University of Utah professor and chef collaborate and create ways to spice up their nutrition class

Story and slideshow by SYDNEY BULL

Catch Chef J Looney in action cooking up some of his favorite dishes.

“Follow your bliss,” Chef J Looney said as he lounged next to the fireplace while enjoying a green smoothie.

Looney is a private chef in the Salt Lake area. He caters events and works for the College of Health at the University of Utah as well. He is obsessed with cooking and shares foods from other cultures around the world with a diverse group of students in the Cultural Aspects of Food class, NUTR-3620.

It all started when Looney was a young kid. His father has been in the food service for a very long time and worked with institutional food, in churches, hospitals and schools on a mass scale.

When Looney was 8 years old, his father managed a cafeteria in a church office building in downtown Salt Lake serving between 3,000 and 5,000 meals a day.

Looney said he fell in love with the action in the kitchen and the look of the large stockpots full of chicken noodle soup and the fact that his dad could make so much food for all those people in need.

Once he turned 14 he lied on his application and told his hiring manager that he was 15 so he could be hired as a dishwasher. He went home every night with the stench of grease and dishwater but loved every second of it.

Looney then spent eight to nine more years there working his way up to line cook and then lead cook. He was finally promoted to managing a prime rib and seafood buffet before he decided to leave the food service industry.

Looney said he realized that he was still making minimum wage compared to all of his friends, which swayed him into working for “corporate America” at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company in central reservations. He worked there for seven years and traveled to many of its hotels.

He spent the next nine years in UPS management, but when he turned 40 years old he said he felt like something was missing. Looney needed that spark. That is when he decided to go back into the food industry again.

He said his wife was hesitant to let him quit at UPS because the pay in the food industry is low and the hours are long. But Looney insisted it was his passion.

“I just want something more,” Looney said. “I want to do something I am passionate about rather than do something just for a paycheck over and over again. I trusted my gut that it was going to work out.”

Word got out that Looney was getting back into food business. His friend Jason, who owns Point of Sale Retail System, called him up and asked Looney for a list of his top five dream jobs.

Looney said that Jason sent out letters of introduction. That is when Karen Olsen, the owner of the Metropolitan, called Looney and offered him an interview with the restaurant’s head chef. (The Metropolitan used to be the crown jewel of Utah’s fine dining but is no longer open in Salt Lake City.)

However, Looney said he met with the head chef and explained that although he had been out of the food service for 15 years, he cooked consistently throughout that time period and still had a huge love and desire toward it.

He was offered an unpaid shift to see if he was qualified enough to work in its kitchen. Looney, who never attended culinary school, said he walked in with only one knife.

The head chef placed Looney at the salad station, and it wasn’t easy. He said after a whole night of feeling completely stressed and demoralized, the head chef offered him the job as a line cook.

Looney said it was still a bad paying job and had long grueling hours but he used it as an opportunity to learn as much as he possibly could from everyone in the kitchen.

Once the Metropolitan closed, Looney became an executive chef at the Prairie Schooner in Ogden, Utah. At the same time, he also got a call from a friend at the U, who wanted his help teaching a nutrition class focused on ethnic foods.

The class, Cultural Aspects of Food, became extremely popular once word got around on campus that there was a chef cooking food for students. Looney worked with another talented cook, Tahmina Martelly, a chemist and licensed nutritionist who works as a professor at the U

After two and a half semesters, the class expanded to four classes a week and became a significant part of Looney and Martelly’s career. Their teamwork allowed her to spend time in the class teaching the cultural factors of each region while Looney spent time in the lab cooking up different recipes according to those regions.

“Food is like a language,” Martelly said. “Food is a huge part of cultural identity and has a sense of home and helps people connect to a new place and also has a healing effect.”

Martelly’s experience with food hits closer to home than most people in the United States. She is a refugee from Bangladesh and now also works as a program director for after-school tutoring and homework help at the International Refugee Center (IRC). In addition, she teaches a computer class to adult refugees to help them gain experience and find future jobs.

The Cultural Aspects of Food class is important to her because of her experience, knowledge and perspective of different cultures covered in the class. She is in the middle of rewriting the course curriculum because the way she teaches is more personable and relatable than other instructors.

Martelly has done a lot of traveling and has more background with these regions compared to the other instructors. She said she wants to help the department apply knowledge from her experiences and standardize those items compared to just teaching out of the textbook.

“When Chef J and I got together he wasn’t as familiar with the cultural stuff,” Martelly said. “Which is why I did most of the teaching and he did the cooking in the lab. He has a teachable spirit, he talks and cooks at the same time. He is very good at interacting with his students. He is a talented cook but very modest and humble. Most chefs I know have a huge ego. But the more we teach and give background information the more he learns and the more familiar he gets with the recipes and the cultures behind them.”

Chef J Looney found his bliss. So on top of teaching he began cooking for athletes, doctors, families and friends. He said he makes a pretty good living now, to the point where his wife is completely happy and satisfied.

