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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The GSB Interview: Monica Rowand, Bringing Green-Sports to University of Louisiana. Part I: Honing Her Craft at UCLA and CU-Boulder

Monica Rowand is one of the brightest, young stars in the Green-Sports world as she helps to lead the University of Louisiana’s (Lafayette) athletic department’s burgeoning sustainability efforts. 

Despite Monica’s youth, her story is rich and deep, so much so that we’re dividing the interview into two parts. Today’s Part I delves into her lifelong love affair with sports, her discovery of Green-Sports at UCLA and her work with Dave Newport and University of Colorado-Boulder’s powerhouse Green-Sports program.

In tomorrow’s Part II, we move with Monica to 1,200 miles to the southeast to Lafayette, LA to find out what she and the University of Louisiana’s sustainability department are doing to green the Ragin’ Cajuns athletics department. 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Monica, you’ve done so much important Green-Sports work and you’re not yet 30. When did you start, when you were in middle school?

Monica Rowand: Well Lew, I wanted to work in sports for as long as I can remember, baseball specifically. In fact, when I was a little girl I knew the exact job I wanted…

GSB: …Which was?

Monica: To manage the Los Angeles Angels, or Anaheim Angels as I grew up calling them!

GSB: I’m dating myself by saying I grew up calling them the California Angels! Why not aim high?

Monica: Exactly! And that Angels job is still in my plans. But Green-Sports really started for me while I was an undergrad at UCLA

GSB:…Recently named the number one public university in the country!

Monica: I know! Anyway I started out as a business economics major but then switched to geography and environmental studies.

GSB: Why did you switch?

 

RowandM2

Monica Rowand (Photo credit: Monica Rowand)

 

Monica: Good question. I had first gotten interested in the environment in high school when I saw “An Inconvenient Truth.” Then at UCLA I signed up for a Global Environment class to, if I’m being honest about it, take care of a science requirement.

GSB: Many of us can relate to that kind of college class scheduling…

Monica: The thing was, I really loved it! Then, in my senior year, I took this amazing class — Remote Sensing…

GSB: What is that?

Monica: It’s about using satellites, radar and other tools to scan the earth and obtain information that include temperature and other weather and climate metrics. We were told to pick semester project topics based on our passions so, given my love of baseball, mine was about the size of parking lots at Major League Baseball stadiums and the resulting heat island effect. I also looked at tree coverage in those lots. All of this was done using remote sensing. I studied the LA Dodgers…

GSB: …Dodger Stadium has massive circular parking lots surrounding it…

 

Dodger Stadium

Aerial view of the massive parking lots surrounding Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles (Photo credit: change.org)

 

Monica: Yeah! Awful for heat island effect. We also looked at AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants and Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals. I really enjoyed the project; this was the first time I realized I could combine sustainability and sports.

GSB: Did you work on any other Green-Sports projects while at UCLA?

Monica: Yeah. The second one looked at the waste generated at large sports events by league — Major League Baseball, the NBA, NFL and NHL. I figured out the average amount of waste per league and then compared that to total waste in the U.S.

GSB: It must’ve been tiny…

Monica: Oh it was. But that didn’t deter me. In fact, it made me realize that the real promise of Green-Sports was in engaging fans to care about the environment, climate change, and more…more so than focusing on greening the games themselves, because, like I said, total waste and carbon emissions from sports events are quite small relative to everywhere else.

GSB: So you knew you were Green-Sports 2.0 rather than Green-Sports 1.0…

Monica: That’s right. Sports is perhaps the most powerful platform in the world and it is past time that it was used in service of the environment!

GSB: Indeed! So what did you do when you graduated?

Monica: I moved to Denver — needed to get out of LA then. I got a job at a gym because, well, I needed a job. We did waste reduction and recycling, had an Earth Week program but that wasn’t a green job. But I networked like crazy with something called the Rocky Mountain Green Venue Partnership. All the major Denver area sports venues were in the group…Coors Field, home of the Rockies, Pepsi Center, home of the NBA’s Nuggets and NHL’s Avalanche. CU Boulder was there too. It was at these events that I became convinced that I wanted to work in Green-Sports and that I could get a job in it. It just didn’t happen then…

GSB: And next you…

Monica: …Moved to New Orleans in 2012 as I decided to join the Americorps VISTA program and work with Global Green doing community outreach.

GSB: Global Green is a great group!

Monica: I loved that job. I worked on so many things — education, energy efficiency, and community organizing. During this time I also networked in Green-Sports: I went to the 2013 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Brooklyn. I connected with Jarian Kerekes…

GSB: …Then the NBA’s Corporate Social Responsibility head.

Monica: Yes. We collaborated on ideas to help green the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. I spoke to leading Green-Sports practitioners like Omar Mitchell of the NHL and Paul Hanlon of MLB. Both told me I should get an MBA, with the idea being that I already had a strong environmental background but I needed to learn about business. So I looked for business programs with a strong sustainability bent. At that time, Dave Muller at the Green Sports Alliance said, “You should talk to Dave Newport at CU-Boulder. He runs the Environmental Center there and is doing amazing Green-Sports things.”

GSB: What did Dave Newport tell you?

Monica: He said, “Come to CU and I’ll hire you to help grow ‘Ralphie’s Green Stampede!'” So I went off to Boulder. I mean, sports and B-school? INCREDIBLE!!

GSB: Sounds like the perfect spot as Ralphie’s Green Stampede is arguably the best Green-Sports initiative in college athletics.

Monica: Oh yeah! For several reasons. Number one: Dave has the same mentality I do: Sports has the power to change behavior. Two: The Green-Sports infrastructure was already in place when I arrived there in 2015. Ralphie’s Green Stampede, which launched in 2008, had already helped CU Athletics become Zero-Waste, reduce its carbon emissions, get involved in water balancing and…

GSB: What is water balancing?

Monica: Athletics reduced their water usage. Whatever we did use, BEF worked with us on river restoration projects, thus adding the same amount of water back that CU Athletics had used.

GSB: Who funded this?

Monica: We were able to get corporate sponsors to pay for it.

GSB: Brilliant! What was your role with Ralphie’s Green Stampede?

Monica: I was the program manager for fan engagement…

GSB: AGAIN, perfect for you!

Monica: YES!!! I got to work with Dave, Athletics, and Learfield, the company that sold CU Athletics sponsorships. Working with Learfield’s Brandon Leimbach, a true rock star, we were able solidify a unique category of sponsorship that created value for our sports property, the corporate partner, and our community.

 

Ralphie Team

From left, Monica Rowand and Ralphie’s Green Stampede teammates Dave Newport, Brandon Leimbach and Angie Gilbert (Photo credit: Monica Rowand)

 

GSB: What kind of sponsorship programs did you guys develop and sell?

Monica: On water restoration, working with the aforementioned BEF, we created Water For The West for men’s and women’s basketball in 2015-16 and then football in 2016. Wells Fargo and Kohler sponsored it. CU’s venues have high efficiency water fixtures like faucets and then CU Athletics purchased 10 million gallons of water restoration credits.

GSB: Where did the fan engagement piece come in?

Monica: The idea with fans was to get them to follow the Buffs’ lead and save water at home, work, and play. So we set up a text platform, text “CU Water” to 27126 — I believe it’s still live — and promoted it at games and on social media. By texting, you were committing to saving water on your own— we showed them how by texting them water saving tips. For every text pledge we got Wells Fargo would restore an additional 1,000 gallons of water to the Colorado River through the BEF water restoration certificate program.

 

Water For The West promotional video (1 min 4 secs) featuring CU Women’s Soccer player Taylor Kornieck

 

GSB: What a neat program! How many people participated and how much water was restored?

Monica: In addition to the 10 million gallons that balanced the Buffs’ annual water footprint, 956 students and fans made text pledges during the 15-16 basketball seasons. So in the program’s first season an extra 956,000 gallons worth of water restoration projects could be done!

 

TOMORROW’S PART II: Monica Rowand moves from CU-Boulder to the sustainability department of the University of Louisiana in Lafayette to help launch their Green-Sports initiative.

 


 

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