A chat with the garden coordinators on the Urban Gardening Certificate Program

To better understanding the motivation behind the Urban Gardening Certificate Program, I spoke with some of the key leaders behind the program. Mark Biedlingmaier and Ana Laura Paiva, two of the five Garden Oversight Committee members who oversee management of the jane b semel HCI Community Garden, each spoke with me about the impact that urban gardening has had on them, and the future they envision for it.

Volunteer work day at the jane b semel HCI Community Garden.

Q: What was your experience with the start of the garden at UCLA?

Mark: “When I transferred, I started plugging into different social spaces, and since I had a lot of gardening and farm experience, I joined Dig. It was Jane Semel’s, Founder and Visionary of the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA, idea to create a garden on top of the amphitheater. Two GFI (Global Food Initiative) Fellows, Jacob Garson and Daniel Shen, were involved in jane b semel HCI Community Garden, and when they graduated, I picked up where they left off. Ian Davies, Steven Eggert, Cloudy Xu, Dr. Wendy Slusser, the Semels, One Gun Ranch, UCLA Recreation, Mick DeLuca, campus architect Jeff Averill and many other passionate individuals each played enormous roles in the development of the garden.” 

(Special thanks to all members involved with the garden in its early days can be found at the bottom of this page.)

Q: Why do you think we need and enjoy gardening to the level that we do?

Ana Laura: “Gardening is a return to our roots, and growing our own food is an encouragement to take better care of ourselves. Taking care of our environment at a local scale inspires us to take care of it at a global scale.” 

Mark: “I got into gardening because it taught me to be more internally reflective on my health and how I relate to people. Looking after life and having that attention on something other than yourself gives a larger perspective.”

Q: What makes the urban gardening community so unique?

Ana Laura: “I’ve met a lot of inspiring people through gardening. It’s a very welcoming environment; you’re coming into a space where it doesn’t matter whether you have tremendous experience or are literally coming into a garden for the first time. There’s always something you can help out with or something new to explore. Then, the guerilla gardening movement and WWOOFing create a greater gardening network of passionate people.” 

Q: What do you see as the future of urban gardening? What role might the HCI garden play in that?

Mark: “Currently, the jane b semel HCI community is in its infancy. We’ve been asking ourselves, ‘what is our exact niche?’ We want to engage more with the campus faculty and staff, not just the students. Personally, I’d like to see more people growing food, edible landscapes, and dining halls pulling more produce from operations on campus. I’d like to find ways in which we can further integrate our campus growing efforts with food security and basic needs-related projects.

In general, resources are only becoming more finite and the people who are consuming those resources are expanding. The way we approach our daily lives has to be thought about more critically and urban gardening is an excellent way to create more balance in our food systems. UCLA as a public research institution can play a large role in shaping not only the urban gardening movement but the culture and policy around it. LA, as a megacity, can serve as an experimental playground for that.”

Q: How can people take their experiences at the garden into the rest of their everyday lives?

Ana Laura: “You can join other community gardens you may know of, or try container gardening at home. I see gardening and growing your own food as a very grounding process. There’s an interesting study published that shows that there are antidepressants in the soil and many other benefits of getting your hands in the dirt. The amount of care that it takes for our plants, flowers, grains, herbs, broccoli, beans, tomatoes, or watermelons to grow teaches us what it takes to take care of ourselves, and our communities. The best part in all of this is sharing and enjoying our experiences in the garden, and the wonderful food!”

(The study on antidepressants in the soil that Ana Laura is referring to was published in 2007, and can be found here. An excellent article detailing the findings of the study can be found here.)

After completing the program, participants are encouraged to continue to come out to future workshops covering new topics as well as crowd favorites. Ana Laura offers other possible next steps after completing the program: “You can find volunteer opportunities at the Veterans’ Garden, with Ron Finley, Guerilla Gardener in LA, with Food Forward, which donates surplus produce to hunger relief agencies, or with the Seed Library of Los Angeles. You can also always come back to volunteer at our garden!” 


To learn more about the jane b semel HCI Community Garden:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/amphitheatergarden

Instagram: @HCIgardens

Email: hcigardens@ucla.edu

Sign up for the mailing list here! https://ucla.us18.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=23cc009df9eb0fd1d338f2b6d&id=8445a6df09



Patience Olsen is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Civil Engineering. In addition to blogging for the EatWell Pod, she volunteers at the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden on campus, and is a member of the ASCE Environmental Design project.


The Urban Gardening Certificate Program: Another Way to Get Involved with the Garden!

In a recent survey of participants at the jane b semel HCI Community Garden, 55.6% of participants agreed that the garden increased their sense of community at UCLA.  More than 50% agreed that the garden had inspired an increase in their consumption of fresh produce and 83% agreed or strongly agreed that participation increased their overall health. Gardening is known to not only encourage healthier eating habits and increase food security, but also provide a variety of surprising health benefits, including decreased risk of stroke, Alzheimer’s, and depression, as detailed in this article by Robin Jacobs. 

In 2015, the student club Dig: The Campus Garden Coalition at UCLA was inspired by these benefits and joys of gardening. Supported by the Semel HCI Center and its founder and visionary Jane B. Semel, Dig students designed the jane b semel HCI Community Garden at the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center. Dig has existed since long before the creation of the garden as the main student-led collaboration behind the expanding food growing and gardening program on UCLA’s campus. Now, the garden’s 31 beds are used for academic courses, by student organizations, and by small groups of students, staff, and faculty. For anyone interested in applying for a plot, all that is needed is a group of at least five UCLA affiliates with a shared desire to grow your own produce, then head to the garden’s website and select the “How to Join” tab.


The jane b semel HCI Community Garden.

Tangible Credit for Gardening at UCLA

In alignment with one of the garden’s original goals to educate UCLA students, staff, and faculty, the garden began to hold workshops and general workdays in 2016. At the beginning of the program, workdays were casual, but they became more structured as the garden expanded. The Urban Gardening Certificate Program (UGCP) was later created due to astounding demand for the academic course CHS (Community Health Sciences) 131: Healthy Food Access in Los Angeles. 

