Willett talked about all his experiences within the food realm and the initiatives he is a part of early February of 2016. At first, to me he was just a man with an unmistakable mustache, talking about how he once had a McDonald’s veggie burger at an airport that was so unbelievably revolting that he was convinced McDonald’s made it bad to turn people away from the healthier option. However, it took only took a few more sentences for me to become mesmerized by Willett’s discussion of food issues and projects.

Harvard’s Food Literacy Project

As Chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, Willett has taken the lead on food and nutrition initiatives at Harvard, running a similar program to the EatWell Pod of the Healthy Campus Initiative here at UCLA. The professor is working with Harvard’s food services to develop a Food Literacy Project that consists of educating students about healthy foods, guiding on food resources available throughout campus and Boston, and conveying the principles clinically at Harvard Health Services. His program is school wide and advocates for a healthier lifestyle through better knowledge of the nutritious value certain foods bring as well as the food resources available to students.

Willett had early success with his program. In a joint effort with food services, Willett removed trans fats and reduced sodium in all foods of Harvard’s dining halls by 25% without students even noticing. Through this program he is teaching active fellowship students about the food system at Harvard, introducing them to the leadership involved, and utilizing students’ connections to other students in order to engage the community and connect food-related initiatives and projects to students.

Harvard utilizes a housing system where 90% of the students live in houses all 4 years and eat dining hall food during this time. The Food Literacy Project is efficient in getting connected to students by utilizing its fellows in each of the houses to act as the go-to source for food education. Similar to how the Healthy Campus Initiative here at UCLA is establishing a student presence by utilizing its student connections and outreach within the resident halls and through a variety of clubs. Through their Literacy Program, table tents that come on a rotating basis are set up near the dining halls with fellows and other individuals there to educate people about healthy food choices with posters and other materials. Through this program, they’ve even noticed a 50% increase in students from freshman year to senior year choosing brown rice over white rice.

Struggles Faced

However, Willett highlighted that a real struggle of the overall program is a lack of a formalized curriculum. They get passionate students and researchers involved in the program, but after 4 years they are gone. The problem Willett is facing is that there is a lack of a formalized curriculum and organization that would allow a continuous recycle of information from older students to younger ones. This lack of organization leads to many active students graduating with valuable information that is not utilized in subsequent years. Furthermore, the lack of career advantage for professors to teach these types of courses limits the numbers of courses they can provide and thus diminishes the interest he could gain from students. Willett’s passion for nutritional science is clear as he strongly says that he’s seen people even change career directions entirely because of some courses they took. He remarks that this field is open to a variety of different people with different interests from biology, physiology, education, public policy, to large-scale data research. Though he’s really disappointed that some of the most popular classes such as Global Nutrition, Nutrition, and Health, can’t be offered as much because they just do not have the resources for them.

Harvard Food Literacy Project

Tackling Sugary Soda at Harvard

One example of Willett’s success is the change in availability of sodas at Harvard dining halls. At Harvard, he ideally does not want to eliminate those soda options, (partially due to the company contracts they have in dining halls), but just encourage students to move away from them or provide less sugary options. He’s developed a 3 color categorization for sugary drinks, with red (obviously indicative of being bad) being for drinks above 1g/oz of sugar, yellow being artificial sweeteners, and green being no sugar. By labeling these drink options at the soda machines with small stickers and providing a sign with the corresponding description of each color, he was able to influence student decisions towards less sugary options. Harvard dining has even made great leaps to reduce their 100% fruit juice to 50%, decreasing the sugar intake by a lot.

Tackling Sugary Soda at UCLA

Right here on campus at our very own lovely Bruin Plate, or BPlate, we have no commercial sodas served. All of the drinks at BPlate are made with carbonated water and fruit extracts that make for a delightful spritzer in our mouth. According to a BPlate Manager, these sodas have reduced sugar content over commercial sodas. I remember when Bplate opened, everyone was very excited about those spritzers. UCLA has done an exceptional job with BPlate being the ideal and premier healthy campus dining hall.

