The GSB Interview: Johanna McCloy, Helping Fans Find Vegetarian Food at Sports Venues with VeggieHappy

Johanna McCloy was on a date at her first baseball game back in 2000 when she noticed there were no vegetarian food options — and that was at Dodger Stadium in veggie-friendly Los Angeles. So the actress sprung into action, calling the Dodgers to ask why that was the case. And then she started calling other teams across the major leagues.

Fast forward to 2019 and McCloy is the co-founder of VeggieHappy, an online venue guide for plant-based food options at large professional and Division I college sports venues.

With vegetarian and vegan diets growing, especially among millennials and especially GenZers, there is no one better to talk to about where things stand regarding the availability and quality of plant-based food options at ballparks and other sports venues than Johanna McCloy.

 

GreenSportsBlog: When did the first vegetarian and/or vegan options first appear at sports venues?

Johanna McCloy: While I don’t know the history of plant-based food options at every venue before I got involved in this work, I can speak to the status of plant-based options when we first began reaching out to major league ballparks in 2000, sometimes through cold calling. They had items like pretzels and peanuts, of course, but none of the parks offered a viable plant-based option beyond those generic snacks. Our initial quest was to introduce veggie dogs at Major League Baseball venues, since hot dogs and baseball are as American as…

 

Johanna McCloy Kirsten Lara Getchell

Johanna McCloy (Photo credit: Kirsten Lara Getchell)

 

GSB: …Hot dogs and baseball! 

Johanna: Exactly! But no major league ballpark at the time offered veggie dogs. So we started calling all the ballparks, offering our consultation and liaison services to facilitate veggie dogs and other viable plant-based menu options. We got our first hit when the Chicago White Sox added veggie dogs to the concession stands menu Comiskey Park — now Guaranteed Rate Field — later in 2000. From there, other ballparks followed, including Dodger Stadium. Today, nearly all of them offer veggie dogs, and sports venues of all kinds offer a variety of fabulous plant-based options.

 

VeggieHappy Beyond Meat Veggie Dog Dodger Stadium

Vegan veggie dog, courtesy of Beyond Meat, at Dodger Stadium (Photo credit: Riley Williams, @chefrdog)

 

GSB: What are some of the best venues for plant-based options in terms of quality and quantity?

Johanna: Exactly! In addition to Dodger Stadium, some of the top major league ballparks, in terms of plant-based food quality and quantity are Citi Field (New York Mets), Globe Life Park (Texas Rangers), Target Field (Minnesota Twins), and Yankee Stadium.

There is a ton of variety these days. Fans can now find options like a plant-based burger with carmelized onions, guacamole, and non-dairy cheese. Also vegan nachos with either tempeh or plant-based meat crumbles. So you can go for some tasty, healthy, yet decadent stuff. And beyond all the plant-based meat options out there, you can also find wraps, burritos, falafels, sandwiches, bountiful salads, and all kinds of additional options. Not to mention vegan cookies. Gotta have those too!

 

VeggieHappy 32 Ingredient Salad Rogers Centre

The “32 Ingredient” vegan salad on offer at Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays (Photo credit: Aramark)

 

Some venues are choosing to provide a dedicated stand offering most of their plant-based options at one location. Others provide a variety of vegetarian and/or vegan options throughout many concession stands. Be sure to check out VeggieHappy’s online venue listings to discover which plant-based options they offer, and where to find them.

GSB: Is there a sport that has led on plant-based foods? Which sport lags the field?

Johanna: Well, in very general terms, NFL stadiums bring up the rear, though they are slowly starting to move up. NBA and MLS venues are catching on quickly. MLB, with the longest history with plant-based food, is the leader.

 

VeggieHappy Quinoa-Barley-Black Bean Taco Wizards

NBA teams are getting into the plant-based food act. Here are two quinoa-barley-black bean tacos (sans cilantro cream sauce to make it vegan) from Street Taco at Capital One Arena, home of the Washington Wizards (Photo credit: James Price, @veganfoodfinds)

 

GSB: Baseball leads thanks in part to your efforts going back two decades! Are fans demanding plant-based food options?

Johanna: Thank you, Lew. The interest and demand for these foods is growing at an amazing rate. Just look at the statistics overall on people choosing plant-based diets, or purchasing plant-based meats. The numbers of vegetarians, vegans and flexitarians — a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish — are all growing.

Not surprisingly, it’s Millennials and Generation Z that are driving that demand.

GSB: I know! According to a 2018 Statista study, 7.5 percent of Millennials and GenZers have given up meat while only 3 percent of those over 50 have done the same…

Johanna: Yes! And that is leading to stunning sales growth of plant-based alternatives. According to Nielsen, sales increased 17 percent over the past year alone. During the same time period, total U.S. retail food dollar sales grew just 2 percent. And sales of plant-based meat increased 23 percent in the past year, up from 6 percent growth the previous year, according to the Good Food Institute.

