Food – On Wisconsin For UW-Madison Alumni and Friends Thu, 27 Jun 2019 17:02:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 On, Alumnae: Jean Manchester Mon, 20 May 2019 12:45:03 +0000

After her husband died in 1966, Manchester became a leader in the meat distribution industry, earning several career honors. Submitted photo

When Jean Manchester ’48’s husband died suddenly in 1966 and left her with four children, she took over the management of the family business, Neesvig’s Meat Company in Madison. She is thought to be the only woman in the nation to own and operate a wholesale meat distribution company at that time.

Under her leadership, Neesvig’s was one of the first wholesale meat companies to buy boxed beef, which reduced waste and promoted portion-controlled cuts for the hotel, restaurant, and institutional markets.

Manchester was the first woman elected to the National Association of Meat Purveyors and was inducted into the Wisconsin Meat Industry Hall of Fame in 2001. She served on dozens of boards of directors and was the first woman to chair the UW Foundation board. She made it a point to help other women in business and was a founding member of Tempo Madison and The Business Forum, two professional women’s organizations.

Manchester also made gifts to the UW–Madison School of Human Ecology and supported UW scholarships. She was the founding chair of the UW Foundation’s Women’s Philanthropy Council and a founding board member of the board of visitors for the UW–Madison School of Human Ecology. In 1995, Manchester received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Wisconsin Alumni Association. She also received the United Way of Dane County Tocqueville Society Award in recognition of her many community involvements.

As part of the On Wisconsin women’s issue, see other UW alumnae you oughta know.

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Bug Bites Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:14 +0000 Illustration of insect perched on edge of smoothie

Jane Webster/Début Art Ltd

More than two billion people around the world regularly consume insects — a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. UW–Madison researchers have documented, for the first time, the health effects of eating them. Their clinical trial, which had participants eat crickets ground up in breakfast shakes, shows that consuming the insects can help support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Researchers also found that eating the insects is not only safe but may also reduce inflammation in the body. “Food is very tied to culture, and 20 or 30 years ago, no one in the U.S. was eating sushi because we thought it was disgusting, but now you can get it at a gas station in Nebraska,” says Valerie Stull PhD’18, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral researcher with the UW’s Global Health Institute.

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Raw Talent Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:13 +0000 After college, Marie Moody ’90 moved to New York City, studied acting, got fired from waitressing jobs, worked in fashion marketing, and adopted two dogs: first Stella, then Chewy.

Chewy’s health was failing, and Moody learned that changing his diet had the potential to help. She began preparing her pups meals of raw meats, fruits, and vegetables: a fresh, unprocessed menu intended to be closer to the animals’ ancestral fare. The raw-food diet helped Chewy fully recover — and fired up Moody’s entrepreneurial spirit. She filled her tiny Manhattan apartment with industrial freezers, made her own raw-food blends, and took taxis to personally deliver her small-batch product to customers.

Fifteen years later, Stella & Chewy’s is a multi- million-dollar, national pet-food brand, headquartered in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Moody has stepped away from her role as chief executive; she now serves as founder and chairman of the board.

What keeps you most engaged with Stella & Chewy’s?

Getting people on board who are much smarter than me has been so much fun. To build a brand is like pushing a boulder uphill, so the more people doing it, the better it is.

How have the preferences of pet owners changed over time?

People are able to access so much information, and I think that helps [them] make more educated and intelligent decisions about what they want to feed both themselves and their pets. Pets are our family members, and the kind of unconditional love they give has become really important. With the evolution of the internet and social media, there’s something in between us and other people oftentimes. With your pets, you communicate in person.

You were one of the first entrepreneurs to bring raw pet food to market.

When I started, raw was a bad word. People were like, “Oh, you can’t call it raw. Can you call it gently uncooked?” When people hear raw meat, they still need to sometimes be talked through it, because they might think there could be a food-safety concern. But openness to raw feeding has come a long way.

Is it true that you collaborated with UW scientists on food safety?

I could not have done it without people at the UW. It’s funny, because I was an English major and a women’s studies major, and I came back and worked with an animal nutritionist and a meat scientist. I didn’t even know there was a building for meat science [on campus].