The UGCP is a free, flexible program recognizing a participant’s commitment to attending a series of workshops and events geared towards building fundamental knowledge of gardening. A collection of 5 workshops are held throughout the quarter, on topics such as growing methods, orchard culture, integrative pest management, soil health, and processing. Participants are awarded the certificate upon attending one workshop of each category and completing a few additional requirements detailed in the image below. For the program pilot, these five workshops are offered during both each winter and spring quarter, so if you’re unable to attend one in winter quarter, you can attend during the spring instead!


More information on the UGCP.

Examining the carbonation and SCOBY at a recent workshop on fermentation.

Making sauerkraut at a recent fermentation workshop.

To learn more about the jane b semel HCI Community Garden:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/amphitheatergarden

Instagram: @HCIgardens

Email: hcigardens@ucla.edu

Sign up for the mailing list here! https://ucla.us18.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=23cc009df9eb0fd1d338f2b6d&id=8445a6df09

See the Winter 2019 Newsletter below:


Patience Olsen is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Civil Engineering. In addition to blogging for the EatWell Pod, she volunteers at the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden on campus, and is a member of the ASCE Environmental Design project.

healthy vending

The Road to Healthy Vending at UCLA

Have you noticed a transition in the snacks and beverages offered in vending machines on campus? What about those “healthier choices made easy” stickers on the outside of the machine and “EatWell” stickers on individual snacks? Did you know that healthier snacks have been strategically placed closer to eye-level? Each of these changes has been deliberately implemented over the past few years by the UC Healthy Vending Working Group (UC HVWG).

Some background on the UC HVWG: The Global Food Initiative (GFI), launched in 2014, utilizes the University of California’s power of research and extension in an effort to create and execute solutions for food security, health and sustainability. The UC HVWG was established as a GFI Project to ensure that all UC campuses provide access to nutritious snacks and beverages. To achieve this objective, the UC HVWG created a set of guidelines that outline the minimum requirements for healthy vending machines. One guideline, for example, dictates that all healthy food items must “have a fruit, vegetable, low-fat dairy, protein (including nuts and seeds), or whole grain as its first ingredient.”


A comparison of a traditional vending machine and a healthier vending machine at UCLA. Located at the Mathematical Sciences Building and the mailroom on the Hill, respectively.

According to these guidelines, all healthy beverages such as water, juice, milk, non-dairy milk, protein drinks, and tea/coffee must contain no added caloric sweeteners. “Low-calorie” beverages are permitted to contain added sugar if they contain fewer than 40 calories per 12 fluid ounces. Healthy snacks must contain no more than 250 calories, no trans fat, no more than 10 grams of fat, no more than 3 grams of saturated fat, no more than 360 milligrams of sodium, and no more than 20 grams of total sugar.

There are a few exceptions to these rules, including nuts, legumes, eggs, cheese, fruits/vegetables, and combinations of these items (e.g., a fruit and nut mix). Notice that all of these exceptions are whole foods, meaning foods that have undergone minimal processing and look as close as possible to the way they look when growing in nature. In general, whole foods are exempt from all requirements except the calorie and sodium requirements, as long as they don’t contain added sweeteners or fat!

Research reveals that “the adult population in the United States as a whole is deficient in certain micronutrients as a result of the availability and overconsumption of high-calorie, low-nutrient processed foods.” (Astrup and Bugle, 2019) In general, highly processed foods contain empty calories and have a much poorer nutrient profile than their unprocessed counterparts. The UC HVWG therefore targets these nutrient deficiencies and the consumption of empty calories by encouraging the consumption of whole foods instead.

98% Healthy Vending on Campus

At UCLA, the Semel HCI Center ensures that 50% of snacks in healthier vending machines follow UC Healthy Vending Working Group guidelines. But many machines go above and beyond! UCLA Dining Services currently operates a total of 105 snack vending machines, 100 of which follow the 50% healthy rule, and 14 of which are filled 100% with healthy snacks.

The UCLA campus is also home to 215 beverage vending machines, of which 107 beverage machines are “zero sugar”. The remaining 108 are “reduced sugar”. Zero sugar machines are located at Housing on the Hill, the Ronald Reagan Medical Center, and the Santa Monica Medical Center.

As Charles Wilcots, Associate Director of UCLA Dining Services reports, “We anticipate to increase more vending selections to offer healthier options in the near future as we get more available products. Our overall goal is for all vending machines in our inventory to comply with the GFI criteria.” With a total of 320 vending machines, and only 5 snack machines left to make the switch to the healthy vending guidelines, UCLA Dining Services is already 98% compliant with UC HVWG criteria!

Subtly Influencing Choice

There is inevitably much more to encouraging healthy choices than simply providing healthy options. Within the 50% healthy vending machines, the challenge then becomes ensuring that consumers choose from the healthier 50%.  The UC HVWG employs a few key psychological tactics: placing healthy products at eye level, advertising healthy beverages on beautiful vending machine wraps featuring a background of green grass and blue skies, and decreasing the price of healthier products, while increasing the price of unhealthy products. In a study by French and colleagues (2010), the proportion of healthy to unhealthy items in vending machines was increased to 50% healthy items and 50% unhealthy items. When prices of healthy items were lowered by an average of 31%, sales of healthy items increased by up to 42%. Because who wouldn’t rather choose the cheaper (and healthier!) snack?


Six sample plans for UCLA vending machines. Snacks in yellow are designated “healthy snacks”, and stocked at eye-level.

It’s fair to ask whether any of this is actually profitable. Healthier snacks at grocery stores are generally more expensive than highly-processed, large-scale manufactured snacks. Wouldn’t it follow that reducing the prices of expensive healthy snacks in vending machines decreases profit? A study by Viana and colleagues (2017) at UCLA found this assumption to be false.

