Let them eat Dodger Dogs!

Patt Morrison
Contact Reporterpatt.morrison@latimes.com

OPENING DAY at Dodger Stadium. Out on the fresh, emerald field, it was all about the RBIs and the ERAs.

Me, I was down in the dim expanse beneath the right-field pavilion, where my mind is on LDLs — the bad cholesterol. I could practically hear it churning through the arteries of people around me who bleed Dodger blue but feed nacho-cheese orange.

Spring, the season that launches diets and hope eternal, also launches the Dodgers' new "all you can eat" section: 3,229 bleacher seats where last season's $6 ticket has turned into a $35 passport to bottomless nachos, endless Dodger Dogs, bushels of peanuts and popcorn and lagoons of soda.

This, I had to see. (What does one wear to an "all you can eat" affair, anyway? Elastic? A tarp?)

Sports — watching, not playing — already is so entwined with party food that a ballgame without edibles would be like Thanksgiving without the tryptophan-turkey coma. But does an "all you can eat" ticket push from excess to grotesque? Would anyone eat himself into the black?

On the upper stadium levels Dodger Dogs are $4.75, popcorn $4.50. So, if you eat about seven Dodger Dogs, you're seeing the game for free. But then, of course, you'd also have a bellyache and a few ugly pounds as a souvenir.

That seemed to be the plan for quite a few of the bleacher fans. As Rocky Lopez hollered as he hit the concession stand — and mind you, he's been coming to see the Dodgers for 19 years, since he was 5, so it takes a lot to get him excited — "All you can eat! Wooooooooooo!"

The concession windows here open 90 minutes before the game and close two hours into it, 'round about the 7th-inning belch, but hours of grazing still weren't enough for some. I saw one scrawny young man brace himself with his back to the concession window and try to shove the steel shutters up as they rolled down.

The Dodger people told me that the 3,000 or so "all you can eat" ticket-holders ate about 8,000 hot dogs and yet-untallied quantities of peanuts and popcorn and nachos.

What I can tell the Dodger people is that their little marketing scheme isn't just going to harrow the lab boys at the Center for Science in the Public Interest — it's going to serve as social metaphor.

Monica Ortega bought bleacher tickets because they were the only ones left, and she was eating sparingly. But what about all those people who weren't? Is "all you can eat" really a good idea in a democracy where everyone puts his pants on one leg at a time — but sometimes can't zip them?

"People need to learn self-restraint and take responsibility for their own actions," Ortega told me. "Just because you go to the "all you can eat" section doesn't mean you have to eat it all."

Wait a minute — lemme see those tickets. What is this, the Libertarian section?

Candy Vega-Gomez came from Paramount with her three grown sons. Issac Gomez, who's 19, had made it through six trays of nachos, three Dodger Dogs, two popcorns, two peanut bags, "and I'm still going." He works it off working at Home Depot, but what about everyone else, the obese Americans who don't? Isn't this a cruel trick on them?

"That's a lifelong habit," Vega-Gomez shrugged. "It has nothing to do with the Dodgers."

By my eyeball estimation, at Dodger Stadium, the average body mass index goes down as the ticket price goes up. Several levels above the "all you can eat" seats, I ran into the perpetually bright-side City Councilman Tom LaBonge, and asked him about the $35 ticket's public health message.

"As chairman of the health committee for the City Council, I hope they don't eat too much," he said. Then again, that might not be so bad "as long as they walk down to Sunset Boulevard and catch the MTA and walk off those great Dodger Dogs!"

Don't doubt that there was plenty of high-end noshing going on too. I saw a dessert cart the size of a calliope parked outside one private suite, where former Secretary of State (and very svelte) Warren Christopher poked his head out the door. Wolfgang Puck popped out of another suite. A tale of two levels, the prole and the aristo versions of the same thing: the passionate conviction that when you're on vacation — and a day at the ballpark is surely that — you aren't spending real money or eating real calories.

There were some champion chow-hounds there on opening day, but I doubt that the Dodgers will lose money on the "all you can eat" deal, just as I doubt that the ticket-holders will lose weight.

Every food issue that public health is grappling with is right there under the right-field bleachers.

Would "all you can eat" tickets be a sellout if the food came from the "healthy plate" menu instead? Would guys be hollering and high-fiving over bottomless hummus plates and endless veggie dogs? Then again, is the concession stand the place to take a stand on public health policy?

Let me put it this way: Does the chubby kid I saw trailing behind his dad see a fat guy with food issues, or a hero who takes him to ballgames and buys him hot dogs?

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