“I started promoting that I can cook meals for individuals and families while also catering events,” he said. “I have a pretty solid client list, about 20 people that I cook for at any given time. On Mondays I go grocery shopping, Tuesday I spend cooking all day and Thursdays and Fridays I spend planning out the meals for the following week. It’s a good gig and the days in between I spend on campus teaching because I want to. That’s basically how I got into the whole personal chef thing and wedding season is coming up so I have a few weddings scheduled for the next six months.”

Looney rarely cooks at people’s houses, he mainly works out of a commissary kitchen on Redwood Road, which gives him plenty of space to prep meals for the week. Around 8 a.m. he and his staff prepare approximately 10 different meals within five hours. Then when completed he and his staff send the coolers off to be delivered to the clients’ door. Typically he makes about five lunches and five dinners per client. However, his bodybuilding clients are a little high-maintenance.

Not in a bad way though, they just require about six smaller meals a day and have a very selective menu to choose from. Because Looney is so familiar with flavoring his meals, it helps bodybuilders spice up their foods without going over their macros, the number of grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fats they consume on a particular day. That is why Looney occasionally offers a Bodybuilder’s Meal Prep Class to demonstrate cooking skills and items that can make their food taste better without sabotaging their physical gains.

Looney is an experienced cook and does his best in social media marketing. But most of his marketing is done by word of mouth because he leaves all of his clients and students feeling not only full and satisfied but also inspired.

Chef J Looney and Tahmina Martelly are a dynamic duo in the classroom and have worked very hard to be successful human beings. They are prime examples of the cliché phrase, “follow your dreams.” But how else can one be truly happy if he or she is not taking risks and living life fully?

“My whole underlying theme to my life thus far is, just do what you love,” Looney said. “I spent 15 years in ‘corporate America’ because I thought I needed a paycheck. And when I really took the leap to follow what I wanted to do made all the difference. And yes I took a lot of risks and it hasn’t been smooth sailing, there’s been some huge learning lessons, a lot of pain, blood, sweat and tears getting there. But I have never been happier in my life. So whatever the price you have to pay to follow your bliss, pay the price. Build your lifestyle around what it is you love doing, not the other way around.”

Zest Kitchen and Bar provides organic dining in Salt Lake City

Story and slideshow by RYAN CARRILLO

Visit Zest Kitchen and Bar and see some of the amazing organic dishes.


Nestled between some of the biggest chain restaurants in Salt Lake City, Zest Kitchen and Bar provides a dining experience that no one else can.

The restaurant, located at 275 S. 200 West, is reinventing healthy eating by providing a menu free of processed foods that tastes incredible. Everything the restaurant serves is also 100 percent organic.

“Everything’s fresh, and that’s really what I wanted is fresh and organic real food that came from whole foods and not from a box,” said Casey Staker, the restaurant owner. He opened the bar and restaurant nearly 2 and 1/2 years ago.

Staker has crafted a menu of 35 unique items between brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert. The restaurant offers an eclectic fusion of ethnic tastes and American favorites while using healthier ingredients than nearly anywhere else. It also offers a more “grown-up” environment, being for individuals 21 years old and older.

The brunch menu, available on Fridays and Saturdays (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) features perfectly sculpted buckwheat pancakes or a fresh southwest skillet with quinoa, cheese, black beans and fresh pico de gallo, among other entrees. The brunch menu also includes the “best mimosas in town” for just $5, which come in a variety of flavors.

Zest’s lunch menu provides options that are hard to find anywhere else. Selections range from fresh fruit smoothies and small plate items like cheesey Brazilian bread bites to a fresh kale salad and larger entrée items like coconut curry forbidden rice. For people looking for less-healthy health food there is “barely buzzed beehive” grilled cheese, which puts a fresh spin on an American favorite by pairing it with the soup of the day, pesto and seasonal fruit.

The dinner menu mixes things up by offering mostly shared plates or larger entrees, while still featuring fresh salads and perfectly blended juices. This particular menu is home to beet and walnut dip served with fresh veggies, baked mushrooms with cashew cheese and a tomato and eggplant ratatouille that comes with spinach quinoa.

Perhaps the best part of the menu comes after the entrées, soups and salads have been cleared away: dessert. Staker takes the same approach from his entrees and appetizers and applies it toward dessert staples, creating sweet, succulent cakes and tortes. One of these masterpieces is a carrot cake topped with rich cream cheese, shaved carrot and orange peel.

Tim Hurty, a local resident, has visited Zest Kitchen and Bar on multiple occasions. He is fond of the black bean chia patties served on a multigrain bun. Being a dedicated vegan, he was drawn to the restaurant because of its ability to accommodate his dietary needs. At Zest he is able to enjoy a delicious meal without fear of cross-contamination, which occurs when animal byproducts come in contact with any of the ingredients used in the meal.

Being a vegetarian himself, Staker’s menu is completely free of meat. Many of the dishes are also vegan and the staff is currently working to provide vegan accommodations for all their menu items. Not only that, all the dishes are gluten-free as well.

“Naturally by design vegetarian food or [rather] healthy vegetarian food is almost always gluten-free,” Staker said. As a restaurant owner, the needs of his customers seem to be a driving force behind the menu selection.