In their research,  two types of machines were compared: “intervention machines”, with 50% healthy options, and “comparison machines”, with a usual assortment of snacks (see pictures above). Viana and colleagues found that 21.3% of snacks purchased from intervention machines were healthy, whereas only 1.3% of snacks purchased from comparison machines were healthy. Since cost per item was increased from approximately $0.99 to $1.08 between 2012 and 2013, revenue was able to remain consistent. These findings suggest that “health-promoting interventions can influence vending machine consumers without compromising revenue or profit.” (Viana et al., 2017)

By strategically encouraging healthier snacking, the UC HVWG and the UCLA Semel HCI Center aims to “make the healthy choice the easy choice.” Unfortunately, supermarkets and food manufacturers may not always share this goal, so keep a careful eye out for foods marketed as healthy that are potentially not so great for you.


Viana, J; Leonard, S. A; Kitay, B; Ansel, D; Angelis, P; Slusser, W. (2017) “Healthier vending machines in a university setting: Effective and financially sustainable.” Appetite Vol. 121: 263-267. DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2017.11.094

French, S.A; Hannan, P.J; Harnack, L.J; Mitchell, N.R; Toomey, T.L; Gerlach, A. (2010) “Pricing and availability intervention in vending machines at four bus garages.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Vol. 52: S29-S33.

Astrup, A; Bugel, S. (2019) “Overfed but undernourished: recognizing nutritional inadequacies/deficiencies in patients with overweight or obesity” International Journal of Obesity Vol. 43, Iss. 2: 219-232 DOI: 10.1038/s41366-018-0143-9



Patience Olsen is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Civil Engineering. In addition to blogging for the EatWell Pod, she volunteers at the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden on campus, and is a member of the ASCE Environmental Design project.

grapes in sun

Did You Know: Versatile Grapes

As we ring in the New Year, I can’t help but think of sparkling wine and its progenitor: the grape. In fact, while we are on the subject of Champagne and sparkling wines, here are a few “did you know” facts you may find interesting. First, you can make sparkling wines from any grape or fermentable fruit. However, real Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France. The two major gapes used in making Champagne are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while everything else is a sparkling wine. Also, 25% of all sparkling wine sales occur in December, so if you want a good deal, February is a great time to buy!

But enough about Champagne and wine. Let’s move on to grapes and some other “did you know” facts:

  • The average person eats eight pounds of grapes a year.
  • The Red Globe grape, which is the size of a small plum, is peeled with considerable ceremony and eaten with a fork and knife in Japan.
  • Grapes do not continue to ripen after they have been harvested.
  • Grape juice was first made by Dr. Thomas Welch, a prohibitionist who offered it as an alternative to communion wine.

grapes in sun


Have you ever wondered how many varieties of grapes exists? The answer might surprise you, as no one knows (and while researching, I found several different answers). The number is somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 varieties of grapes in the world. Many of these varieties are new hybrids developed through grafting and other methods. Often, certain types of grapes are popular in certain countries.

Grapes are among the oldest cultivated fruits. Fossil evidence indicates grapes were consumed and possibly cultivated as early as 8,000 years ago near the Black and Caspian Seas.  There are two major categories of grapes: Old World European (Vitis vinifera), mostly used for making wine, and New World, (Vitis labrusca), which are native to America and mostly used for eating. While we know Spanish settlers brought Old World grapes to California, we don’t know how the New World grapes got here. Grapes have a history in every country and in every civilization from the Egyptians to the Romans and Greeks. In fact, both the Romans and the
Greeks worshiped their own God of Wine, Bacchus in Rome and Dionysus in Greece.

Grapes are one of the most versatile fruits on the planet.  They are great when fermented into adult beverages or made into a juice for kids. They can also be used as a natural sweetener and are a great substitute for refined sugar. A lesser known use is that grapes can substitute yeast as a natural starter for bread production. Grapes are delicious in jellies and jams or included in desserts. They enhance savory dishes, are excellent paired with cheese, and are refreshing when blended in a drink. Grapes can be frozen and eaten as a satisfying, healthy snack or just eaten in their fresh, natural state. Even the leaves can be eaten. If you feel adventurous, look up a few recipes for stuffed grape leaves, which are popular in the Middle East and Greece.

Most people go to a supermarket and buy either green or red grapes.  BORING!Especially for those of us who live in California where 97% of the US table grapes are grown. Did I mention there are thousands of varieties? Please go explore new varieties and break the green-and-red-grape-only buying habit. Stop picking grapes by color and instead choose them by name, or go out to local farms and explore different varieties. Just to name a few types of grapes there are Perlette, Thompson Seedless (which are found everywhere), Exotic, Flame Seedless, Ribier, Superior Seedless, Ruby Seedless, Emperor, Red Globe, Christmas Rose, Calmeria, and Concord. Every wine grape variety you can think of, from Chardonnay to Zinfandel, are all delicious to eat fresh as well.

Fresh grapes are not just delicious but also very healthy, containing natural sugars and essential nutrients. The most important nutrient in grapes is Vitamin C. Depending on the variety, ten grapes have approximately 5 mgs of Vitamin C.  Also, grape skins, pulp, and seeds contain the antioxidant flavonoid resveratrol, one of the naturally occurring compounds in wines appears to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Purple grape juice contains more of this antioxidant than red grape juice, which in turn contains more than white grape juice.

To put it simply, let’s celebrate grapes– either in a glass, by the handful, or from a box of raisins.  Here is a recipe to get you started!

Spicy Grape Chutney

– Serves 4-6 –

(Great served with chicken or fish.)