You know more about pathogens than the average person.

I know all about bacteria. More than I want to.

When you worked with UW scientists, was there a breakthrough moment?

They were able to point me to a technology called HPP [high pressure processing, a food-preservation method that retains nutrition and eliminates harmful bacteria]. There was one place to have it done [on a fee-for-service basis] in the United States 10 years ago, and it was in Milwaukee. It was pretty serendipitous.

How did your women’s studies major influence the Stella & Chewy’s brand?

I was coming out of the fashion industry, so I was looking at things like how to name it something besides “Natural Champion,” you know, like a really boring name. Because raw diets were already a brand-new way of thinking, I wanted something that was a little more approachable and friendly. Women’s studies really forced me to question the existing corporate hierarchy. For example, when I wanted to build a manufacturing plant, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t. And that’s thanks to the women who came before us. So I do feel a sense of responsibility to pass that on and to help women coming up now. That gives me great joy.

Has your advice changed for those who want to step forward in business as you did 15 years ago?

It’s fun to be at this point in my life and to have anything to offer the next generation in terms of advice. People complain about millennials, but I love millennials. I love the way they’re going about building businesses that are more concerned about the environment and sustainability and giving back.

How many pets do you have at home?

One cat, one dog, one kid. We were getting hate mail at Stella & Chewy’s that we weren’t focused enough on cats. My son and I were at a rescue event, and I told him he could pick one out. I just wanted to understand. You know how cats are.

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Andy Rosengarden ’97 Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:07 +0000 Andy Rossendarden is pictured in front of a Ben and Jerry's ice cream poster

Joe Vericker

At a bakery where treats serve the greater good, keeping the fiscal house in order is a sweet gig.

Andy Rosengarden ’97 is chief financial officer of the social enterprise that owns Greyston Bakery, most famously known for the brownies in select Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream flavors. The bakery’s cookies, brownies, and blondies are also sold online and at Whole Foods. (Rosengarden recommends the Snickerdoodle.)

The heart of the bakery is the practice of “open hiring,” the signature effort of the nonprofit Greyston Foundation, which provides a suite of social services in the inner-city community of Yonkers, New York.

“We’re hiring people, no questions asked,” Rosengarden says. “No interviews, nothing. If you want a job, you come in; we give you a job.”

Open hiring is intended to help people who want to work but who struggle to secure jobs that require traditional interviews or background checks. For example, when it comes to filling out job applications, people re-entering the workforce after incarceration or experiencing homelessness can be stymied by questions about a felony record or the lack of a permanent address.

Open hiring, Rosengarden says, can be a path for people to find new opportunities through work — and for life after the bakery.

“We actually like it when people move on,” he says. “Often, they move on for better-paying positions. Also, it allows us to hire more people.”

Rosengarden joined Greyston’s executive team in 2016. After more than 16 years as an auditor and Wall Street investment analyst, he was inspired by his two young children to bring his financial expertise to the nonprofit world.

As the foundation’s CFO, Rosengarden guides the intricate finances of Greyston’s hybrid nonprofit/for-profit organization. He sees to it that corporate donations, community partnerships, and bakery income all go to support programs such as housing, workforce development, 10 community gardens, and about 100 bakery jobs.

He’s also devoting his accounting acumen toward the nonprofit’s expansion effort — the launch of the Center for Open Hiring at Greyston.

“Instead of opening bakeries all across the country or the world, we want to inspire other companies to adopt open hiring,” Rosengarden says. “You have millions of people sitting on the sidelines who want to work. This could change the paradigm in terms of how people are hired, giving [them] opportunities and second chances.”

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Madison, Revisited Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:40 +0000

We’ve been there before.

Visiting Madison to revive Badger memories, we order up the usual, frequenting the same places and reliving time-honored activities again and again.

That bowl of Berry Alvarez ice cream is calling our name at Babcock Hall. A plastic pitcher of beer awaits on the Union Terrace. The burgers, brats, and sticky-floored college bars that drew us away from textbooks, term papers, and 8:50 classes beckon.