Billy McMichael is the head chef at the restaurant. Having worked in vegetarian restaurants for 10 years he understands the importance of these dietary restrictions in the lives of his customers.

“The Zest mission is to be inclusive,” McMichael said. “So almost any allergy you have, you can come here and get a good meal anyway.”

McMichael personally likes the challenge that comes with providing healthy food without sacrificing the taste. It forces him to be creative and innovative with the dishes he and the other staff members prepare.

“It’s been nice to come here where it is less about copying meat style dishes,” he said. “[It’s] more about charting your own path, making things that people haven’t done before, working with more ethnic variety, more variety of produce. I can’t just cheat and flavor up a big piece of tofu and put it with some mashed potatoes and say ‘here’s dinner.’”

The restaurant is also nearly free of soy and doesn’t use any peanuts. For individuals with any of these dietary restrictions, whether forced or voluntary, a restaurant with Zest’s knowledge and dedication is heaven-sent.

For vegans it can be difficult to find a restaurant that fully understands the difference between their needs and vegetarians. Vegetarians limit their diet to not eat any killed animals while vegans take it a step further by not eating anything from an animal. This eliminates things like eggs, milk and cheeses. While there are several restaurants in the Salt Lake Valley that can accommodate  the needs of both groups, there are few, if any, that also match Zest’s focus to overall health.

Zest Kitchen and Bar is also the only dedicated gluten-free restaurant in the city, which may come as a surprise as the gluten-free trend continues to grow and has created a multibillion dollar industry. Chain and local restaurants alike are expanding gluten-free menu items, but none have entirely abandoned the ingredient. Salt Lake is home to several bakeries that are dedicated gluten-free but that’s where it stops.

For individuals with Celiac Disease, a severe autoimmune disease that is triggered by gluten, Zest’s commitment offers them a hidden benefit that most people don’t see. The symptoms of the disease can be unleashed with the slightest trace of gluten in someone’s food. That means that even eating a gluten-free meal, if prepared in a standard restaurant kitchen where gluten is also used, can potentially cause symptoms to flare-up since the food may come into contact with gluten in a variety of ways. Since Zest’s kitchen is dedicated gluten-free there is zero chance for cross contamination. No one else in the area can offer that.

What may be most surprising is why Staker and his staff run the restaurant this way.

“I didn’t do this restaurant because I was sick,” said the owner. “I did it because I wanted a healthy place to eat.”

Zest is also “healthy” for the economy. The restaurant tries to buy as much local product as possible, supporting local merchants throughout the year. Since the menu is dependent on fresh fruits and vegetables this can become difficult as the seasons change.

“In the summer we do as much local [shopping] as we can. We still get our greens from a local greenhouse,” Staker said. “We have a special salad that’s always local. [The selection of produce] gets better and better when it gets warmer. Spring, summer, fall we have a lot of local stuff. During winter we have to outsource. Our goal is to support local.”

That commitment to the local community doesn’t stop just in the restaurant’s shopping practices. The staff is active in the community, exposing new people to their food on a regular basis and helping them make better dietary decisions.

During the summer of 2014, Zest operated a booth at the summer farmers market at Pioneer Park, 350 S. 300 West. In 2015, the restaurant is ditching the booth for a more mobile option.

Soon Zest Kitchen and Bar will be unveiling Utah’s first health food truck. The truck will be featured at health conventions like the gluten-free and healthy living expos. Staker is excited for the opportunities the truck will give the restaurant.

He says that public response has been great whenever Zest has had a booth at these types of events, so the food truck response should be even better.

“When we go to the gluten-free expo people say ‘oh my gosh you guys actually have real food. You guys are serving heathy vegetables and dips and stuff,’” he said. “At the gluten-free expo it’s cakes and cookies and packaged stuff.”

The restaurant’s truck is scheduled to debut at the end of April 2015 once preparations are finalized; an exact date has not been set yet.

Webster agrees, the definition of beautiful is YOU

Story and slideshow by SHANNON O’CONNOR

Learn more about how people are impacting lives through positive body image.

Lexie Kite, 29, created the nonprofit organization, Beauty Redefined, with her twin sister Lindsay Kite. The idea to start the motivational program was sparked in their media literacy class at Utah State University.

The class opened their eyes to how women are negatively represented in the media. The Kite sisters were angry at how the media transform the public’s idea of what makes a woman beautiful.

“One day my heart started pounding faster and I wanted to spread the word,” Lexie said. Lindsay felt the same way.

They decided to continue their research on body image and the media at the University of Utah and earned PhDs in 2013.

Their doctoral dissertations formed the basis of an empowering visual presentation they have given to “tens of thousands of people across the U.S. since 2009,” according to the website.

“We started through a dinky website, and based on the reviews we realized people were starving for this information,” Lexie said.

Their presentations are a compilation of their research, studies and experiences. “Beauty Redefined teaches audiences to recognize and reject harmful messages about bodies and continuously resist those limiting ideals through the power of body image resilience” according to the website.

Body image resilience is their main promoted message. It is “the ability to combat harmful ideas and bring to light the lies women are told,” Lexie said. The lies that women are just objects and have to look a certain way to be beautiful.