1 Cup Green Seedless Grapes (sliced)

1 Cup Red Grapes (sliced)

1 Cup Black Seedless Grapes (sliced)

1 TBSP Vegetable Oil

1 Dried Chili Pepper

1/8 TSP Cumin Seeds

1/8 TSP Mustard Seeds

1/8 TSP Fennel Seeds

1/8 TSP Caraway Seeds

1/8 TSP Fresh Medium Ground Pepper

1 TSP Finely Minced Ginger

2 TBSP Lemon Juice

1 Cup Water

¼ Cup Agave

½ TSP Salt


  1. In a nonstick sauce pan on medium heat, add vegetable oil.
  2. Add all the dry spices and the ginger to the pan and sauté for about one minute, stirring continuously so that the spices do not burn.
  3. Add all other ingredients, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to simmer and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently until the sauce thickens.
  4. Set aside to cool and store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.



Al Ferrone is the senior director of Food & Beverage at UCLA Housing & Hospitality Services. With extensive years of food and beverage/hotel experience, Al Ferrone manages all areas of F&B for UCLA including Dining Services, Lake Arrowhead Conference Center, the UCLA Meyer & Renee Luskin Conference Center, and UCLA Catering.  Prior to UCLA as the Vice President of Food & Beverage, he played a significant role in the guidance of hotel and F&B strategies at Caesars Entertainment Corporation, Hilton, and Interstate Hotels Corporation. He has worked with a wide-ranging family of hotel and casino brands.  He also developed and independently managed the Hilton Restaurant Group, which consisted of freestanding restaurants with over eight concepts.


Graduate Students at the Forefront of Veteran Food Security

“We truly need to integrate agriculture into our urban systems to tackle food insecurity for the populations that are most underserved.” -Kathleen Chen

Kathleen, a second year graduate student, and Yi Shen, a first year graduate student, are tackling food insecurity for over 50 veterans through an ambitious renovation of the VA (Veterans Affairs) Garden. The duo, both studying chemistry, work through the INFEWS (Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems) program to improve access to nutritious food, create jobs, build community, and aid in therapy for psychological issues veterans often face.


Veterans and Volunteers Planting at the VA Garden. Photo by Tammy Wong.

The Facts on Food Insecurity

The USDA defines food insecurity as a state in which “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.” Two terms, low food security and very low food security break the definition down further. Low food security may result in reduced variety, quality, or desirability of diet, while very low food security, formerly known as food insecurity with hunger results in actual reduced food intake.

In America, 1 in 8 people report being in a state of food insecurity, and among veterans, the numbers are much higher. More than 1 in 4 veterans (27%) from Iraq and Afghanistan wars report problems with food security, where 15% of those surveyed reported low food security and 12% reported very low food security.


In 2016, UCLA committed a total of $16.5 million to a partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs. This money was dedicated to, among other actions, the rejuvenation of the VA garden. This kickstarted the transformation of the area into a space for recreation, leisure, and therapy, as well as an easy way to provide nutritious food to veterans in the area. Yi and Kathleen’s project has been in the works since September 2018, and catalyzes the overall process through four objectives.

Kathleen and Yi’s “Four Specific Aims”

In order to achieve improved food security for veterans in the area, Kathleen and Yi outlined their goals as follows:

  1. Develop a planting guide and schedule for the 16 raised garden beds available. The planting guide includes not only which plants to sow, but also accounts for companion planting: how to combine plants to minimize water usage and support growth. The schedule outlines when to sow seeds, transfer sprouts to beds, water, fertilize, and finally harvest the produce.
  2. Determine which nearby public lands other than the raised beds may have potential to grow more food. Criteria are that the land is affordable to clear, close to a water source, fertile, and uncontaminated. This is done through collaboration with the INFEWS design team and soil testing team.
  3. Create a compost system. Currently, all compost materials are put on trucks and sent to an industrial composting plant, and the garden must purchase fertilizers from outside sources. An ideal system would cycle compost to fertilizer within the garden property, eliminating external processes. Another benefit of a composting system on-site is that it creates tasks for veteran-community engagement.
  4. Identify ways to inspire veterans to interact with the garden. This can be done through direct food distribution; classes on gardening, cooking, and nutrition; and temporary paid jobs, including maintenance of buildings and the garden.

Classes on gardening, cooking, and nutrition can be held in outdoor rooms near the garden. Photo by Yi Shen.

So far, Aims 1, 2, and 4 are close to completion, but the project ends for Kathleen and Yi at the end of Fall Quarter, 2018. Though they will no longer be heading the initiative, Kathleen plans to continue volunteering at the garden, and continue with her research in “soil conditioners to improve water conservation in agriculture.” She feels that the project “was really beneficial for giving context to [her] own research and strengthening [her] motivations.”

The garden restoration continues only with maintained volunteer contribution. Feeding more than 50 veterans through small-scale agriculture is no simple task, but the success of the program thus far signifies a major step towards improving food security for the veteran community as a whole.

To get involved with Kathleen and Yi’s project, either as a volunteer or even a new project manager, email either of them directly at kkchen@ucla.edu or shenyi.1995@gmail.com. A volunteer sign-up form can also be found here.

Click here to learn more about the benefits of the VA garden on employment, social well-being, and psychological health.


Patience Olsen is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Civil Engineering. In addition to blogging for the EatWell Pod, she volunteers at the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden on campus, and is a member of the ASCE Environmental Design project.


Did you know: Ginger, A Spice for the Season

Given we are now in December and looking forward to festivities the season brings regardless of religious or political beliefs, many of us can agree that ginger is a key spice of this time of year. The smell and taste of ginger create lingering memories. Whether found in gingerbread houses, ginger snaps, candies, or added to favorite beverages, most people enjoy this ancient spice.

Zingiber officinale is a rhizome from the Zingiberaceae family. When we think of ginger, most of us think of the Jamaican type, which is of the highest quality, which despite its name is cultivated in China, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and the West Indies. So widely used in all cultures, I am pressed to name a cuisine that doesn’t include it.