Following that script is easy. Occasionally, though, it’s fun to venture beyond our comfort zone and build fresh traditions. So, we spent 36 hours traipsing to untested venues, sampling innovative tastes, and plowing ahead with untried activities.

Along the way, we met an Iron Chef champion, admired Frank Lloyd Wright’s rare Japanese art prints, soaked in a shimmering view of Madison’s lakes from a brand-new roost, put on our dancing shoes, checked out a Huey helicopter, and browsed 13 types of cheese curds.

Nighttime view of the capitol building and State Street in Madison, WI.

An action-packed visit to Madison puts the capital city in a new light. Andy Manis

We scarfed a raft of cuisines, cruised museums, and got a little exercise.

Madison has enjoyed a rebirth as its people and tastes have morphed and diners’ expectations have kicked up. It’s become a foodie town, awash in creative restaurants.

“Dining has to offer an experience,” says Sara Granados ’10 at the Eno Vino Downtown Wine Bar and Bistro atop the AC Hotel. “Madison has a lot of restaurant options. Having good food and drinks isn’t enough. You need to have the whole package.”

Push away from the table, and you’ll find that Madison deserves high marks as a destination. National Geographic Traveler named Madison one of America’s top small cities, ranking it on such things as green spaces, coffee shops, breweries, and music venues.

We put those assessments to the test. At noon on a Wednesday, the Good Food cart on East Main Street on the Capitol Square is running with choreographed efficiency. Workers in the cramped cart crank out signature veggie dishes, some with lean meat, and all with a low-carb profile. The line lengthens as offices empty for the lunch hour.

The cart is the brainchild of Melanie Nelson ’08, a zoology major and runner who had trouble finding healthy eating options as an undergraduate. She saved money from her bartending job and sank it into the food cart in 2010. She now has two carts — on Capitol Square and Library Mall, open weekdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. — plus a brick-and-mortar restaurant, the Good Food Café, on Cottage Grove Road on Madison’s east side.

Working originally out of a commercial kitchen in a converted garage, Nelson built a reputation for her tasty menu. “We were fast as hell, but there was always a line,” she says, noting that many of her customers are repeaters. “Attorneys would come down and I thought, ‘You guys are earning $150 an hour, and you spend 20 minutes waiting in our line?’ That says something to me.”

At $8.50, the pad Thai salad melds spiral-cut veggies with red cabbage, onions, peanuts, greens, cilantro, and a wedge of lime — plus a choice of grilled chicken or tofu — all drizzled with a spicy peanut dressing.

Around the corner is an often-overlooked gem — the Wednesday Dane County Farmers’ Market. With tables laden with beans, beets, and onions, Yeng Yang sells produce and carries on a family tradition at the corner of Wilson Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

His Hmong immigrant parents began growing vegetables in 1989 and have been selling at the market since 1992. “My parents did not want to accept welfare, so they began farming,” Yang says. “I grew up farming most of my life.”

The family operation grows vegetables in nearby Brooklyn, Wisconsin, and works both the Wednesday and Saturday markets.

“Wednesday is more of a buyers’ market,” says Yang, as he sells two bags of fingerling potatoes to a shopper. “We see the same people every week.”

The Saturday market rings Capitol Square and commands a sea of visitors, but the Wednesday affair is more laid back. A wild rainbow of produce is heaped on the tables: broccoli, cauliflower, herbs, poblano peppers, melons, spuds.

Dairy farmer Tom Murphy’s family sells 13 varieties of cheese curds, plus fresh-baked cookies and bars. Murphy Farms has also been at the market for a quarter-century.

“This market saved my family farm,” says Murphy, of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin. “We’re in our sixth generation on the farm and people saved it by buying our products.” A 15-minute walk lands us at Madison Sourdough on Williamson Street. A popular breakfast and lunch spot, it has a bakery producing breads, rich French pastries, croissants, scones, macarons, and cheesecakes.

Dessert tarts from Madison Sourdough bakery

Dessert from Madison Sourdough Emily Hutchinson

A dense, rich pistachio Breton ($5) and a chocolate-almond croissant ($3.75) make up our midday snack, along with cups of steaming coffee. Executive chef and general manager Molly Maciejewski uses traditional French techniques.