Lexie and Lindsay are passionate and driven to empower women and remind them they are “more than just bodies, more than just something to decorate the world,” Lexie said.

The portrayal of women in the media makes them feel pressured to look a certain way. If women don’t look that way, they may feel negatively about their appearance or get negative critiques from others.

“You’re just fat and ugly and jealous of all the beautiful women,” wrote a woman in an email to the Kite sisters.

“We can use painful experiences as stepping stones and not stumbling blocks,” Lexie said. “We can help provide the skills, resources, and tools to do that.”

Lexie and Lindsay Kite will not stand for women being objectified. They are influencing people around the world to have a positive outlook on body image through their blog, website and presentations.

Another program that promotes positive body image is a University of Utah club called SPEAK (Students Promoting Eating Disorder Awareness and Knowledge). SPEAK chapters are spreading to other universities, including George Washington University and the University of Minnesota. Each chapter has about 100 members.

Some of the 110 members at the U are people who have experienced an eating disorder or a body image issue. Other members, like Jon Junejo, financial director for SPEAK, have not experienced such issues. But they have a passion to educate and help people through their body image struggles.

Members of the U’s SPEAK chapter regularly engage in outreach to elementary schools, high schools, teams and clubs throughout Utah. “The more outreaches we do, the more it becomes evident that our program, and other positive body image programs are worth it,” Junejo said.

Junejo, 21, has been a part of SPEAK since 2013. At first, he joined the club so he could gain public speaking experience. Junejo wasn’t expecting to gain a passion for the importance of positive body image.

“Honestly, after the first outreach I did at Dilworth  Elementary, SPEAK became something much more,” Junejo said. “As I began hearing stories about people’s experiences with the eating disorder epidemic, it became clear to me that I could have a real positive effect on these people.”

SPEAK’s mission is to educate people about the effects from negative body image, body dysmorphia and provide ways to help people struggling with body image.

Body dysmorphia is a “conflict between what you see as an ideal body, compared to what you actually look like,” Junejo said. The disorder can affect people of all ages and may be caused be peer pressure, genes, or culture – including images in the media.

Junejo learned about one result from negative body image, eating disorders. He has not experienced it himself but he has friends who have suffered from anorexia and bulimia.

“Our [SPEAK] goal is to prevent eating disorders in the first place,” Junejo said. “We refer people to treatment centers on an individual case basis.” He added that eating disorders are predominantly emotional issues, but each person has a unique situation. It’s a multidimensional problem that the members of SPEAK are trying to help.

“Who you surround yourself with can dictate how you feel about yourself,” Junejo said. It’s important to have positive people around to overcome negative thoughts. Junejo has been a part of helping people through a struggle that people are scared to talk about.

When people compare themselves to the media, Junejo and the team want them to re-evaluate the source and “think differently about what source is making you feel like you should look a certain way.”

A main source to promote positive body image is through social media.

“They’re [social media sites] great places to get a conversation started with girls and women. We struggle wanting to be a certain way and look like this person, or that person,” said Nicea DeGering, host for “Good Things Utah.” “So when someone says, out loud, ‘just be you, you is good enough’ and it’s said on social media, which is the primary language spoken by young women today, it’s even more of a positive impact.”

DeGering has been a host for “Good Things Utah” for 12 years and graduated in 1995 with her communication, broadcasting degree from Brigham Young University. DeGering is a successful woman, wife and mother to two daughters.

She sees her daughters influenced by the pressure the media have put on women to look a specific way. “It’s something that we talk about in my house on a daily basis,” she said. “When is it OK to just be yourself? The answer should be, every day.”

DeGering didn’t have the same social media issues as her daughters, but she did struggle with her body image growing up. Her peers called her “big” because she was 5 feet 10 inches tall by the time she was in seventh grade.

“Now I’m mad I wasted one minute worrying that I was different,” she said. “Thank heavens there is only one of me, and I want to do me the best I can. Unique needs to be celebrated.”

Beauty Redefined promotes this notion, too: “Reflect on what impact narrow beauty ideals have had on your life and take inventory of the time, money and energy you dedicate to appearance concerns.”

DeGering added, “Looks are the first thing we all see. That’s a fact. And that’s actually OK, as long as you keep looking, as long as you continue to dig deeper beyond that, there is more to everyone. Everyone has their hard times, everyone struggles.”

The media disseminate many unrealistic messages about beauty to women.

“Conversation and awareness are key in making change,” DeGering said. That conversation begins with help from programs like Beauty Redefined and SPEAK, and by influential people like Nicea DeGering.

“Just be you, you is good enough,” DeGering said.

Body Buddies, a Salt Lake City fitness company, changes lives

Story and photos by DAVID FISHER

Working at a desk in an investment firm office was the last thing Kristy Jo Hunt wanted to do for the rest of her life. She decided to take one of the biggest risks she has ever been faced with. Hunt, 28, created her own independently-run nutrition and fitness business known as Body Buddies, without any prior experience in the field of business.

In addition, Hunt was not always a fitness guru.

