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Common Sense Health: Happy hour with a hedgehog?

Ideas to change the neighbourhood watering hole for the better.
A walkable neighbourhood haunt would be a healthy thing, says columnist. Photo submitted.

These days, too many things are all wrong. But now and again, everything that’s right in the world comes together. We found such a place in a local neighbourhood restaurant recently, where good food, good music, and good company combined to make everybody happy. But was it healthy?

Almost, but not quite.

What would be the perfect conditions for a neighbourhood restaurant to score top marks in offering good times, good food, and good health?

Start by thinking about the eating and socializing places within walking distance of your home. Not everyone is so lucky to have such options. But most do. And if you do, how often do you walk there? When it comes to dining out, it’s well said “health is a journey, not a destination.”

That’s because most restaurants do not serve healthy food. Regular consumption of unhealthy pub grub at the neighbourhood grill is not doing anyone a favour. What will it take to make change?

Remember, “the customer is king”. If enough people demand healthy alternatives on the menu, the owners and chefs will hear the call. So be proactive. Ask for meals that focus on “whole foods”, meaning the ingredients have not been processed or refined. There’s an organization called Menus of Change ( that provides guidance for the food service industry drawing on expertise in nutritional and environmental science. Print out this article and share the link with your local restaurant owners.

Portions should be reasonable. If a restaurant serves you too much, set aside half and take it home. If you consume food slowly, you will discover you will be satisfied with less.

Venues with live music are a beautiful thing. There should be more of them. Enjoying music with friends is so good, you don’t even need to talk. But restaurants that play background music so loud that table conversations become difficult are missing the point.

Is there anything that could be done to assist seniors who struggle to get out or who are reluctant to go out alone? A neighbourhood service to walk such people safely to and from the local watering hole would be a great innovation--a neighbourhood-based Uber-like service to accompany people door-to-door.

Restaurants should make sure there are no hazards, like steps that are unmarked or absent railings. Wait staff should be trained in how to assist elderly patrons by listening carefully to special needs, assisting with coats, canes, and the gizmos of today’s cashless society. “Friendship tables” could invite singles to sit together or welcome first-time single patrons to join a group of regulars.

What could governments do to support local eateries? How about reducing taxes on food and alcohol for anyone having a home address within walking distance? Policy wonks should figure this stuff out.

Here’s a thought: what about a place for your dog to wait for you while you socialize with friends? Don’t have a dog? Then another idea, could companion animals, which bring such joy to people who have them, be a featured service? You could order a meal that comes with a well-trained service dog to sit at your feet.

That might be a stretch. But other places have done weirder things. There is a shop in Tokyo where you can enjoy sitting with a hedgehog while enjoying your food and drink.

Who’s game for happy hour with a hedgehog?

There’s a time for more creativity in how we achieve healthier neighbourhood places for getting together, and this is one of those times.

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