Beyond the Universities

Willett is clearly a man with hands in a thousand different pots and his visions for a healthier world are inspiring. He truly wants to bridge this gap between science and diet, to create a reformed policy that overall benefits all of society, whether it be at Harvard or in small towns. His impact has even been seen when he was part of the program that influenced Starbucks to include wheat products into their menu of foods as opposed to pure white flour.

Walter Willett’s visions for a healthier campus and a healthier society are not far from our reach. As students we can make those visions reality by telling our friends and spreading the word about resources, like the Healthy Campus Initiative. Soon enough we will realize that it doesn’t take much to make a change. As an undergraduate student here at UCLA, Walter Willett taught me from his seminar that being a part of something bigger than myself, like the Healthy Campus Initiative is truly empowering and gets me excited about what I can do to make a change on my campus. In writing my blogs, I hope to reach a large community and influence people to live healthier lives and learn more about all the initiatives going on around campus.

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

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 8.25.28 PM

Global Food Initiative launches online toolkit to improve school food

The University of California’s Global Food Initiative (GFI) has launched a free online toolkit aimed at providing anyone working with preK-12 schools with resources to help improve school food, nutrition education, and sustainability.

In 2014, over 17% of children and adolescents nationwide were obese. The National School Lunch Program provides over 30 million lunches per day to students across the country, with school meals providing almost half of daily calories for kids enrolled in breakfast and lunch programs. This puts schools in a uniquely important position to both serve healthy food to students, and also to provide them with the tools and education they need to form healthy, lifelong habits.

“What you eat not only impacts health, it also is strongly linked to academic achievement,” said Wendy Slusser, associate vice provost for UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative, who led the GFI project. “This toolkit offers resources to help organizations provide students with equitable access to healthy food, so they can eat better and maximize their opportunities for academic success.”

The newly launched Good Food for Local Schools website brings together resources from all of the UC campuses and beyond to provide educators, school administrators, community organizations, and parents, with resources to make good food a reality in their schools and communities. Resources span various sectors from full nutrition and gardening curriculums, to toolkits that guide operational change, to relevant research and policies surrounding school food, to service oriented projects and programs.

The range of resources includes:

a school nutrition curriculum,

• guides for rethinking school lunches and planning school menus,

an agenda for creating a new regional food system,

research to support healthy school meals,

a sample school food donation policy, and.

a documentary about the school food chain.

The toolkit was developed by members of the UC GFI community, who work with school districts all over the state to procure, cook, serve and teach about healthy and sustainable food. The site was created in close collaboration with the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, as well as representatives from local school districts and experts from community nonprofits.

The EatWell Pod of UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative is featured on the site, serving as an exemplary model for how a university can engage with local food systems through curriculum, on-campus programming, and community engagement.

Other UCLA featured resources include:

Food Studies Graduate Certificate Program

DIG Campus Garden Coalition

Fit for Healthy Weight Program

Transforming Corner Stores: Integrating Health, Food and Community

How to Set Up a School Salad Bar Manual

For more information about Good Food for Local Schools, please visit


By Meghan O’Connell, MPH student and Healthy Campus Initiative and Global Food Initiative GSR

UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative works closely with the UC Global Food Initiative. The GFI, launched by UC President Janet Napolitano in 2014, addresses the critical issue of how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach eight billion by 2025. The initiative aligns the university’s research, outreach and operations in a sustained effort to develop, demonstrate and export solutions — throughout California, the United States and the world — for food security, health and sustainability.


Chocolate Crickets: A Beginning to Food Week


News articles across the internet and random links on Facebook are constantly expressing how harmful it is to eat meat because of how the meat is made and processed. However, few of these sources provide alternative, delicious options. Take for example this news article by PBS, which cites scientific studies showing the correlation between consumption of processed meats and colorectal cancer. It’s difficult to truly listen to what articles like these are trying to get across when most meats are so widely accepted in society and used in many foods today.