“We source many of our products locally and mill much of our own flour,” she says. “It keeps more money in the local economy [and] supports farmers, and milling our own flour helps bakers, because it gives them more control.”

The bakery has a friendly energy. “It’s very neighborhood centered, with a family vibe, and we like that,” Maciejewski says.

With only wayward crumbs remaining, it’s back to downtown and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, which occupies the prow of the Overture Center on State Street.

The State Street gallery featured the metal sculptures of Jaume Plensa in a display titled Talking Continents. The suspended steel forms appeared to float in the gallery. Other galleries feature works in video, film, painting, prints, and fabric and are staffed by knowledgeable docents. In May, the museum welcomed Far Out: Art from the 1960s.

One can’t-miss feature is the museum’s store, which has a stunning array of goods from designers and studio artists — including jewelry, wood, leather, glass, and metal work as well as children’s gifts, art books, and cards. Soon, dinnertime arrives. Just off State Street, we find out whose cuisine reigns supreme.

Tory Miller began his restaurant career working in his grandparents’ Racine, Wisconsin, diner — the Park Inn — and today he owns four Madison fine-dining restaurants: Estrellón, Graze, L’Etoile, and Sujeo.

Chef Tory Miller Sam Egelhoff

Award-winning chef Tory Miller Sam Egelhoff

His skills, honed at the French Culinary Institute in New York, have earned him the James Beard Award as the Best Chef: Midwest. Then, in January, his friends and fans gathered at Estrellón’s bar on West Johnson Street to watch him defeat rarely vanquished celebrity chef Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s Iron Chef Showdown.

“It’s very intense,” says Miller. “You’re pretty much competing against the ingredient. It’s wild to be on a show I grew up watching and take out somebody like Bobby Flay.”

We tried Estrellón, a Spanish restaurant with elegant, creative cuisine and a warm feel. “We wanted people to feel like you were coming into our house,” Miller says.

Paella at Estrellón

Paella at Estrellón Sam Egelhoff

The Spanish Experience Chef’s Dinner for Two ($90) includes a selection of tapas, a mixed-beet salad with smoked goat cheese and a subtle horseradish sauce, and a sweet treat of Basque cake with frozen custard and fruit compote. In between, there was a crusty bread with tomato; Tamworth ham pintxos; a tortilla with egg, potato, onion, and aoli; croquettes made with smooth Spanish manchego cheese; grilled octopus; and a paella made with bomba rice, chicken, shrimp, clams, mussels, and chorizo.

Miller locally sources ingredients. “Proximity to great food and agriculture is what keeps me here,” he says. “People rave about the Rhône River valley in Europe or Napa Valley, but to me, the Driftless Region is something untouchable for growing super-delicious food prolifically.”

Sated, we head off for a novel nightcap. For some at The Brink Lounge, Wednesday night is beer night. For others, it’s date night or a break from the routine. But for more than 30 souls — a mix of regulars, curious onlookers, and the experimental few — it’s time for some high-energy dancing.

The lounge is part of a trio of bars and entertainment venues in what was once a secondhand store. It’s also part of a neighborhood teeming with new residential, commercial, and entertainment developments at downtown Madison’s eastern gateway.

Every Wednesday at 9 p.m., The Brink features Jumptown Swing Dance, a group born as a UW–Madison student organization. Eventually, Jumptown became a community-based group that holds classes and events to teach people to swing dance — especially the Lindy Hop. With a DJ playing the swing rhythms of Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and a variety of more contemporary swing artists, people discard their inhibitions and dance.

“It’s people trying to have fun. You can have a party for two for three minutes,” says Sarah Zabinski, a Jumptown instructor and a 14-year member member of the group. “We’re all dorks, so silly things happen on the floor.”

On day two, the dawn finds us confident we can outsmart cholesterol science. That puts us at The Curve, a Madison diner just six blocks south of campus, next to Spike-O-Matic Tattoo, at the bend in Park Street.

The Curve is owned by Bill Antonie ’90, a Badger outside linebacker in the late 1980s. He’s still beefy, with an easy baritone laugh that erupts after summarizing what satisfies him most: “Everybody yaps and yaps and then, all of a sudden, they get their food and they shut the hell up.” Antonie started working in his parents’ Monona truck stop diner at age nine. “If I was working for the state or any other company, I’d be retired with a gold watch, but instead I’m sweeping the damn floor.”

Eggs, wheat toast, and corned beef hash arrive on an oval platter, delivered by Kathy Tracy, a 26-year veteran waitress behind the U-shaped Formica counter where politicians, students, hospital workers, university administrators, and neighbors gather.

Antonie is a jack-of-all-trades, flipping eggs and bacon on the flat-top. He whips up his special-recipe corned beef hash every other Saturday (and every Badger football Saturday). To work off the $6 breakfast, it’s off to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum on the Capitol Square.

The free museum, operated by the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs, is compact but jammed with fascinating artifacts and exhibits.

World War I Beyond the Trenches marks the war’s centennial. It combines displays and artifacts such as trench periscopes, a German MG08 machine gun, and uniforms, and features compelling interviews with Wisconsin soldiers.

It also features exhibits on 20th-century military conflicts, including a World War II Jeep, artifacts from the battleship USS Wisconsin, and a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter. Peckish again, it’s time to seek and destroy some pizza.

This time, we turn to vibrant Monroe Street, with its wealth of shops and restaurants. Pizza Brutta is tucked behind a stone-arched façade and offers wood-fired Neapolitan pizza.

“Neapolitan pizza is simple,” says co-owner Derek Lee, a professional pizza maker, or “pizzaiolo,” certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana, the association for authentic Neapolitan pizza. “There’s no sugar, no extra ingredients. It’s just crushed tomatoes, handmade fresh mozzarella, sea salt, olive oil, and our dough. It’s an exercise in restraint.”

Employee places pizza inside the wood-fired oven at Pizza Brutta

The wood-fired oven at Pizza Brutta Andy Manis

Of course, there are other toppings, too. We chose the $12 salame funghi, featuring oregano, salami, cremini mushrooms, and saracene olives and delivered steaming after just 90 seconds in the 900-degree brick oven.

Lee’s co-owner, wife Darcy Lee ’96, says Pizza Brutta uses locally sourced organic products. “In Naples, they depend on a local food system. It was a way for us to marry business with helping the environment.” By now, exercise seems appropriate, so it’s off to a nearby BCycle rack to use the city’s convenient bikeshare program for a junket west of campus.

In 2017, renters rode 300,000 miles, burning off 11.9 million calories. With several dozen stations around Madison, you can rent one of the red bikes, outfitted with a basket and a lock. A $6 daily pass, which covers unlimited 30-minute rides, is required. Additional time goes for $3 for 30 minutes.

“Badgers and bikes are a great blend,” says Morgan Ramaker ’06, MBA’17, director of Madison BCycle. “It’s a way to cover more ground and see Madison without parking hassles.”

Headed west on the smooth-riding bikes, we begin a mini–Frank Lloyd Wright x1890 tour. First stop: the Eugene A. Gilmore House, known as the “airplane house.”

Wright built the house for Gilmore, a UW law professor, in 1908 on the highest point of University Heights. Its copper-roofed wings extend from a center pavilion with a triangular balcony — which gives the home the appearance of an airplane. It remains a private residence, unavailable for tours.

Ten minutes away is the First Unitarian Meeting House. A National Historic Landmark built in 1951, it’s a magnet for Wright devotees. Its design, with a soaring copper roof evoking a church steeple and a triangular auditorium, has influenced religious architecture since it was completed.

Two bicyclists ride past Frank Lloyd Wright house

Touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s “airplane house” via BCycle Andy Manis

Our guide points out Wright’s signature plywood furniture and Hiroshige’s early-nineteenth-century prints — once part of Wright’s collection — in the loggia. Wright said the simplicity of Japanese art, which he sold early in his career to supplement his income, greatly influenced his work.

After the tour, there’s still time for nature. Just more than a mile away is Frautschi Point, part of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, a lesser-known area west of Picnic Point. There’s a parking lot off Lake Mendota Drive, and a short walk yields an elevated view of Lake Mendota, beneath a canopy of burr oaks, white oaks, and shagbark hickories.

