Good eats, lively discussion energize WooFood Town Hall

Expanding collaboration to ‘make the healthy choice the easy choice’

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

January 31, 2013
At the recent WooFood Town Hall, the Flying Rhino Café’s WooFood-certified version of its popular Ivory Tusk, left, was an example of how favorites like the traditional cheesesteak grinder and fries version of the dish, right, can be transformed into a healthier version by adding more vegetables, swapping in whole grains, and going light on saturated fat.

The menu featured the Flying Rhino Café’s hearty but healthy version of the restaurant’s most popular dish, the Ivory Tusk—grilled chicken with caramelized onions and half the usual amount of American cheese on a whole grain wrap instead of Italian bread, accompanied by a crunchy broccoli slaw rather than the usual fries. For dessert, an  elegant panna cotta and berry parfait from Sweet Worcester, featuring 75 percent fresh fruit, was low-fat, lightly sweetened and delicious.


Participants at the WooFood Town Hall held recently at UMass Medical School enjoyed these tasty as well as healthful dishes contributed by WooFood-certified Worcester restaurants, while they learned more about the WooFood initiative to “make the healthy choice the easy choice” at local eateries. Additional support for the event was provided by the UMMS Student Body Committee and the Three Schools Committee.

Medical students Mitchell Li, SOM ’13, Matthew DeWolf, SOM ’14, and Adam Chin, SOM ’14, founded WooFood in 2010 to bring a positive approach to improving public health that aligns the pleasure of dining out with healthful eating. WooFood does this by certifying restaurants and other dining establishments that are committed to putting food on their menus that is healthful as well as appetizing. Eleven Worcester establishments have been certified in less than three years, making the WooFood logo a recognizable and reputable symbol of a commitment to a business model that emphasizes patrons’ health along with their palates.

“I was really impressed by how far WooFood had come since they started working in the past couple of years. The food served set an inspirational mood for the forum,” said Abbot “Cotton” Widdicombe, SOM ’15. “I could tell that the chefs enjoyed the creative challenge of adapting dishes or creating new ones to meet the WooFood criteria.”

In the Town Hall’s first segment, diverse speakers reflected the community collaboration that WooFood is fostering. Guests heard about ways to employ WooFood certification as a clinical tool from motivational interviewing expert Daniel Mullin, PsyD, assistant professor of family medicine & community health, and preventive and behavioral medicine researcher Stephenie Lemon, PhD, associate professor of medicine.

Weighing in on the benefits of WooFood for their businesses as well as their patrons were owners and chefs from certified restaurants, including Flying Rhino chef Chris O'Harra, who created the WooFood-certified version of the Ivory Tusk, and Sweet Worcester proprietor and celebrity chef Alina Eisenhauer, who proved that even dessert can be healthful. Heart attack survivor and UMass Memorial Patient Advisory Council member Daniel Wolpert, who in large part attributes his heart attack to eating out a lot, thanked WooFood for his being able to still enjoy dining out while eating healthfully.

Next, the Town Hall opened a public dialogue between the UMass Memorial Health Care food service administration and consumers. "There is growing recognition that a health care institution can lead by example, as has been done with the UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Tobacco-free Initiative,” noted WooFood co-founder Li. “With diet-related chronic disease overtaking tobacco as the most significant cause of preventable deaths, we look forward to working with leadership to make the healthy choice the easy choice at our institutions’ eateries."

Related links on UMassMedNow:

President Caret meets with WooFood founders
WooFood founders win community engagement award
Students help local restaurants create healthy options
MLK Semester of Service Student Awards support local health projects
Learn and Serve grant helps students make a difference