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Snack attack Healthy options now on the menu for one of America's biggest food fests

Half a million participants will gnaw their way down Delaware Avenue this weekend, if past experience is any guide to the 23rd annual plating of the Taste of Buffalo food festival. Half a million, times a half-dozen samples each, equals -- what? A gazillion calories in downtown Buffalo, home of the chicken wing, fish fry and beef on weck?

Make that a gazillion lite, this year. For the first time, the Taste of Buffalo has a mandatory healthy-option rule for the 56 vendors taking part in the annual menu walk. After three years of a voluntary Healthy Options recipe competition, festival organizers have laid down the law this year. Every booth must have at least one item that derives no more than 30 percent of its calories from fat and no more than 10 percent from saturated fat, and holds the line on cholesterol and sodium.

Chefs are already hard at work developing items that help the heart while pleasing the stomach, and doing so in a way that deserves the Taste of Buffalo spotlight. The offerings will run the gamut from Cajun boiled crawfish to chewy spice cookies (hint: applesauce for sweetening), and there's even a healthy portion of country mashed potatoes. It will be interesting to see (it's being tracked) how many participants snap up the good good stuff instead of the good bad stuff, health-wise.

But even more important is the message being sent, to a city and a country increasingly and rightly concerned about obesity and its health, and health-care cost, effects. Like healthier foods and snacks in schools, this effort by Taste of Buffalo and the Independent Health Foundation sends the right message, and helps start to change the American food culture. And there's nothing light about that.

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