Three years ago, Hunt was overweight and a victim of binge eating. She also suffers from severe scoliosis. Orthopedic doctors had told her that by age 40 she could be in a wheel chair if she did not change her eating habits and stay active because of her deformed back.

Kristy Jo Hunt poses in the gym after working with a client.

Kristy Jo Hunt poses in the gym after working with a client.

However, she conquered her struggles, gained a newfound interest in the field of health and wellness and worked toward her goals of becoming a professional dancer and fitness instructor.

This new interest eventually motivated Hunt to become a certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She made drastic changes to her lifestyle, and wanted to help others make lifestyle changes as well. Thus, Body Buddies was launched in January 2014.

Hunt put together a business plan through watching multiple business startup podcasts, attending start-up business conferences and seeking advice from friends and family. She had to make some personal sacrifices along the way, including quitting her full-time job and learning to live off of $20,000 a year.

Those sacrifices underscored her commitment to seeing the success of her clients and independent business.

“Body Buddies is first a people thing, then secondly a business,” Hunt says.

Education is an important aspect of her business model.

Hunt provides weekly coaching calls and meal plans for clients in Utah. The coaching includes a fat loss and muscle gaining workout regime that clients follow on a six-days-a-week basis for 12 weeks. Each workout plan is individualized based on a survey clients fill out at the beginning of this lifestyle change. Questions include food preferences, any kind of physical ailments and a daily schedule.

Clients who pay a base fee of $50 also have access to 250 power food recipes that are full of protein, replace unwanted fats and increase energy levels. Every recipe is taken from her own published cookbook, The Power Foods Lifestyle.

An example of a power foods recipe is Hunt’s chicken ranch slaw burritos. These are a healthy alternative to any kind of processed burrito that is often found in the grocery store. Many of her recipes are healthy replacements to microwaveable freezer meals.

Chicken ranch slaw burritos are one of the many available recipes Hunt provides in her cookbook

Chicken ranch slaw burritos are one of the many available recipes Hunt provides in her cookbook.

“You are the master of yourself,” Hunt explains. “I provide the base, and you create the results.”

Body Buddies originally started with only 50 clients. It now has more than 1,000 clients. Hunt manages multiple client binders, calendars and daily scheduled emails and lists. She even has clients from around the globe in places such as Africa and Europe.

Hunt provides daily coaching calls to her clients. This is where they truly open up about themselves and achieve the results they want to see. She speaks to the individual over the phone and finds out what is and isn’t keeping them motivated. If clients have any questions about their diet, workouts, or life in general. Hunt is available to provide answers.

Some of the best results Hunt has ever seen came from her client, Amy Bellamy, in Salt Lake City. Bellamy has been a client of Hunt’s for almost a year, and has stuck with the Power foods lifestyle the entire time. Hunt explains that Bellamy was constantly motivated to achieve her goals of having a bikini body.

Amy's amazing body transformation from following Hunt's coaching

Amy Bellamy was able to transform her body by following Hunt’s coaching. Photo courtesy of BodBuds Instagram.

Hunt filmed and produced 100 instructional workout videos for her Body Buddies YouTube channel. It was through this channel that many of her clients discovered her business. These videos create an easy and accessible way for clients to understand how to successfully utilize all of their muscles while working out in the gym. For example, clients learn how to successfully perform a seated row weight lift to activate muscles both in their back and in their arms.

Through Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, Hunt has created a successful way to market to a wide audience of clients.  Hunt has more than 7,000 followers on social media.

Instagram is her main method of gaining followers. She posts workout videos, before-and-after result photos of her clients and motivational quotes every day. It is a quick way to instantly communicate to her followers. However, these posts are only previews of what can come from the full Body Buddies experience.

"The Power Foods Lifestyle" is available for purchase on Hunt's website.

“The Power Foods Lifestyle” is available for purchase on Hunt’s website. Image courtesy of Hunt.

By using hashtags such as #FitFan, #CleanEats and #WeightLossJourney, Hunt has gained public attention of her Instagram posts. These are hashtags that people wanting to start their own fitness journey investigate. Clients see her social media posts and then reach out to her to receive her coaching to start their own fitness journeys. She wants to be the person to help change clients’ lifestyles and make them love their bodies.

Instagram user Tyler Griffin, 23, a student at the University of Utah who uses the handle TGriff08, is a client and one of Hunt’s many followers. “Although I finished my 12-week program with Kristy back in September of 2014 as part of a reshaping of my body during the summer, I still follow her to seek constant new ways to work out, discover new recipes and see the success of many other of her clients who went through the same process that I did,” he says.
Griffin had lost more than 15 pounds during the 12-week process and gained a tremendous amount of muscle to his body. When grocery shopping, he is more aware of the foods that are beneficial to his lifestyle so he can maintain that muscle build that he worked for. 
“There were times when I felt like I wasn’t going to stick to this intense 12- week program,” Griffin says. “But Kristy provided a constant motivational push to keep working for my final goal — and I reached that goal, and I felt like a completely new person when I started my final fall semester.”
Griffin has referred multiple family members and friends to Body Buddies so they could achieve the same lifestyle changes that he accomplished with Hunt’s help.
One such friend was Brooke Legeman, 19, of Salt Lake City who started working with Hunt two weeks ago in hopes of removing the freshman 15 that she gained this past year.
“Being a part of the Body Buddies program is something that I want to commit myself towards to start a completely new health lifestyle,” Legeman said in a phone interview. “Kristy is helping me balance school, work and my fitness goals so that I can achieve the success that I want to achieve. I feel like I am in control of my body and making it back into the shape that I once had … or maybe in even better shape.”
Legeman finds herself going to the gym almost every day now, and avoiding all of the fast food that she was guilty of eating during her freshman year.