A wooden staircase leads to the lake’s edge at Raymer’s Cove. The spot offers a view of the Middleton shore and of sandstone cliffs where Raymer’s Ravine meets the lake.

With the clock ticking on our rented bikes and our 36-hour adventure, we pedal to a new vantage point.

Eno Vino Downtown Wine Bar and Bistro combines urban attitude with panoramic altitude. It offers a 10th-floor penthouse view of the state Capitol, just a block away, and Lakes Mendota and Monona.

The eclectic menu features a globally fused array of cheese boards and dishes with small-plate influences ranging from Greek to Korean to Italian. Its floor-to-ceiling windows and a ninth-floor outdoor terrace provide a vivid atmosphere.

Interior of Eno Vino Wine Bar and Bistro shows view of capitol building

Eno Vino Downtown Wine Bar and Bistro Sara Granados

After Eno Vino opened in 2017, social-media selfies helped drive success. “People started asking, ‘Where is that view? We’ve never seen it before,’ ” says general manager Jennifer Cameron. “It was a snowball effect.”

Eno Vino commands a big-city vibe and a glass wine case holding hundreds of bottles. After glasses of wine with small plates of goat cheese tortellini ($12) and lamb meatballs ($13), there was just enough time to crown our 36-hour expedition.

Just a 25-minute walk away, we settled into sunburst chairs on the Memorial Union Terrace with bowls of Berry Alvarez ice cream to catch a perfect sunset.

New adventures are great, but some habits die hard.

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Dairy Drama Wed, 23 Aug 2017 19:28:35 +0000

Bryce Richter

This past spring, when a group of 75 dairy farms found out they would be dropped by their processors, Mark Stephenson was among the first to hear about it. The Wisconsin dairy market faced a crisis. Canada had changed its trade policy, halting the flow of ultra-filtered milk from U.S. processors. The policy coincided with an unusually large amount of milk. In the past, cheese plants had been happy to pick up additional supply, but “this situation was different,” says Stephenson, director of dairy policy analysis with UW–Madison and UW–Extension.

Within a week, Stephenson was in conversations with state agriculture officials, exploring ways to find processors and cooperatives that would take milk from almost all of the affected farms.

Wisconsin’s dairy industry is worth $43 billion annually, accounting for about one-seventh of the state’s GDP. The industry has benefited from a long tradition of university and extension support to improve dairy feed, promote animal health and nutrition, help develop new artisan cheeses and other products, train the workforce, and assist with farm modernization and business decisions.

In June, the UW System hosted a summit to debrief and strategize for the future. Stephenson gave the keynote talk, explaining how Wisconsin’s dairy industry has become more vulnerable to global market forces and proposing a work group to ensure that the state is positioned to thrive in this new reality.

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A High-Fat Diet That Heals Wed, 23 Aug 2017 19:28:35 +0000 As Elizabeth Felton visits with her patients at UW Health’s newest facility on Madison’s east side, the delicious aroma of their prescription fills the air: the smoky tang of frying bacon and the savory fragrance of rosemary-onion dinner rolls just out of the oven.

Turkey and mashed cauliflower are also on the holiday menu, made up of recipes for a feast that contains just 10 grams of carbohydrates per diner. The rest of us will gobble hundreds of grams of carbohydrates on Thanksgiving, but these chefs have epilepsy. And they come to UW Health’s Learning Kitchen from as far away as Iowa and Michigan to learn how to prepare a high-fat, low-carb diet that might control their seizures.

Longtime readers of On Wisconsin may remember the story of young Charlie Abrahams, who appeared in our pages more than two decades ago, grinning over a plate of bacon and eggs. His father, Hollywood writer and producer Jim Abrahams x’66, had recently established a foundation in Charlie’s name to spread the word about the ketogenic diet that cured his son’s intractable seizures. Twenty-two years later, the diet has spread as far as India and Brazil, and it’s found a home back at UW–Madison.

