Kathleen Purvis

Mixing health and cocktails? Charlotte nutritionist will drink to that

Nutritionist Beth Mack
Nutritionist Beth Mack

The first time I talked to Beth Mack, it was about calorie counts: She’s a nutritionist who runs the campus food services at UNC Charlotte, and I interviewed her for a story about putting calorie counts on menus.

So I was a little surprised when I ran into Mack at a social-media event, #Instabeerup, at NoDa Brewing last week, and found she was spreading the word on a cocktail project. She’s helping with the marketing for Cheers to the Queen City, a three-month effort to lure people out to try special drinks at two dozen local restaurants through March.

Wait a minute. I had to ask: Do calories and cocktails mix? Especially from a nutritionist’s point of view?

Absolutely, Mack says. “My perspective is, everything in moderation.”

“If you’re going to drink something, yes, it’s going to have calories, but make sure it tastes good. Make sure you’re really going to enjoy it.”

Mack, 29, still works at UNCC. But as someone who’s interested in the local-food scene around Charlotte, she’s noticed how hard it is for smaller food companies, places like startup distilleries and craft-focused restaurants, to get the word out on what they do. She and a co-worker, Samantha Cuevas, the marketing director for UNCC’s dining services, decided to get involved with local food events, “the true culinary experience of craft.”

After going on the first cocktail tour, organized by Tamu Curtis of Trademarked PR as part of www.liberateyourpalateCLT.com, Mack got involved herself. The tour, which started this week and lasts until March 15, involves buying a $30 passbook for $5 cocktail specials at 24 restaurants. Since most craft cocktails run from $10 to $12, the passbook gets you $240 to $280 worth of cocktails for $150.

The money, though, isn’t what attracted Mack to the event. What she likes is that it gives people a reason to visit locally owned restaurants using locally produced ingredients, and it encourages people to go out together for new experiences.

“Food is such a cultural thing,” she says. “Every time you meet with friends at the holidays, it’s ‘let’s go grab a drink.’ ” She likes the idea of turning that into a way to explore creative work around the city and visit places you hadn’t considered.

And yes, she says, if you’re going out for drinks, you need to plan for it. Maybe make sure you eat more fruits and vegetables that day and make sure you get extra exercise that morning.

For her, that message is a part of removing some of the resistance to nutrition. Let’s face it – many of us hear the word and our toes curl up a little. But it doesn’t have to be that way, she says.

“I hate using the word ‘healthy.’ Because for so many people, it’s synonymous with ‘plain,’ ‘bland.’ Broccoli and Brussels sprouts. I use words like ‘wholesome,’ ‘fresh,’ ‘crisp.’ Something a bit more sexy, if you will.”

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis