Obesity, choice fight it out in stadium seats

It’s an early but distinct memory. I remember because it was so rare, to be sitting with my dad at a hockey game and munching popcorn from a small paper bag.

I went to lots of hockey games with my father at the old Spokane Coliseum. For a little girl, it was less a fun-filled outing than a lesson in patience.

Back then, sporting events didn’t mean nonstop entertainment — or nonstop snacking. There was no rock music blasted at deafening levels during the hockey games of my childhood. The sounds were of skates on ice and pucks hitting the rink’s wooden wall.

During period breaks, my dad and I would either stay in our seats and watch the Zamboni clean the ice or walk around the coliseum corridors. He always ran into friends. He almost never bought food or drinks. If he had anything, it was coffee. It was after dinner, after all.

I thought of those times Monday while reading Debra Smith’s Herald article about new food selections coming to Everett’s Comcast Arena.

This isn’t some nanny-state harangue, a la New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, suggesting limits on consumer choices in a push to improve health. Bloomberg proposed a ban last week on sales of sugary soda in containers larger than 16 ounces at New York restaurants, movie theaters and delis.

Silly, that’s what that is. What’s next, no more taking kids out for ice cream on a summer evening?

And yet, when I think about the eating and sipping habits of my childhood, it is little wonder why Americans are losing — not weight, but the war on obesity.

Tempting food, in dizzying varieties, is everywhere we go, at all hours. Even today’s cars, front and back seats, are designed for take-along beverages. Unless they filled a Thermos for a picnic or football game, did my parents take drinks in the car? Never.

I had a reassuring chat Monday with Randall Olson, general manager of Centerplate catering. The business has been in charge of food concessions at Comcast Arena since it opened.

“Absolutely, Perks will be there,” Olson said.

I had asked whether the addition of several new vendors — among them a pasta bar and places selling Mexican food, Asian stir-fry and surf-and-turf entrees — would take the place of a coffee counter called Perks.

It’s the spot I frequent most at Comcast Arena, unless I’m buying Alfy’s Pizza for a teenage boy. (And yes, the arena’s new menu still includes Alfy’s.) Perks sells espresso drinks, cookies, even soups, but the draw for me is plain old coffee.

In a region that’s famously coffee-obsessed, it’s amazing how hard it can be to buy a simple cuppa joe. That’s true in public places otherwise loaded with food and beverage options. The last time I saw a movie at Regal Everett Mall Stadium 16 theater, I asked but was told the place doesn’t sell coffee.

At local mall food courts, restaurant counters ring clusters of tables. At Alderwood, shoppers can choose from Blue Olive Mediterranean, teriyaki from Japan Cafe, a sub sandwich from Quiznos and plenty in between. Want a cup of coffee while your child eats lunch? You’ll need to do some walking. Starbucks and other coffee spots aren’t in the food court.

Everett Mall has an espresso spot that serves drip coffee down a long hallway near the Macy’s entrance. I haven’t had any luck finding regular coffee in the food court.

That’s hardly a big problem, but it does remind me of shopping trips with my mother. Still fit at 89, she has always taken an afternoon coffee break. Snacks aren’t part of that ritual.

The Snohomish Health District, in a 2009 policy brief titled “Obesity in Our Community,” reported that the prevalence of obesity among adults here had doubled between 1994 and 2007. The statistic for adults considered obese — with a body mass index of 30 or higher — increased from 13 percent to 27 percent over those 14 years.

These are familiar warnings: The Health District report called obesity an important contributor to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and colon, breast and other cancers.

We’re all looking for solutions. Here, the popular Get Movin’ program that encourages exercise is just getting started. In New York City, the unpopular idea of banning big containers of soda is an easy target for critics.

With all the talk about new habits, what about old habits? Long ago, my father would go all season long to hockey games. There, he just might have a cup of black coffee. That one night, he bought me a little bag of popcorn — such an out-of-the-ordinary treat I still remember.

I wish Centerplate success with its new menu at the arena. There may come a night I’ll be at Comcast and want something fun to eat. There will never come a night when I’ll hanker for one choice mentioned in Monday’s article: a $6 basket of garlic Parmesan fries.

I’m all for choice, but that one’s not for me.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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