This ancient spice has been documented in 3000 BC in the early Chinese writing of Shen Nung, the Father of Chinese medicine.  He claimed the consumption of ginger “eliminates body order and puts a person in touch with the spiritual realm.” It is also found in the writing of Confucius as early as 500 BC. The name goes back to Sanskrit, sringavera, and was probably used in India as far back as 3,000 years ago. The original homeland of ginger is still uncertain as it no longer grows wild, but Southeast Asia is the most probable location. Lore has it that as early as 77AD Dioscorides, the Greco-Roman “surgeon general” of emperors Claudius and Nero, declared in his book De Materia Medica that ginger not only would warm and soften the stomach, but was also an excellent broad-spectrum antidote. Ginger made its way to Europe through the usual routes of the spice trade, one of them established by Marco Polo. It then made its way to the New World through European settlers.

Ginger is a mild stimulant that promotes circulation. It is used medicinally to aid digestion, decrease nausea, treat morning sickness, and enhance the immune system. It is also used as a topical skin treatment to reduce irritation and to soothe a sore throat from colds and influenzas. Now I must say, I am not a doctor nor do I play one on television, so I cannot confirm that all of the associated medical claims and benefits work or are effective. But what I do know is that ginger is delicious and can enhance the flavor of most recipes.  Whether you are making a soup, roasting meats, grilling fish, spicing up a vegetable stir-fry, brewing a beverage, or whipping up your favorite dessert, you can’t go wrong with adding ginger.

 Ginger cookies


Ingredients for ginger cookies


In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Combine ½ cup of the granulated sugar, the brown sugar, and the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute.  Add the egg and beat until mixed, then beat in the molasses until blended. Reduce the speed to low, add the dry ingredients, and mix until incorporated.  Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Spread the remaining ¼ cup granulated sugar in a small, shallow bowl. To shape each cookie, using a small spoon or ice-cream scoop, scoop up a spoonful of the dough and roll between your palms into a ¾-inch ball.  As the balls are formed, roll them in the sugar, coating evenly, and then place on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 to 3 inches apart. Flatten the balls slightly with 2 fingers.

Bake until golden brown and set around the edges but still soft inside, about 12 minutes. At the midway point, switch the baking sheets between the racks and rotate them 180 degrees to ensure even baking. Let cool on the baking sheets to room temperature.


The dough may be made up to a week in advance and kept in the refrigerator. The cookies may be baked a day ahead. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

(Recipe from Classic Stars Desserts; Favorite Recipes by Emily Luchetti)




Al Ferrone is the senior director of Food & Beverage at UCLA Housing & Hospitality Services. With extensive years of food and beverage/hotel experience, Al Ferrone manages all areas of F&B for UCLA including Dining Services, Lake Arrowhead Conference Center, the UCLA Meyer & Renee Luskin Conference Center, and UCLA Catering.  Prior to UCLA as the Vice President of Food & Beverage, he played a significant role in the guidance of hotel and F&B strategies at Caesars Entertainment Corporation, Hilton, and Interstate Hotels Corporation. He has worked with a wide-ranging family of hotel and casino brands.  He also developed and independently managed the Hilton Restaurant Group, which consisted of freestanding restaurants with over eight concepts.

BPlate 1

Bruin Plate Dining in the Comfort of your own Home

Any person who eats at Bruin Plate for the first time is immediately aware that this is no regular college dining hall. The menu reads like one you might find at a 5-star restaurant, with dishes like “Rosemary, Gorgonzola, & Roasted Grape Flatbread”, and a variety of ingredients completely foreign to typical dining hall cuisine, from wheat berry, to jicama, to seitan. The aptly named residential restaurant sets itself apart from other college dining options and represents potentially the first dining hall in the country in which all menu items are made from scratch, with a focus on health, sustainability, and flavor.

BPlate 1

Fresh Fig, Feta, and Jalapeño Salad, page 19, Bruin Plate Cookbook

At just under five years old, Bruin Plate has already established itself as a distinguished dining hall, with awards including the FM Best Concept Award for Best Menu in 2012 and a four-star Certified Green Restaurant designation in 2017, making it the third dining hall in the nation to receive the highest award given by the Green Restaurant Association. It also boasts a rating of five stars on Yelp, and contributes to the rating of UCLA dining halls as best in the nation for the past two consecutive years.

Maddie Cashel, a sophomore, endorses the restaurant,  “I love healthy options right at your fingertips. I love eating healthy food that’s not just salad, and [Bruin Plate] has so many vegetable options with protein that you don’t find at other dining halls.” Those who often choose Bruin Plate over other dining halls share this sentiment that healthy eating should be both easy and interesting– there exists more nutritious food than uninspired salads and flavorless steamed vegetables.

Limited Time at Bruin Plate

Students savor the taste of Bruin Plate for as long as they live on the Hill, but the difficulty lies in the fact that this usually lasts only a year or two. Students tend to move into apartments off-campus for their third or fourth years as undergraduate students, where they must either begin to cook for themselves, or rack up charges by ordering take-out for every meal. In both cases, these meals are often much less nutritious and less sustainable than their Bruin Plate counterparts. One student planning to live off the Hill next year laments, “What am I going to do without the salad bar and the chocolate peanut butter?”  Other Bruin Plate fans, such as staff and faculty, may hear much about the award-winning cuisine but comprise a miniscule percentage of people who actually eat at the dining hall on a regular basis.

The Bruin Plate Cookbook, released only a few weeks ago, aims to solve these problems. Pete Angelis, Assistant Vice Chancellor of UCLA Housing & Hospitality Services, endorses the motive behind the cookbook, “the Bruin Plate cookbook is the culmination of Housing & Hospitality Services’ efforts to make the healthy choice, the easy choice, for our students, staff and faculty. We are pleased to be able to share these nutritious AND delicious recipes with others through the publication of the Bruin Plate recipes in the cookbook.”The message is clear: anyone who enjoys healthy, delicious cooking with a side of environmental stewardship can benefit from the cookbook.