Fans definitely want these options, and some understand the value of asking for them. However, many fans are not aware of their power as a consumer, and have not asked; they are more complacent, bringing their own food, or eating before or after a game or event. That’s why VeggieHappy exists. We’re speaking to that very real demand.

GSB: What about organic offerings? Local food choices? 

Johanna: Same as with plant-based food; venues are increasingly adding them.

GSB: Forest Green Rovers, a minor league soccer club in England, ONLY offers vegan food at its concession stands. It was controversial at first but is mostly accepted these days. Could this happen here? What would it take? Why not?

Johanna: I love Forest Green Rovers and what they’ve done over there. They became fully vegan in 2011. In their case, it’s because of their ownership and the very strong position that they’ve taken around sustainability. It started at the very top. Their Chairman Dale Vince is vegan himself and is the owner of an electric company called Ecotricity. He also has an Order of the British Empire (OBE) designation from the Queen for his environmental activism. What is great is how fans who otherwise wouldn’t have chosen to eat vegan options now really love them and talking about how their own diets have changed as a result of the options offered there. That’s wonderful.

Could it happen here? Definitely. It’s about the team’s ownership and their vision. And any owner who would want to go deeper on plant-based food offerings has Dale Vince and Forest Green Rovers as a prove-point.

 

Veggie Happy FGR

Forest Green Rovers of League 2, the fourth tier of English football, serves its fans a vegan-only menu. Here is a stir-fried mixed peppers, red onion and Mexican spiced Quorn wrapped in a soft tortilla with fresh tomato relish (Photo credit: Forest Green Rovers)

 

GSB: GreenSportsBlog will take it as a challenge to find an owner in North America who will match Dale Vince and Forest Green Rovers. Final question: What do you think the sports venue-plant-based food landscape look like in five years or so?

There’s a food revolution underway right now, there is no question about it, and plant-based options are going to become fully mainstream. Right now, they’re starting to be better understood and more readily accepted, but in the next five years or so, they will be fully promoted and abundantly sold in mainstream venues. It’s a HUGE market. Venues should and will get on board. Cell-based meat may also enter the market in that time frame, and there is a lot of investment going into that. It’s a food revolution too. People are steadily moving away from products derived from animal agriculture and factory farming.

It comes down to this: Many notable international scientific consortiums have recently cited animal agriculture as one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — some show the meat industrial complex to be the number one source — and have encouraged people to choose plant-based foods as a way to mitigate those effects.

With that as backdrop, plant-based food options have to play a major part in any sports-sustainability effort.

GSB: No doubt about it. Check out veggiehappy.com to learn about plant-based food options at your favorite ballpark. 

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Big Earth Day for Green-Sports in Baltimore, Chicago and London; Eco-QB Josh Rosen Drafted By Arizona

The Green-Sports world was on overdrive over Earth Day last weekend. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the beautiful home of the Baltimore Orioles, earned LEED Gold status. The Chicago White Sox became the first team in Major League Baseball to no longer dispense plastic straws at their home games. The London Marathon tried out compostable cups. And the Kia Oval, South London home of the Surrey County Cricket Club, announced it would be single use plastic-free by 2020. Plus, a few words on the first round of the NFL Draft as the Arizona Cardinals traded up to the 10th spot to take UCLA QB — and eco-athlete — Josh Rosen.

 

ORIOLE PARK EARNS LEED GOLD CERTIFICATION FOR EXISTING BUILDINGS

The Baltimore Orioles and Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) celebrated Earth Day by announcing that 26 year-old Oriole Park at Camden Yards — the venue that ushered in the “retro stadium” movement in baseball and a must-visit if, like me, you love ballparks — earned LEED Gold certification for existing buildings. Oriole Park now is part of a four-member club of LEED Gold certified MLB ballparks (AT&T Park in San Francisco, Marlins Park in Miami and Minneapolis’ Target Field are the other three).

The iconic B&O Warehouse, which is home to the Orioles offices just beyond the right field fence, also earned LEED Silver certification. Both facilities garnered LEED points for a variety of sustainability practices, including waste management, recycling, paperless tickets, and the installation of state-of-the-art energy efficiency systems.

 

Camden yards Ballparks of Baseball

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, newly certified at LEED Gold for existing buildings, with LEED Silver B&O Warehouse beyond the right field wall (Photo credit: Ballparks of Baseball)

 

“The historic and iconic Oriole Park at Camden Yards, already amongst the best ballpark experiences, is now further enhanced with energy efficient equipment and environmentally conscious improvements,” said Maryland Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford. “The LEED certification project, fully funded by MSA, supports Maryland’s commitment to sustainability, every day, and especially this Earth Day.”

To celebrate the LEED-i-fication of Camden Yards, all Orioles players and coaches wore green-accented jerseys and caps for last Sunday’s Earth Day game. The game-worn jerseys and caps were autographed and authenticated, and are being auctioned online at www.orioles.com/auctions to benefit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

 

CHICAGO WHITE SOX SAY NO TO PLASTIC STRAWS

In an effort to reduce plastic waste, the Chicago White Sox announced that they would become the first MLB club — and the first Chicago pro team, no matter the sport — to no longer provide plastic straws with drinks sold at their stadium. Biodegradable straws are replacing their plastic cousins at Guaranteed Rate Field^.