Attending the Food Day Panel Discussion a few weeks ago, organized by UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative was extremely eye opening. National Food Day is recognized annually on October 24 and was established by the Center for Science in the Public Interest to celebrate healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced food (National Food Day). This panel celebrated Food Day with a discussion featuring experts in nutrition, environmental sustainability, and food science. Specifically the panel featured Dr. Dana Hunnes (Senior Dietician at UCLA Medical Center), Elliot Mermel (CEO and Cofounder of Coalo Valley Farms), Dr. Jennifer Jay (Professor at UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability), and moderated by our own Dr. Wendy Slusser, Associate Vice Provost of UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative.


Daily Bruin, Week of October 24.

When I first walked into the event at 12pm Monday of October 24, I immediately encountered a table full of vegan dishes. Food from apple vegan chicken to beet salad to kale and quinoa salad and finally some delicious cucumber water filled the tables. This was what they called a “Flexitarian Lunch.” A flexitarian diet is one that is primarily plant-based with the occasional inclusion of meat products. This type of lunch gave attendees like me the opportunity to experience what a common lunch is for those who follow a flexitarian diet.

The Food Day Panel first started off talking about the damage to the environment that is caused by meat-based farms. They emphasized the increase in greenhouse gases is mainly caused by cows and pigs. Some European studies have even identified an increase in greenhouse gases upwards of 18% to 31% of the total EU emissions as a result of livestock farming (European Commission, 2006). The panel discussed alternatives to eating meats, which included many different types of plants as substitutes. One strong point that they made was that an individual could receive the necessary amount of daily protein from eating a reasonably-sized portion of vegetables instead of meat. A common approximation is a 3 oz portion of chicken equaling 1 cup and 2.5 tablespoons of lentils or 1-1.3 cups of black beans. This was very informative because I feel that many people do not realize the amount of nutrients you can get from simply eating plant-based foods.

After a general discussion about the effects of eating meat, Mermel began talking about his unique cricket farm. Attendees were offered samples of his chocolate crickets, and I found them quite delighting. I initially found the crunchiness of the cricket exoskeleton a little unsettling. However, after swallowing it and letting my taste buds really marinate the chocolate taste, I could not taste the cricket at all. It was sweet and creamy as any chocolate would be. I’m thankful I tried them, but would you have tried them? The crickets eat an all-organic diet of fruits and vegetables that are grown on the farm as well. Thanks to people like Mermel, eating insects is becoming more and more popular and socially acceptable now!

Not only are the crickets nutritious, but they are raised in an environmentally friendly way as well. Mermel talked about how the farm utilizes an aquaponics system. This aquaponics system combines conventional aquaculture (raising fish) with hydroculture (growing plants in water instead of soil). The farming requires little resources and the resources that are used (water) is continually recycled. In addition to the discussion of the cricket farm, Dr. Hunnes briefly talked about the effects of processed meat on our bodies and lifestyle while Dr. Jay discussed the impact of agriculture on the environment.

Reflecting on the panel’s discussion, I’ve come to realize that educating and convincing people seems to be the biggest struggle. Even my friends are not as open to making changes in their current diet because they are comfortable with their current lifestyle. Stepping out of that comfort zone takes not only a risky jump but also an open mind. Consequently, T\the panel stressed the importance of sharing information and continuing to educate friends and acquaintances about different alternative options to meat.

Attending this discussion made me more aware of alternative diets and I look forward to potentially incorporating some of these ideas I learned about into creating delicious and environmentally friendly meals! I’ve even already looked into some new flexitarian recipes. It’s events like these that truly make me think about what I’m eating and I’m glad I had the opportunity to learn about something important to me outside of my immediate educational curriculum. I look forward to attending more events like these that make me mindful of what I’m eating.

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


Tricks to Enjoy Your Treats: How to Mindfully Enjoy Your Candy on Halloween


Halloween is my second favorite holiday (nothing beats Christmas for me!). I love dressing up in clever costumes and going to parties with my friends. However, there is one part of Halloween that can be hard and stressful for me: the candy.