Hunt has started her own motivational seminars that she calls “Girls Night Out.” These empowering presentations are held at Salt Lake City gyms. Hunt wants to change the way clients think about themselves, and have their bodies reflect the changes that they can see.

“I’m not a feminist, I’m an empowerist,” Hunt says. “Integrity is the name of the game for people in life. Know where your integrity is at, and never let it crumble.”

Take a chance and dance

Story and video by SHANNON O’CONNOR

Watch why people of all ages love to dance.

What does dance mean? Dance is a form of fitness that is fun, physical, mental, and social. Everyone should experience the local dance community because it is tight-knit and welcomes people of all ages, genders, races and body types.

“I started dancing in Utah because people are more open and nonjudgmental,” Myles Ozo said.

Ozo moved to Utah from Virginia. He thought the dance community there was intimidating and the people were snobby. But Ozo felt welcomed with open arms in Utah, and now enjoys the expression of dance.

Elite Dance Studio, located at 4026 S. 2700 East in Holladay, offers classes in jazz, hip-hop, ballet, silks, clogging and choreography. Lesley Smith is the founder and owner of Elite. Her fun-loving personality is shown through her purple, blue, and pink highlights in her hair. Smith is extremely hands-on and goes to the studio almost every day to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Due to Smith’s high involvement in the studio, her amount of family time suffers. “It has impacted my family’s life for the good and bad. I have missed out on a lot of my kids’ childhood … and I’m not home to help with homework or go to games or just hang out.” Even though Smith and her family have made a lot of sacrifices, she believes it has been worthwhile. “It has been a good place for my girls to call home and get to be a part of something special,” she said.

Elite is a special studio that is set apart by the relationship between the students and teachers. The unity at the studio is appealing for those wanting to dance and grow physically while having fun.

“We are a more reasonable dance studio so we have a large number of students,” Smith said. “The teachers care about the kids like their own and it is well known in this community that we are like a family.” The family factor is why Elite celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2014. Everyone at the studio has gained relationships over the years that will last a lifetime.

A local studio that emphasizes fitness more than technique is Baile Dance Fitness Studio at 2030 S. 900 East.

“Get an infusion of fun in your fitness routine,” said owner Joni Chapa.

Baile opened in August 2013Chapa and her instructors infuse fitness into a variety of dance styles such as pop, rock, ballet, hip-hop, Latin, Jamaican and samba.

“I see bodies changing and people getting better at moving,” Chapa said. She believes people are more inclined to exercise when they take a class where they are having fun while getting fit. Chapa has seen it with her own eyes. People evolve from being reserved to letting loose and enjoying dance.

Dancing is not for a specific type of person. Participants don’t have to be extremely flexible, have great musicality, or even have experience. Individuals can start at any age and level and have fun discovering new possibilities of movement.

Pam Ziebell started dancing when she was 50 and she feels better than ever. “It’s exhilarating and I don’t feel like I’m too old,” she said. “Everybody just goes in there and has a blast!”

Molly Buonforte, 25, started dancing when she was 19 and participates in local dance battles, shows and classes.

“I love to dance because I love getting to be someone I’m not,” she said. “I love getting to be a diva or feel like I own the world, when in reality I’m a huge nerd.” Buonforte said for her and almost every dancer, dancing is more than a physical sport. Dancing is about committing and being mentally in tune with your emotions.

Another form of dance that transforms individuals into someone else is pole fitness. It’s a way to gain strength, a solid core and confidence.

“Pole fitness will give you that hourglass shape that everyone wants,” said Kelley Mountford, owner of La Bombe Pole Fitness.

Mountford opened the studio on Feb. 2, 2012, at 1850 S. 300 West in Salt Lake City. Pole fitness is a form of dance that requires a partner. But instead of that partner being another person, it’s a pole. It “challenges you mentally and physically,” she said.

When thinking of someone pole dancing, it’s natural to picture a physically fit beautiful person. Mountford has been a teacher and a student for many years and says that’s not the case. “I’ve watched people come and go to the studio,” she said, “and their mentality changes to, ‘This is my body and I know what it can do whether it’s big or small!’” La Bombe Pole Fitness is a diverse place where people can let go and progress.

There are local dance studios in Utah for every type of person. Elite, Baile and La Bombe Pole Fitness offer different forms of dance fitness that could be the right fit for you.

“For [first-timers] there is a learning curve and they need to have a positive mentality and just have fun,” Baile owner Joni Chapa said in a phone interview.

Step outside of your house or gym and into a dance studio. Get physically fit by dancing and take a chance and dance!