The policy, which went into effect on Earth Day, is the result of a partnership with Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and its “Shedd the Straw” campaign which encourages Chicago residents to stop using single-use plastic straws.

 

Shedd The Straw

 

“As an advocate for wildlife, Shedd Aquarium has declared that Earth Day is the last straw for single-use plastics that threaten water health and environmental quality,” the aquarium said in a statement.

 

COMPOSTABLE CUPS AT LONDON MARATHON

Earth Day’s London Marathon was the hottest in the race’s 37 year history, with temperatures reaching 75°F. That meant the 40,000 or so runners faced even more of a thirst-quenching, endurance test than normal with huge numbers of drink bottles and cups distributed.

 

London Marathon

Sunday’s London Marathon was run in record heat (Photo credit: London Marathon)

 

The plastic waste issue is significant and organizers took an important step to address it by piloting the distribution of 90,000 compostable cups along three drink stations.

Mike Childs, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told BBC Radio 5 Live that: “The compostable water cups being trialled have the potential to lessen the amount of plastic waste created by the marathon, but there are challenges when it comes to the correct collection and processing of these to ensure they have their full impact”.

That is why race organizers also made 760,000 recyclable plastic bottles available to runners. A spokesperson for the London Marathon told BBC Radio 5 Live that using recyclable plastic bottles remains “the best solution for the distribution of water and sports drinks to the more than 40,000 runners.”

 

KIA OVAL TO GO SINGLE-USE PLASTIC-FREE BY 2020

Meanwhile, in South London, Surrey County Cricket Club announced it plans to make the Kia Oval a single use plastic free stadium by 2020.

According to an April 20 story in sportindustry.biz, the commitment is a logical extension for the club that, since 2015, has served beer in recyclable and reusable pint glasses, and this season banned plastic straws, introduced compostable coffee cups, and is phasing out plastic bags in the club shop.

 

KIA OVAL Sport Industry Group

Kia Oval, home of Surrey County Cricket Club (Photo credit: Sport Industry Group)

 

Going green has certainly been good for business for Surrey CCC: Last year, it inked deals with new sponsors Fidelity Energy and ENGIE, which ensures that all electricity used at the Kia Oval is generated from sustainable sources. The partnership has already saved 223.8 tons of carbon.

 

 

ECO-QB JOSH ROSEN DRAFTED BY ARIZONA CARDINALS IN FIRST ROUND

Two weeks ago in GSB, I opined that with the third pick in the first round of the NFL Draft, my quarterback-needy (desperate?) New York Jets should select UCLA’s Josh Rosen, the “best pure passer and the most intelligent” player available.

And that was before I found out climate change is a big concern of his. In an in-depth interview on espn.com with Sam Alipour, Rosen declared, “One cause I’ll champion is the environment. It touches everything. I mean, the war in Syria started because of the drought and famine that destabilized the country and led the population to revolt against the government. I know global warming is a partisan issue for some stupid reason, but it touches everything.”

How cool is THAT?!?

While I clearly preferred Rosen to two of the other three quarterbacks being considered as top 10 picks, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, I did make one hedge. If Sam Darnold was available when the Jets picked, I’d go with the USC signal caller over the twice-concussed Rosen by a smidge because he moves better and will likely be more durable. Draft experts at the time felt Darnold would be gone by the Jets pick, with either the Cleveland Browns at one or the New York Giants at two taking him. In that case, I would’ve been more than happy to see a green Rosen to wearing Jets green.

But, the Browns selected Mayfield with the first overall pick and the Giants did not pick a QB, opting for Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, generally regarded as the best player in the draft, regardless of position. The Jets, with both LA quarterbacks available, chose Darnold. And Rosen began to fall.

 

Sam Darnold USC Trojans

Sam Darnold (r) with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, after being picked by the New York Jets with the third pick in the first round of Thursday’s NFL Draft (photo credit: USC Trojans)

 

That slide ended when the Arizona Cardinals traded with the Oakland Raiders so they could snag Rosen with the tenth pick.

Arizona is a perfect place for Rosen, from a football perspective (the Cardinals run an offense that fits his skill set) and climate change-wise (the Phoenix area has been buffeted by its effects, from frequent and deep droughts to high temperature records being broken frequently).

 

Rosen Ringer

Josh Rosen, new QB of the Arizona Cardinals, with commissioner Goodell (photo credit: The Ringer)

 

So here’s hoping that, on February 7, 2021, at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, the Jets with Darnold defeat the Rosen-led Cardinals in Super Bowl LV.

Before that, here’s hoping that Darnold joins Rosen in the climate change fight. And when Darnold joins the eco-athlete club, let’s tell the sports media they should let fans know about it (#CoverGreenSports).

 

 

^ I know naming rights deals are lucrative but Guaranteed Rate Field doesn’t have a great ring to it IMHO.

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