Over 200 Pages of Recipes

BPlate 2

Aromatic Spiced Chicken with Snap Peas and Forbidden Rice, page 146

The cookbook highlights not only dishes actually served at Bruin Plate, but also dishes inspired by the residential restaurant that don’t often make it onto the menu, such as Fresh Fig, Feta, and Jalapeño Salad1 and Aromatic Spiced Chicken with Snap Peas and Forbidden Rice2. Each recipe was scaled down by Bruin Plate chefs, from portions to feed hundreds to portions to feed only one or two hungry mouths. Each recipe also includes nutritional information per serving.

Two sample recipes, taken directly from the cookbook, are pictured below.

BPlate 4
BPlate 3

The cookbook is now sold at the UCLA Store for $34.95, with an additional 30% discount for UCLA students, staff and faculty when UCLA ID is shown. With this discount, the cost reduces to less than $0.20 per recipe.

All proceeds from the book sales support the elimination of food insecurity for UCLA students and for the Los Angeles community through the Semel HCI Center at UCLA and the UCLA Basic Needs Committee. Here’s to Bruin Plate dining, now accessible to anyone! For more information about how to support food insecure students at UCLA and/or to access resources please click here.

Those seeking cheaper ways to eat nutritiously off campus can find resources in other EatWell blog posts:

To register for Imperfect Produce deliveries: https://www.imperfectproduce.com/join




Patience Olsen is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Civil Engineering. In addition to blogging for the EatWell Pod, she volunteers at the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden on campus, and is a member of the ASCE Environmental Design project.


Cooking with Apicius: A Mediterranean Kitchen in Westwood

The trans-disciplinary course Food and Medicine in Antiquity, taught by Alain Touwaide during Spring Term, culminated with a Roman dinner organized in collaboration with The Huntington in San Marino. In keeping with the theme, a centuries old text took center stage: an ancient cookbook known as Apicius, De re coquinaria (On the culinary art). Though attributed to Marcus Gavius Apicius, a wealthy 1st century BC/AD Roman gourmet, the cookbook is a 4th/5th century compilation that includes some recipes possibly dating back to Apicius.

On Sunday June 3, students enrolled in the course who come from a vast array of disciplines (including but not limited to classics, history, anthropology, biology, microbiology, environment studies, economics, communication, design, arts, and theater), enjoyed a 5-course menu in the Mediterranean tradition. Student and apprentice chef Sophia Denison-Johnston created this menu: for appetizer a cheese- and garlic spread with olives; for the main course, chicken in red wine and garum, fish with a pesto-like mix of herbs and spices, and asparagus with a mousseline; for dessert, dried fruits.

1 June 3 dinner

This experience of applied history was a truly unique opportunity to bring the classics to life and to explore the roots of the Mediterranean diet. Not only did student enjoy its health-promoting benefits, they also engaged with a cultural approach to nutrition and the human dimension of collaboratively preparing and enjoying a meal.

The Semel HCI Center invited Sophia Denison-Johnston and Andrea Zachrich, students in the course, to share their experience of preparing Apicius’ dishes.


Hors-d’oeuvre of apricots

with Andrea Zachrich


2 Preparing passum

Apicius’ text

Apicius IV.5.4

Take firm, early or undersized fruits, wash them, remove the stone and put them (to cook) in cold water and then arrange them in a dish. Pound pepper, dried mint, pour on liquamen, add honey, passum, wine, and vinegar; pour over the apricots in a dish, add a little oil and let it come to heat over a gentle fire. When it is simmering, thicken it with starch, sprinkle with pepper and serve.

This recipe does not give the cook much to work with, and some of its ingredients do not exist anymore, such as the garum. I attempted to find ingredients as close as.


5 Apricots

1 tablespoon pepper

1 tablespoon mint

1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons sweet raisin wine

2 tablespoons red wine

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tablespoon cornstarch


  • Apricots: Apricots existed in antiquity, but the Romans classified them as a kind of plum they called an “armenian plum” or “prunus armeniaca”.
  • Pepper: Similar to apricots, pepper in a form close to the modern form existed in antiquity as well. It was traded from India, and was very expensive. During the time of Pliny the Elder (1st AD)  it could cost as much as 12 denarii per pound, which was around 2 weeks pay for a soldier.
  • Mint: Peppermint grows widely around the Mediterranean. While the species for this recipe is not specified, we gain a clue from Pliny when he states that peppermint is used for dishes at “entertainment” or dinner parties.
  • Fish Sauce: The Romans had a unique fish sauce called garum or liquamen which was usually made from mackerels fermented in big barrels in the sun for months. This is not made anymore, but similar types of fish sauces exist in Southeast Asia. The one I used was called “Red Boat Fish Sauce”, a nous nam sauce from Vietnam made from fermented anchovies.
  • Honey: Honey was widely used in antiquity, and almost every estate had its own beehives. The Romans thought it was a gift from the gods that was similar to the the nectar drunk by the gods on Mount Olympus.
  • Sweet Raisin Wine: In antiquity, this kind of wine was called passum. It still exists today in the form of a wine called straw wine, but it is very expensive at around 20 dollars a bottle in its cheapest form. As such, I made some based off of a recipe from Columella, De Re Rustica, a 1s –century AD book about agriculture. This involved soaking raisins in wine for a few days until they were saturated, mashing them into the wine, and then straining the wine through a cloth. Photo 2 here
  • Red Wine: Wine was widely drunk in antiquity, usually mixed with water. Unlike water, wine was guaranteed to be free of bacteria. Today’s wine, however, is different from ancient wine. The process to make the wine, however, would have been similar.
  • Balsamic Vinegar: This also would have been similar to how it was made in antiquity because modern and ancient vinegar are both made with old wine. Vinegar was widely used in antiquity, both in cooking and in a drink called posca, which was water mixed with vinegar that was popular among soldiers and lower classes.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This is probably the closest ingredient we have to the ancient one because it is still made in the same way today. According to the USDA guidelines, extra virgin olive oil must only be the juice from a pressed olive without any modifications from heat, etc. Ancient olive oil would have been made in the same way.
  • Cornstarch: The ancient starch most similar to this was called amylum, although this kind of starch was made from wheat instead of corn. It was a fine starch used to thicken sauces, or could also be used by itself with milk as a kind of pudding.