My ride-along with Meals on Wheels

Story and slideshow by IAN SMITH

Experience the ride-along as we delivered meals to about 70 homes.


From the moment I hopped into the truck I knew I was in for more than I could have ever expected. I saw the route list. I saw the 70-plus houses that I was going to have to visit. I was excited about the journey I was about to embark on.

The emotions that I would feel throughout the day were making me shake. It wasn’t the feeling of fear, however, more of just a heightened sense of things.

The Salt Lake County Meals on Wheels program was the right choice for me to bring out my emotions on paper. The program itself has an eligibility that older adults must meet to become part of the program.

I walked downstairs and met my driver for the day, John Neerings. I quickly noticed his big smile. It put me at ease. Usually there is some tension between two people when they first meet, but that feeling was nowhere to be found when I was with him.

Of course, we took our time so he could show me exactly where all the meals are cooked and processed. He began walking around the kitchen, which is in the basement of the south county building on 2001 S. State St. I was surprised to see how fast all the employees and volunteers worked.

Meals were taken to different trucks, which were outfitted with a refrigerator and a warming oven. Drivers then quickly left on their routes.

Neerings showed me how the holding section of his truck worked. He had controls by the steering wheel that regulated the temperature.

We got everything ready and it was time for my ride-along. He packed me a Coke and muffins for the ride.

Vital to the community

Jeremy Hart, the independent aging program manager of Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services, said he realized how important the program is to the community once he experienced a ride-along for himself.

In a phone interview, he talked about how vital the meals are for people’s overall health. He told me that the recipients get one-third of their required dietary intake with the meal they get daily.

Hart said the program is growing quickly. Meals on Wheels delivers 1,300 meals per day and currently has around 1,500 clients. In 2013, he said, 330,000 meals — 11,000 more than the previous year — were delivered in Salt Lake County alone.

The volunteer support is substantial. One-third of the drivers who deliver the meals are volunteers. Hart said having them is important to the community and keeps the program from having to start a waiting list for clients.

“The senior population is going to be expanding exponentially by 2020,” he said. “Really soon you’ll have more seniors than you’ll have school-aged kids.”

Meals on Wheels is “a godsend”

As we pulled out of the parking lot, I asked Neerings how he likes his job. The response was more than I had imagined.

“I do love the clients,” he said. “I do care about them. I feel like I’ve got 80 grandmas. I love the job and the people and it gets me exercise.”

Neerings said he enjoys being that “sparkle in their eyes.” That is what motivates him to get going every day — so much so that one of his clients told him the same happy story for about a month straight.

I could see in his eyes that he was struggling when the topic of death was mentioned. I asked if he has many instances of clients who die. He said it happens too often.

I asked Neerings about negative events he’s been through. When he related a few troubling stories, I knew I was in for a long day of emotions.

One client fell during the night and broke her hip. She was unable to reach her phone, so she lay on the floor for hours. Neerings found her in the morning when he brought her a meal. He said he had trouble sleeping for weeks because of it.

Our route took us to places around the city that I didn’t even know were there. Some places I’d like to forget; others were really nice and clean.

One stop after another, we checked homes off the delivery list. We often stayed for longer visits with clients.

June Poulton, 86, who lives near Highland High School, called Meals on Wheels “a godsend.”

“They are the most wonderful people,” she said. “The treat you with respect. They are so comfortable and the food is always so good.”

After visiting about 20 more houses, we talked with Ruth Newbold, 89. She said the food is very good and nutritious and that every once in a while, the driver brings her a treat just to be polite.

Many of the older adults we talked with were very emotional. For example, a woman named Beth was in tears because her son was having some health problems. She looked so lonely. Neerings tried to help her, but there wasn’t that much he could do.

We got back into the truck and an urge to cry came over me. Neerings said he has dealt with instances like that in the past and it is never really easy for him to handle.

“They unload on you when you get there,” he said. “They just need someone to talk to.” He said that Beth was one of the stronger women whom we would be seeing all day.

Neerings also has to deal with frightening situations. Toward the end of the ride, we drove through one of the roughest neighborhoods I’ve ever seen in Utah. As we pulled up to a motel, I was shocked by the awful conditions that Neerings faces weekly. But, he still stopped and said hello to everyone.

As the ride came to an end, he told me about some of his clients who have made him appreciate his job and his health. Neerings, who is 74,  looked forward to returning to the county building in the morning and starting all over again.

Salt Lake City couple takes PALS program into their own hands

Story and slideshow by STACEY WORSTER

Spend time looking at adoptable pets and meet PALS volunteers Carol and Eric Hochstadt.

The Placing Animals with Loving Seniors (PALS) program managed by The Humane Society of Utah benefits both the owner and animal.

Meghan Zach, a volunteer at the Humane Society, said, “It is very beneficial to both the animal and the owner when the owner is in need of a companion and something to worry about, and the animal gets a new loving owner.”

The Humane Society of Utah, located at 4242 South and 300 West, offers low-price deals to people age 65 and older who are looking for a new addition to their life. The adoption fee is waived when they adopt a dog or cat that is at least 8 years old.