I have a huge sweet tooth, so I would always want to partake in the tradition of fun sized candy bars and pumpkin-shaped peanut butter cups on Halloween. However, sweets were a huge trigger for me. I thought of candy as a “bad food” and eating it made me feel guilty and shameful. As a result, I had a really hard time finding a balance with Halloween candy. Some years I’d eat so much that I’d be doubled-over in pain from a stomachache, while others I’d restrict myself to just one or two pieces and then jealously watch my friends enjoy the Kit-Kats and Reese’s Pieces I so desperately wanted. Whether I was restricting or binging, I’d worry about the impact those extra calories would have on my waistband.

It wasn’t until I learned about mindful eating that my relationship with Halloween candy, and other foods, began to improve. To eat mindfully is to eat with intention and attention; it is to eat with the intention of bringing yourself both nourishment and pleasure and with careful attention to what you’re eating, your feelings about your food, and the effect food has on your body. In today’s society, it’s incredibly easy to eat mindlessly; I often find myself eating in front of the TV or on the way to class, and when I’m focused by the TV or putting one foot in front of the other I’m certainly not paying attention to the food I’m putting in my mouth. To put it simply, if you’re not paying attention to your food, how could you possibly fully experience it and enjoy it?

When I would eat candy on Halloween, I was never just eating it; I was thinking about how many calories were it in, wondering if people were judging me as I ate it, and repeating over and over to myself “Candy is bad for you” or “You shouldn’t be eating this.” In other words, I wouldn’t eat my candy with attention or the intent to enjoy it and was consequently left unsatisfied because I had never fully enjoyed the candy. Furthermore, without feeling satisfied, I would often reach for another piece, and then another, and then another…until I had acquired a stomachache and feeling of self-hatred for letting myself go “too far.”

However, since I learned about mindful eating, I’ve established a much better relationship with Halloween candy and learned some tricks to help me cope with the anxiety that used to plague me every Halloween. If you’ve ever experienced stress or anxiety around sweets, here are my tricks to enjoying treats on Halloween:

  1. Actively enjoy your candy. Eat it mindfully and be completely present while you’re enjoying your sweets. That means don’t eat it in front of the TV or while you’re writing that essay that’s due this week. Savor the flavors, textures, scents, and shapes of the candies you choose to enjoy. If you fully engage with your food and give it all your attention, you’re more likely to enjoy it and feel satisfied later.
  2. Lose the rules. When you tell yourself you can’t have something, or you can only have a fixed number of something, chances are you’ll want it even more. For me, when I told myself I couldn’t have more than one or two pieces of candy, all I could think about was candy and how much I wanted it. So, even when I ate those one or two pieces I didn’t enjoy them because all I could think about was how I wanted more.
  3. Instead of imposing rules on yourself, listen to you body. Are you full? Are you hungry? Do you really want that Hershey’s Kiss or do you want it just because it’s sitting right in front of you? If you’re really craving something, your body will let you know, so listen to it! Also, remind yourself that the candies associated with Halloween are available year-round. If you’re not in the mood for candy today, today’s not your only opportunity to enjoy it! You can always have it as a treat on another day.
  4. Remind yourself that foods are not inherently “good” or “bad.” These are labels that society has attached to certain foods, not explicit qualities of foods. Yes, some foods are more nutritious than others, but it’s also important to remember that we eat for nourishment and pleasure. Less nutritious foods can still be a part of a nutritious diet when they’re enjoyed in moderation. So, if you find yourself labeling candy as “bad” and something that should be avoided, remind yourself that it’s okay to eat less nutritious food for pleasure from time to time.

I hope these tricks help you enjoy your Halloween to its fullest. If you have any tricks that weren’t listed above, please share them with me by sharing on social media or commenting below!

Danielle de Bruin is a fourth-year undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Sociology with a double minor in Italian and Global Health. She is the blog coordinator for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative and the director of UCLA’s Body Image Task Force, which is a committee within the Student Wellness Commission. With the Body Image Task Force, Danielle organizes events, workshops, and campaigns to promote healthy body image, self-confidence, and mental health on campus. She is also published in the journal PLOS Medicine and the Huffington Post.