Healthy eating habits endorsed at UTPA
Contact: Roxanne Lerma Casares, staff writer (956) 665-2741
Posted: 10/14/2011
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The Office of Sustainability at The University of Texas-Pan American continued its string of workshops endorsing green living Oct. 5 with a presentation on healthy food preparation, affordable eating and creating healthy menus.

Pictured from left to right are Marianella Quiroga-Quintanilla, director of UTPA's Office for Sustainability; Mikal Marrus, market chef for Alhambra restaurant; Kelli Keegan, director of food services for Oklahoma City University; Barbara Storz, county extension educator for horticulture with Texas Agri-Life Extension Service; Ismael Delgado, director of special projects at UTPA's Community Engagement; Josh Boswell, captain at the Texas Food Revolution; and Dave Robledo, captain at the Texas Food Revolution.

Kelli Keegan, director of food services for Oklahoma City University, and who is responsible for bringing recycling and energy conservation to her campus, said UTPA is already embracing a more ecological approach to nutrition.

"They are using recycled napkins, fair trade coffee and using local produce and local vendors like Blue Bell and Borden Milk. That helps the local economy," Keegan said. "All that money stays in the Valley and you are making healthy choices."

About 50 food services representatives for nursing homes, nonprofit organizations, higher education institutions, schools and the health care industry attended the workshop. Marianella Quiroga-Quintanilla, UTPA director for sustainability, was instrumental in putting the seminar together.

"This is to help us in terms of making healthy choices. Sustainability is about quality of life and sustainability begins first and foremost with one's self," Quiroga-Quintanilla said. "Healthy dining is very important within quality of life."

Keegan opened the only successful vegan concept on a college campus in the entire United States. She says the idea may not completely catch on at UTPA, but there are creative ways to integrate fitness and low-fat diets on campus.

"Yes, you are going to have people at the University who live on french fries and chicken strips but there are also those on campus who want a healthy diet and you have to incorporate it into the mix," Keegan said. "It is vital to keep the University population fit and you want to have healthy food as an option. Going organic and embracing local produce are easy ways to incorporate sustainability into your life."

Ismael Delgado, UTPA director of special projects, who was also a workshop speaker, promoted growing your own garden as another cost-effective way to be healthy and stay within a tight budget. Delgado says diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity are rampant in the Hispanic culture and students must go back in history to be healthy.

"What we call Tejano food now is not what our ancestors used to eat. Our ancestors' food was actually very similar to the highly acclaimed Mediterranean diet. It wasn't laced with fat, sugar and white flour," Delgado said. "Back then there wasn't so much processing. It was fresh produce, more fruits and vegetables and whole grains. We need to go back to the old ways."

Delgado aggressively works on connecting people to resources in the community, including the land itself, so they can become self-sufficient. He says he is constantly looking for foods which would be appetizing and accepted by the local population, thereby addressing the obesity dilemma and incorporating sustainability at the same time.

"The challenge with nutritional programs is to increase the propensity to eat more fruits and vegetables. Sometimes it is just encouraging people to go back to their ancestral roots and say eat a bowl of beans with a corn tortilla because it has a lot of protein and it's healthy for you. They understand that," he said.

Quiroga-Quintanilla says the series of sustainability workshops target every corner of the University in an effort to create an environment in which the entire campus community supports facets of sustainability in their lives. Healthy eating is a cornerstone of that goal.

"This is about making sure you are putting nutrition into your body so that your body can have the energy to do all the other things that we are here to do. If your body is not feeling well, you are not going to have the right demeanor. You're not going to work effectively and eating healthy changes all that and extends your life span," Quiroga-Quintanilla said.

The Fall 2011 workshop series continues with "Recycling-Reduce Cost While Maintaining Service," Oct. 14, "Economic and Social Benefits of Composting and Mulching," Nov. 16, "Sustainable Water Management for Long-Term Savings," Dec. 1, and "Conservation and Restoration of Coastal Habitat," Dec. 14.

For more information on these workshops, contact the Office for Sustainability at (956) 665-3030.