  1. Take the apricots and wash them and remove the pits. Put the apricots in a bowl of cold water while you make the sauce.
  2. For the sauce: Mix the pepper, mint, fish sauce, honey and sweet raisin wine. Set aside.
  3. Cut the apricots in half and put them in a cast iron pan. Pour the sauce over the apricots. Put them on the stove on low heat and add a little olive oil.
  4. When the sauce starts to bubble, add the cornstarch and stir the sauce.
  5. Heat the apricots until soft. Take off the fire, sprinkle with pepper, and serve.

3 The apricots


Boiled fish with a sauce of herbs and spices, and  peas

with Sophia Denison-Johnston


Apicius’ text

Sauce for Boiled Fish

Apicius X.1.2

Pepper, lovage, cumin, onion, oregano, pine nuts, date, honey, vinegar, liquamen, mustard, a little oil. Serve the sauce hot. If you want, add raisins.


Apicius V.3.4

Cook the peas, stir them and put the pan in  cold water; when it has gone cold, stir again. Chop onion finely with cooked white of egg, season with oil and salt, and add little vinegar. Pass cooked egg yolk through a sieve on to the peas in their serving dish. Poor green oil on  top and serve.

Ingredients (with substitutions for modern times)

  • Peas: Use frozen peas.
  • Fish: Use a white fish.
  • Oil: Extra Virgin Olive oil is best.
  • Salt: Use kosher sea salt.
  • Lovage: When researching this herb, I learned that it is no longer commonly grown. It has a sharp bitter flavor, and is almost always paired with pepper. My substitute was a combination of celery leaves and parsley, which has grown popular as a a modern, milder substitute for lovage. The celery leaves were used to add back in a sharper bitter note that lovage was known for (Faas 2003: 151)
  • Vinegar: Use white wine vinegar if possible. If necessary, substitute for red wine vinegar.
  • Liquamen: Liquamen, or garum, is no longer produced in the Mediterranean today. It is a fermented fish sauce created by combining whole fish with herbs, water, and sometimes wine, and allowing them to ferment for a whole summer in large stone vats. To substitute for this no-longer used ingredient, I used fish sauce from an asian foods market. exception of herbs or flavorings that could have been added in the mediterranean region.

Preparation: While Apicius lists the ingredients and sometimes will refer to method, usually the methods are assumed to be known. Here, I have outlined in greater detail the methods I used when cooking these two dishes.


  1. Boil egg: Place egg in saucepan with water. Bring water to boil. Once boiling, turn off heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes. Place in ice water to cool. Once cooled, peel.
  2. Boil peas: Place peas in 1/4 cup boiling water per 1 cup frozen peas. Bring back to a boil. Once boiling, turn down heat, cover, and let simmer for 6 minutes.
  3. Chop 1/4 onion and egg white, season with 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 2 tsp olive oil, 1 tsp red wine vinegar, mix.
  4. Press yolk through strainer into pea mixture. Add a touch more olive oil, and serve.

Fish with sauce

  1. Cook fish: Steam the fish and season with salt.
  2. The sauce: Traditionally, the sauces are prepared with a mortar and pestle, however I did not have access to one so I used a food processor. Begin by pulsing the herbs and pepper, followed by adding dates and honey. Finally, add vinegar, and olive oil, tasting as you go along to ensure the right amount is added. Finally, add the liquamen, only 5 drops at a time, so that enhances the flavor that is already there without overpowering it.

4 Fish with peas


The peas were delicious! The peas themselves were sweet, with a more salty and savory flavor that balances out the sweetness of the peas. The dish was very light, yet filling, and satisfying along with the fish.

The fish itself was quite plain, but this is intentional in order to highlight the sauce. The sauce tastes much like a pesto; the strongest flavors coming through were the herbs and nuts, with the sweet dates and honey balancing out the sharper vinegar, bitter herbs, pepper, and fish sauce.



Christopher Grocock and Sally Grainger (eds and trs.), Apicius. A critical edition with an introduction and an English translation of the Latin recipe text Apicius. Totnes: Prospect Books, 2006, pp. 203, 213 and 301.

Patrick Faas, Around the Roman Table. New York, NY, and Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003, pp. 131, 151, 153



Alain Touwaide has taught several courses at UCLA over the years 2015-2018, on topics such as the History of Medicine, Food and Medicine, and Venoms and Poisons. A Classicist, he has co-founded the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions, which fosters the trans-disciplinary study of  past medical and culinary legacies for possible renewed applications. A Historian of Science at the Smithsonian for 15 years, he is now based at The Huntington in San Marino.

Food Security on UCLA’s Campus

We often don’t think of food security as being an issue for college students. With dining halls and plenty of on campus restaurants, it would seem as if food is available to all students at all times. However, according to a 2016 study, 19% of students surveyed indicated having “very low” food security, while another 23% had “low” food security. Food security, according to the United Nations, exists when everyone has economic, physical, and social access to nutritious food. This means over 40% of the UC student population struggles to obtain nutritious food regularly.

From the same 2016 survey, only about 17% of the students received information on resources available, either on campus or in the community, to help combat food insecurity. Thus, this article strives to explain the variety of resources for UCLA undergraduate or graduate students, as well as staff and faculty, who may be experiencing food insecurity.

Some programs on UCLA’s campus are geared specifically towards students. For instance, the Economic Crisis Response meal voucher program sets aside a certain amount of meal vouchers, which can be used in the dining halls, every year for students in need. These meal vouchers can be picked up at the LGBT Center, Dashew, Bruin Resource Center (BRC), Community Programs Office (CPO), and the Transfer and Veteran student centers. Swipe Out Hunger at UCLA helps to enrich this program by collecting unused dining hall swipes at the end of each quarter and converting those swipes into meal vouchers.