Today Charlie is doing well. Five years on the diet cured his seizures, as it does for about 20 percent of children who try it, and afterward he was able to resume a normal diet. He’s now a community-college graduate and working as a teacher in California. He barely remembers being on the diet as a preschooler, and he has no memories of the years his parents had to strap him into a car seat for protection because he had up to 50 seizures a day.

While Jim Abrahams still does script-doctoring in Hollywood, the Charlie Foundation for Ketogenic Therapies has become his life’s work — and a global force in promoting the diet.

“I really thought I’d be doing this for a year, and then once people found out that there is an alternative to taking all those drugs, it would be mainstream,” says Abrahams. But hurdles remain. Some neurologists don’t recommend the diet, which consists of 90 percent fat, because they believe it is too difficult for patients to maintain. There’s also a shortage of dietitians trained in the subject, and it can be difficult to get insurance companies to reimburse for appointments.

But there’s also been progress since the 1990s, when one of the last people who knew much about the diet was a Baltimore dietitian on the verge of retirement. The diet was known to control seizures by forcing the body to burn fat rather than carbohydrates, a metabolic process producing ketosis. But with the development of antiseizure drugs, it had all but died out.

Flash forward to September 2016, when more than 600 physicians, researchers, and nutritionists from 32 countries gathered in Banff, Alberta, to share their research on the diet’s potential for controlling epilepsy and treating brain ailments ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer.

The group included nutritionist Beth Zupec-Kania ’81, whose career was dramatically changed by the Charlie Foundation. In the 1990s, she was a registered dietitian nutritionist at Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee. The hospital phones rang off the hook after Abrahams appeared on national news shows and produced a fictional movie starring Meryl Streep, First Do No Harm, that mirrored Charlie’s success on the ketogenic diet. Parents in Milwaukee wanted their children to try the diet, so a neurologist there asked Zupec-Kania to help start a ketogenic-diet clinic.

In doing her research, Zupec-Kania discovered old hospital records that showed that Children’s Hospital had offered the diet for children in the 1920s and ’30s. She later met a Milwaukee woman in her 60s who had spent her childhood Saturdays at the hospital, fasting and having her vital signs taken. “She just wanted me to know that the diet had worked for her,” Zupec-Kania recalls. “She was seizure free and had lived a full, healthy life.”

Since becoming one of the world’s foremost experts on the diet, the dietitian has trained staff at 180 medical centers, including the UW’s, and has worked for the Charlie Foundation since 2006, developing materials and recipes.

She also consults with patients, under the supervision of doctors, who use the diet as part of their treatment for a variety of maladies from diabetes to severe migraines. One of her early patients tried it to quell seizures from an inoperable brain tumor. To the surprise of everyone, the diet slowed the tumor’s growth, and he lived a year longer than doctors had predicted.

Since then, Zupec-Kania has worked with many other cancer patients. The National Institutes of Health is running a clinical trial of the diet for glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive form of brain cancer. Other trials are looking at conditions such as autism, brain injury, and diabetes. Neurological intensive-care units at Madison’s American Family Children’s Hospital and elsewhere use the ketogenic diet to quell seizures in patients who are in status epilepticus, a dangerous condition of continual epileptic seizures.

Zupec-Kania’s latest work focuses on children with Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic disorder that drives obsessive eating and dangerous obesity. She found that the low-carbohydrate diet improved children’s behavior by stemming their appetite and curbing food-seeking behaviors.

The Banff presenters also included physician Elizabeth Felton MS’02, PhD’07, MD’09, the driving force behind the UW’s epilepsy cooking class. Felton is a neurologist trained in dietary therapies at Johns Hopkins University, which kept the diet alive after it fell out of favor. The UW, which already had a diet clinic for children, recruited Felton to help create one for adults whose epilepsy is not well controlled by drugs. It’s the first clinic of its type in the state and one of just eight nationally for adults.

The adult diet is slightly less strict than the one Charlie Abrahams was on in the 1990s. Researchers have found that adults can tolerate up to 20 grams of carbohydrates a day without triggering seizures. (The diet is similar to the initial phase of the popular Atkins Diet.) Felton says that in patients whose epilepsy is not controlled by drugs, the diet brings about a 50 percent reduction in seizures for roughly half of patients.

