Some fans search for healthy eating options in sports stadiums across North America

Nothing goes with a hockey game quite like a hot dog or a buttery bag of popcorn — something Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome and McMahon Stadium sell a lot of.

But the man responsible for those concessions, Mark Vaillant, vice-president of food and beverage for the Calgary Flames, says there isn’t a lot of demand for healthier eating options — even though other sports facilities provide them.

However, Vaillant says that may change in the future.

Rory Hornstein, a registered dietician for Mount Royal University recreation service, sees the current lack of options as a big problem.

“It’s ironic that you’re there to watch professional athletes,” Hornstein says, referencing the healthy lifestyle many of them have to lead.

“It would be nice if there were some healthy choices there for the spectator as well.”

However, at Calgary’s sports stadiums, it’s an issue of supply and demand.

Vaillant of the Flames says, “We have some options but traditionally people don’t eat them.”

“I only get about three or four emails a year asking for more healthy or vegetarian options,” he says. “Literally, I can count them on one hand.”

By comparison, Vaillant says the Saddledome will go through 2,000 hot dogs, and anywhere from 500 to 700 pounds of Alberta beef on game nights.

A comparison of calories found in typical stadium concession foods.

Illustration by Max Shilleto

For hockey fans looking to satisfy their sweet tooth, cotton candy and ice cream are readily available to the 1.5 million people that visit the Saddledome every year.

That’s similar to McMahon stadium, where Vaillant co-ordinates food and beverage, as well.

Vaillant calls McMahon “your typical stadium affair,” where you’ll mostly find hot dogs, popcorn and burgers, with vegetarian options being harder to come by.

A desire for healthier options

Despite the lack of email clamour for healthier eating options, Vaillant acknowledges there may be a growing demand .

“The general consumer going to a hockey game 25 years ago thought a hot dog and a beer was all you needed,” Vaillant says. “Now, people want to eat healthier and they want more options available to them.”

Vaillant says the Saddledome does cater to those looking for a healthy pre-game meal at in-stadium eateries such as the Saddleroom Grill, Dutton’s Canadian Lounge and The Avison Young Club.

During the game, fans can snack on a carved turkey sandwich from the Skyline Deli or veggie platters and sushi rolls from other concessions on the main concourse. And new to the Saddledome, patrons can feast on a half rotisserie chicken with fresh vegetables and salad from the rotisserie station located on the second level.

But stadium goers may not be aware of those options because, according Vaillant, “fans have a tendency to stay in the area where their seats are.”

As for McMahon stadium, healthy options like souvlaki are available as well.

But those options may not be enough — especially for vegetarians and vegans.

Rachel Leet, a lifelong vegetarian and Flames fan, says, “At sports stadiums you can always find tons of meat options like burgers and hot dogs, but there are never any tasty vegetarian options.”

“There’s usually cheese pizza and popcorn — that’s it.”

And while she acknowledges that it’s getting better in Calgary, it is tough being a vegetarian in a province that is famous for its beef.

Other stadiums becoming vegan and vegetarian-friendly

By comparison, no city in North America has been more considerate to vegetarians than Philadelphia.

The home of the famous philly cheee steak sandwich has been ranked by PETA as having some of the most vegetarian-friendly sports stadiums.

Stadium food selection across North American is limited to the usual snacks, but due to popular demand, more options are becoming available.

Photo by Max Shilleto
In fact, Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies, and Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, are number one in PETA’s rankings of vegetarian-friendly stadiums for the MLB and NFL respectively.

Erin Noss, spokesperson for ARAMARK, food service provider for many sports stadiums in North America, including Citizens Bank and Lincoln Financial, says it is important to meet the needs of everyone coming to watch a game.

“We want to make sure the gameday experience is the best possible for each fan and that there’s something available for everyone.”

The menu at Citizens Bank Park offers unique vegetarian options, such as a vegetarian black bean burger, eggplant cutlet sandwich, Italian vegetable grinder, as well as the traditional veggie dog.

Noss says, “Although a vegetarian hot dog might not be the most popular thing on the menu, if you’re a vegetarian, you’re happy that there’s a hot dog there for you.”

And those looking to get their healthy eating fix are not always who you’d suspect.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, former NHL enforcer Georges Laraque, a vegan himself, stressed the importance of living a healthier lifestyle, and making more healthy eating choices along the way.

“The food is more dangerous now than it was 10 or 20 years ago in terms of all the chemicals, all the preservatives injected into it,” Laraque says.

Laraque became a vegan in 2006 after watching the documentary-film “Earthlings” and has never looked back.

And while no longer playing, Laraque was surprised to learn that his strength actually improved after making the switch.

This corresponds to Hornstein’s statement that “healthy eating, and athletics go hand-in-hand.”

And if you are going to indulge yourself with a stadium snack, the dietician urges staying away from foods that are high in salt.

“The sodium content is through the roof on a lot of those products,” Hornstein says. “That can lead to additional cravings for more salt or more sugar, so there’s a reason why you’re reaching for those foods”

Hornstein recommends eating at home before a game or researching the nutritional information of the stadium snacks before putting them into your body.

mshilleto@cjournal.ca