Hot Dogs & the Circus

Hot Dogs & the Circus

"Hot dogs" are Reason No. 3 that students in the School of Public Health’s Human Nutrition Program decided to launch a schoolwide survey in spring 2007 on “The SPH Nutrition Environment.”

Reason No. 2 was that the students perceived “negative attitudes toward the Crossroads Cafe,” the new breakfast and lunch counter installed alongside vending machines at the school—and purveyor of the abovementioned ballpark fare.

What was the top motivation?

“This whole survey was part of a class project for EHS 643, Nutrition Programs and Policies,” says instructor Anita Sandretto. She wanted students to investigate such questions as what criteria should be used for “healthy” food? And she hoped they would learn what they could about consumer purchasing habits and satisfaction related to food.

Students took their assignment to the nth degree, even drafting a food policy for SPH that they hope eventually to present to the administration for adoption.

A few of their findings: of the 548 people who responded to the web or paper versions of the survey, 71 percent found SPH food to be “unhealthy” or “extremely unhealthy.” Fifty-nine percent were satisfied with the prices but only 10 percent were satisfied with the variety.

A whopping 99 percent said they wished the offerings were either healthy or extremely healthy, and 53 percent identified a salad bar as the item they’d most like to see made available. Respondents associated the word “healthy” with low-fat and nutritional content, fresh and organic foods, vegetarian options, and fish and white meat options.

Barbara Osborne, the main cashier at the Crossroads Cafe, said the vendor that currently runs the cafe was aware of the survey, and menu changes have been made in response to feedback that customers wanted healthier food. A vegetarian salad and veggie burgers were made available over the summer, in addition to wheat and rye bread. Sandretto said she and her students will continue to work with a variety of stakeholders to encourage healthy options in the cafe.

But those infamous tubular steaks were still around in the fall semester. And they’re good sellers, according to Osborne, with construction workers who are an important clientele in the summer and with anyone looking for a fast hot meal.

By Mary Beth Lewis

Send correspondence about this or any Findings article to the editor at sph.findings@umich.edu. You will be contacted if your letter is considered for publication.

From the Archives

With nearly 1,500 people on its staff, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus was truly one of the greatest shows on earth. So when typhoid struck the company while it was playing Detroit in July 1934, it was big news. Within days of the outbreak, more than 70 members of the circus (including a tightrope walker and a clown) had been hospitalized.

Thirty-nine-year-old Don W. Gudakunst, the deputy health commissioner of Detroit and a non-resident professor of preventive medicine and public health at UM hurried to the circus grounds with a team of nurses and interns to investigate. They examined the remaining company members and gave inoculations, and when the show left Detroit to play Flint, Lansing, and Kalamazoo, Gudakunst went with them. He stayed with the circus, watching for typhoid, until the show left the state.

Seven circus members ultimately died from the disease. Health officials traced its likely cause to contaminated drinking water in Pennsylvania. In the wake of the outbreak, the circus management instituted new measures designed to protect the health of its employees and its public, among them latrines with fly-proof seats, covered coolers for drinking water, single-service paper cups instead of a common dipper, and new dishwashing equipment. They also added a hospital car, the “Florence Nightingale,” to the circus train.

Gudakunst remained in Michigan until 1940, when he left to become medical director of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. He died in 1946. The Don W. Gudakunst Memorial Lectureship in the SPH Department of Epidemiology honors his legacy. Past lecturers include Albert Sabin, Jonas Salk, Thomas Francis Jr., and Pearl Kendrick.

Circus historian Giovanni Iuliani contributed to this article

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