The CPO Food Closet is another student-oriented resource on campus, which can be found in the Student Activities Center (SAC), room 111. Founded in 2009, the Food Closet aims to gather uneaten food from events, that would normally go to waste, or donations, and redistribute it to students who may be in need. The Food Closet is open Monday through Friday from 8am-6pm.

CalFresh, a California-government sponsored resource, is available not only for students, but for faculty and staff who are eligible as well. When enrolled in CalFresh, you could receive up to $194 a month for groceries which can be spent at places like Ralph’s, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s. While CalFresh is a state-wide resource, UCLA has its own CalFresh Initiative, located in SAC CPO 105E. This initiative, dedicated to enrolling eligible students in CalFresh, also has a Pre-Screening Tool to help you find out if you’re eligible for the program.

There are also many resources just outside of UCLA, like Café 580. Café 580 is located at 580 Hilgard Avenue, just across the street from campus and offers free food, internet, and study space for students. Café 580 also has various events advertised on their Facebook page to provide social connections along with food resources.

The Santa Monica Food Bank is a community resource, also available for UCLA students, staff and faculty. Located at 1710 22nd Street, their goal is to help provide food to low-income families in hopes of alleviating the stress of deciding between buying food or paying rent.

A nationwide resource available to UCLA students, both during their time at UCLA and beyond, is Dial 2-1-1. 2-1-1 provides resources ranging from housing, health and other crises needs. Specifically, it can give information on food pantries and other programs that can help address food insecurity in your community.

UCLA and its surrounding community offers a wide variety of food insecurity resources. While we may not be able to ensure food security for all students, we at least can make sure everyone is aware of the resources available, and hopefully takes advantage of them if they are in need.

To learn more about food security at UCLA, visit the food security page of our website.

Aurora Finley is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in English. Along with blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she is the Sexperts Executive Director for the 2017-18 academic year. She is also a regular volunteer for UCLA’s Habitat for Humanity chapter and blogs for the online UCLA Odyssey community.


Eating Uglier with Imperfect Produce & the Public Health Nutrition Club

Did you know an estimated 30 to 40% of the U.S. food supply goes to waste? That’s approximately 133 billion pounds of food, worth about $161 billion in 2010 according to the USDA. On top of that, 1 in 5 fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. never make it off the farm because they do not meet grocery store standards, causing them to go to waste.

The founders of Imperfect Produce decided to change this. The organization strives to reduce the waste of nutritious and delicious fruits and vegetables by delivering ‘ugly’ produce directly to customers’ homes. To date, Imperfect Produce has saved 11.5 million pounds of produce, 575 million gallons of water, and 39.3 million pounds of CO2. And compared to grocery store prices, purchasing through Imperfect Produce saves you about 30-50%!


On January 18th, the Public Health Nutrition Club (PHNC) hosted Imperfect Produce as part of their quarterly Colloquia Series, supported in part by the UCLA Partners of Excellence for Leadership in Maternal and Child Health Nutrition (MCH). PHNC is a graduate student group based in UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health (FSPH) that promotes nutrition education and food literacy through campus gardens, healthy cooking demonstrations, and other activities. Previous colloquia have included inspirational local organizations and speakers such as Food Forward, LA Food Policy Council, and Angie Tagtow from the USDA.

Alyssa Seibert, the Outreach Team Lead from Imperfect Produce LA, visited FSPH to educate 32 students on the history and philosophy of the organization, how to build a more sustainable and effective food system, and how to help fight food waste. She dispelled many of the myths around “ugly produce” – how the bruising or scarring on the exterior of an orange does not affect the taste or nutritional content of the fruit. Alyssa, along with outreach associate David Raffaelle, signed up a quarter of attending students for the subscription services of Imperfect Produce, spreading the message that eating uglier can make a huge impact!

Students found her presentation informative, engaging, and inspiring. Those in the room left with a sense of how significant of an issue food waste is in the United States, but also filled with hope that they can help make a difference by joining environmentally conscious companies in the fight to create a more sustainable and healthy world.


For PHNC’s next Colloquium, come join us for a Nutrition Advocacy Training with Frank Tamborello, the Executive Director of Hunger Action LA. Learn how Hunger Action LA is working to end hunger and promote healthy eating through advocacy, direct service, and organizing. The advocacy training will be held on Thursday, March 8th from 12 to 1 PM in FSPH Room 61-269. RSVP here.

Interested in nutrition policy? The MCH Nutrition Leadership Training Program presents 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: The Role of Science, Politics, and People. The policy seminar will be held on Wednesday, April 4th from 5 to 7 PM in the NRB Auditorium featuring Angie Tagtow, MS, RD, former Executive Director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and Lorrene Ritchie, PhD, RD, Director of the Nutrition Policy Institute, University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. RSVP here.

For upcoming events from the PHNC, join our Facebook group.

For more information about Imperfect Produce, visit their website.

About the Public Health Nutrition Club:

2.jpeg-2Supported by the UCLA Partners in Excellence for Leadership in MCH Nutrition, the Public Health Nutrition Club at UCLA believes that good nutrition is the basis for a healthy life. Our purpose is to provide nutrition education to the public and volunteer opportunities for our members to network and develop leadership skills. With roots in Maternal and Child Health, we focus on pre- and post-natal nutrition as a fundamental right for all mothers and children. This program is supported in part by UCLA Partners in Excellence for Leadership in MCH Nutrition, a nutrition training program at the FSPH funded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Health Resources and Services Administration, DHHS and directed by Dr. Dena Herman.

Sakura Takahashi is pursuing her M.P.H. in the Department of Community Health Sciences at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. She is also a dietetic intern with the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System looking to become a registered dietitian. Sakura is a current MCH Nutrition Leadership trainee under Dr. Herman and is keen to gain exposure in interdisciplinary and collaborative methods for improving the health and well-being of maternal, infant, and child populations from a nutritional standpoint.