“Typically we try medication first, but I wouldn’t say no if a patient really wanted to try the diet first,” she says. On the upside, her patients report feeling mentally sharper, and they often lose weight and exhibit improvements in blood pressure and diabetes. The trouble is sticking to a diet so different from the mainstream.

To cut carbs, the diet relies on nut flours such as almond and coconut, sugar substitutes, and lots of fats, including avocados and heavy whipping cream. But traditional recipes that rely on flour, sugar, and corn starch need tinkering to make them low carb. “Cooking classes help take the mystery and stress out of starting the diet,” Abrahams says. “Compliance (with the diet) has to be 100 percent. You can’t take a meal off or a day off, or you could trigger a seizure.”

One of the patient chefs at the holiday keto cooking class in Madison learned that the hard way. Madison pediatrician Kristin Seaborg ’97, MD’01 was diagnosed with epilepsy as a teen, and like many with the condition, she found that drugs did not fully control her seizures. Her memoir, The Sacred Disease: My Life with Epilepsy, details her life as a physician and patient.

She started the diet at the beginning of 2016, after one last fling with holiday sweets. Like many, she found it easy to lose weight and found that the diet cut her seizures in half from two a month to one. But she missed carbohydrates so much that she had repeated dreams about chasing a giant piece of bread across a grassy field. After six months of dutiful adherence, she decided to cheat and have a single piece of cheesecake.

“The next day, I had multiple seizures and recurrent auras throughout the day,” she recalls. “I thought: ‘Darn it, this is working.’ ”

While she still misses carbohydrates, Seaborg says her biggest problem staying on the diet is lack of time. She and her husband have three busy school-aged children and a packed schedule of sports and other activities.

“It’s hard as a mom to cook for your family and then have to cook a separate menu for yourself,” she says. “I found myself cooking all day Sunday for them and then eating a whole bunch of peanut butter and cheese for my own meals.”

Seaborg says the holiday cooking class gave her inspiration to stay on the diet.

“That cooking class was really empowering,” she says. “I left there feeling pretty positive about it.”

Felton notes that fasting to stop seizures is mentioned in the Bible (Matthew 17: 14–21) and in the writings of Hippocrates, the ancient Greek believed to be the source of the saying, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Two millennia later, Hippocrates’s wisdom has become reality, in the form of green bean casserole topped with crunchy pork rinds and bacon, and a dollop of high-fat pumpkin cheesecake mousse for dessert.

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Kabul Restaurant Wed, 23 Aug 2017 19:28:35 +0000 Editor’s note: Kabul closed in June 2018

Kabul, nicknamed “Wisghanistan” by patrons, reopened in 2014, with faculty, students, and city residents flocking to its dining room and bar overlooking State Street to savor flavorful Afghan and Mediterranean dishes. Hamed Zafari manages Kabul, which his father, Ghafoor, started in 1989. The restaurant was one of a handful on State Street serving more adventurous fare, and it was the first to offer outdoor seating. Kabul relocated across the street to the second floor of 540 State Street, the building once occupied by Gino’s Restaurant. Gino Gargano served his last pizza on October 31, 2013, after 50 years in business. A 12-story luxury student apartment building called The Hub — complete with a rooftop pool, sand-volleyball courts, and other amenities — stands on the block of State Street that Kabul previously called home.

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New Lineup Wed, 23 Aug 2017 19:28:35 +0000

Bryce Richter photo

The east wing of Memorial Union’s first floor reopened in December to reveal renovated study areas, updated dining options, and a new location for the Daily Scoop. The counter serves Babcock Hall Dairy ice cream at a faster pace — thanks to two service lines — and menu options range from basic cones to a Freshman 15 sundae comprising 15 scoops of ice cream. Renovation work continues on the Union’s second, third, and fourth floors, which are expected to fully reopen this fall.

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Bubble Up Wed, 23 Aug 2017 19:28:34 +0000 This female Norwegian Atlantic salmon seems pretty chill as it swims in a tank in the Water Science and Engineering Lab. It’s part of a study researching ways to reduce stress on farmed fish. Wisconsin has more than 2,000 fish farms.
Photo by Jeff Miller.

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