“It gives the seniors something to focus on, a reason to get out of the house,” Zach said.

“A lot of the younger dogs are far too energetic for an older adult to take in,” she said in the foyer of the Humane Society. “That is why we strongly push the older dogs for the seniors to adopt.”

Zach said that when an older adult walks in the door, the adoption counselor on duty always asks about their future plans as a pet owner and arrangements that are in place if an emergency were to occur.

“Unfortunately,” she said, “animals are mostly viewed as property so a lot of people are asked if they have a plan if something unexpected were to happen.”

Zach said helping people pick out their new addition is one of her favorite things to do while volunteering.

“It is different helping seniors pick out their new pet because they have decades of experience,” she said. “It is so fun so hear their stories, they love telling them as well.”

Zach is unsure how many older adults adopt pets at the Humane Society of Utah.

“We don’t keep numbers of who buys what dog,” she said. “I usually do at least two or three senior adoptions a week, and I am just one of six adoption counselors so I am sure the other counselors help seniors as well.”

The Humane Society uses word-of-mouth and advertising to spread the word about the PALS program.

“We have two volunteers that go to the senior living centers, we have the PALS program listed on our website and in newspapers,” Zach said. “Every year the advertising to seniors increases, we are just trying to help them find a friend and companion.”

Eric and Carol Hochstadt have taken the PALS program into their own hands.

“We have been volunteering for The Humane Society of Utah since September of 2009,” Eric said. “After retiring we felt that we could do something more to help the dogs in the shelter, this is when we came across the PALS program.”

The couple has spearheaded the program since October 2013. “Making seniors aware of this opportunity is our hope and desire,” Carol said.

Eric said, “We think our work is effective, and the program is progressing if there is awareness.”

So far, the couple only have anecdotal evidence of the program’s success. They hope counselors will begin noting whether an adoption is through the PALS program so they can gather quantitative data.

“Seniors are smart enough to know that there are plenty of costs that go along with owning an animal,” Carol said.

“Just because they get an animal for small cost or free of charge does not mean it won’t be an expensive purchase,” she said.

The Hochstadts said they are passionate about making older adults mindful of all the options that are available to them.

“Even if they don’t go and adopt an animal, it is interaction for them. As long as we’re helping them, we want to be there,” Eric said.

Carol added, “If seniors decide that owning a pet is not the best idea, they can still come to the Humane Society and walk the dogs. It can give them a sense of responsibility and self-worth.”

Walking a dog can help people strike up conversations with strangers. This is another benefit for an older adult who owns an animal.

“It is very important to have interactions if you want to stay sharp throughout aging,” Carol said. “Having a pet opens up that line of communication. Think of the walks you have gone on and recognized someone’s animal and a conversation started because of the pet.”

The biggest addition to the PALS program is the monthly and sometimes weekly visits the Hochstadts make to different Salt Lake City senior centers.

“We have checked out many different senior centers around the Salt Lake City area. Most of them told us we could not bring animals in,” Carol said. “This defeated our purpose of coming in because having animals there is the whole goal and best advertisement we could have.”

However, Tenth East Senior Center allowed Eric and Carol to bring in animals during their visits.

“The person we talked to at the Tenth East Senior Center was obviously a dog lover and wanted to encourage seniors to adopt a pet,” Carol said.

Because this center allowed the Hochstadts to bring in animals from the Humane Society, they decided to recontact the directors of the other senior centers in the area.

“We told them that Tenth East was allowing us to bring in dogs, and it is a county facility,” Carol said. “They didn’t know what to say so they agreed to let us bring in dogs, but they had to be small dogs, and we have to bring potty pads.”

The couple’s persistence paid off.

“It was great, an employee from a senior center that was adamant about us leaving animals outside the door changed her mind,” Carol said. The employee told her, “If you’d like to come once a month, you should.”

The employees who work at the senior centers give the Hochstadts a call and let them know when there are going to be a lot of people in the building.

“We usually arrive around a quarter to eleven. People seem to be there before lunchtime,” Carol said. “Then we end up talking for awhile and leave around 12:30 p.m.”

The Millcreek Recreation Center put up a table for the Hochstadts to set up their display and talk about the PALS program.

“We sat right next to a fireplace. It was very inviting for people to come and visit,” she said. “It was great because they would tell us their stories about their pets. Even if they aren’t particularly interested in adopting a pet, they are able to tell their stories.”

Many aspects of the PALS program are altered to impress aging adults, but giving people the option to take home a pet can be comforting — as long as it’s a good match.

Carol said a family adopted a puppy for their aging mother, and one week later returned it.

“They came back to the Humane Society and adopted a 10-year-old dog and she loved it. Perfect temperament,” Carol said.

The Hochstadts have found that pet owners find it comforting to care for an older animal.

“Just as they shouldn’t be put out to pasture and considered not valuable because of their age, the older animals that are turned in to the shelter shouldn’t be ignored and considered unadoptable,” Carol said.

The couple said this volunteer job is incredibly rewarding.

“People we have helped adopt a pet still thank us every time they see us,” Eric said. “They say they cannot imagine life without their companion.”