Gen Z preference: Cocktails or Mocktails

By Kayla Frank

Photo by Kayla Frank Jan. 24, 2023, Top of the Stairs bartenders awaiting customers.

(BLACKSBURG, V.a)- The rise of alcohol-free bars can be attributed to the increasing mindfulness of drinking habits, with Gen Zers leading this new transformation of a fun night out. 

Third Place Bar offers bar pop-ups, without the booze. Located in Brooklyn, New York, the zero-proof bar caters to a new culture of sober-curious lifestyles. But what would offering only mocktails and non-alcoholic beer look like in a college town? 

While sober curious lifestyles and mindful drinking is a trend among Generation Z, those attending university are more likely to experiment with alcohol along with their newfound independence and availability of social events.

Through research from the Alcohol Rehab Guide, it was estimated that 80% of college students- four out of every five- consume alcohol to some degree, and roughly 50% of those students engage in binge drinking, or consume too much alcohol in too little time.

Although the pandemic may have stalled downtown activity, Blacksburg is buzzing again with bars and billiards for college students attending Virginia Tech. 

Blacksburg bouncer and barback at Top of the Stairs, Jake Hart, noted that if anything, more students have been coming to the bars since the decline of COVID-19. 

“When the football team played Miami University in the fall, we were so packed that we literally ran out of vodka and Bud Lite,” said Hart, “We broke nearly every record we could.” 

Gen Z’s refined awareness of the consequences of alcohol consumption is shown in sales research from Drizly. The largest online marketplace for alcohol in North America issued a 2022 consumer report that conveyed that 38% of Gen Z respondents are drinking more non-alcoholic beverages than in the previous year. A high percentage when compared to that of Millennials (25%), Gen X (15%) and Boomers (8%). 

A bartender at Sharkey’s in Blacksburg, Bobby Johnson, get’s the occasional order for a mocktail and has a couple of regulars who just ask for Diet Coke. 

“I don’t think I’ve seen a trend of drinking less, but I do see people being more mindful of what they consume with their alcohol,” said Johnson, “For example, more people have mixed hard liquor with water than I’ve seen in previous years, and the shift to spiked seltzer from beer has also been tremendous.” 

Photo by Kayla Frank Jan. 20, 2023, Sharkey’s Bar front in Blacksburg, Virginia.

One factor promoting mindfulness is the availability of information at Gen Z’s fingertips. Hashtags like #Sobertok have gone viral on social media platforms such as Tik Tok.

Striving for unique experiences, Gen Z has forced bars to be creative and provide special events such as trivia, bingo, axe throwing, and even paint and sip nights. 

“I think a non-alcoholic bar could make it in Blacksburg, only if it offered some sort of gimmick to draw people in,” said Johnson, “On bingo and trivia night, people come in just to play and eat, so it could definitely work.”

Dining out vs. cooking in as inflation rises

by Emaryi Williams-

Restaurants are still open for business on Main Street in Blacksburg, even as inflation rises on Jan. 30, 2023. (Photo: Emaryi Williams)

BLACKSBURG — The prices for food increased last year by 10.4%, the largest yearly increase since 1981, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics’s Economics Daily

The Consumer Price Index refers to the ​​measure of economy-wide inflation, which has impacted many consumer goods and services, including food prices.

“This is important because it gave us important information about cost of living,” said Virginia Tech economic professor Shaowen Luo about the relevance of the consumer price index.

Luo explains that it is not the absolute price changes that are affecting the everyday American, but the relative price change.

“If everything in the U.S. market increased by 10.4%, including your wage, then your life is not affected,” she explained. For those who did not see a 10.4% income increase, Lou says the rise in food prices may impact their lives.

According to Blacksburg officials, the city is currently seeking ways to combat food insecurity in the area.

“We got some ARPA funds from the federal government,” said Blacksburg Town Manager, Marc Verniel. “One of the projects we’re looking at is to fund local nonprofits that are already helping people get good healthy food.”

Virginia Tech Professor of Finance Derek Klock list many factors to consider that have affected inflation, including the coronavirus, the war in Ukraine and increased demand.

“Whenever you have a supply chain disruption to the extent we’ve had over the past three years globally, all prices are going to rise,” he said.

The cost of a dozen large eggs at a grocery store chain in Blacksburg has risen to more than seven dollars due to inflation on Jan. 30, 2023. (Photo: Emaryi Williams)

While both stores and restaurants have seen spikes in food prices, according to a 2023 Food Price Outlook created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, between September 2021 and September 2022, the prices of food in restaurants increased up to 8.5%, while the prices of food at stores increased 13%.

“I feel like going out and eating in ends up costing the same in the end because groceries are pretty expensive,” said Emma Larkin, a Virginia Tech off-campus student who frequents Kroger.

Despite price differences, Professor Klock warns the public about assuming that prices at restaurants will always compare better than those at the grocery store.

“Grocery store prices have gone up a lot, and restaurants will have to follow suit. Eventually, restaurants are going to have to pass on those increased prices to consumers,” he predicts.

Klock explains that since the pandemic, restaurants have held back passing raised prices to customers because people have just started eating out again. He says, for restaurants to stay in business, they are going to have to raise their prices soon.

Jan. 30, 2023 – Despite prices in Blacksburg, drivers and customers can be seen flocking to restaurants and bars on Main Street. (Photo: Emaryi Williams)

Professor Luo says, there are many aspects to consider when determining whether eating in or eating out is more costly.

Diet is one that she specified as a critical factor. A vegan and vegetarian diet could cut a person’s food costs by up to one-third, according to a study done by the Lancet Planetary Health.

“Some people may value having food outside much higher than cooking at home,” Luo said. “It also depends on your budget constraint – whether you are high-income people or low-income people. So, it’s complicated.”

Managing mental health as a first responder

By Anthony Cusat-

A Virginia Tech Rescue Squad ambulance is parked outside the station in preparation for a call in Blacksburg, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. (Photo: Anthony Cusat)

In the event of some of the scariest medical emergencies, first responders can be seen as pillars of hope and strength. However, it is impossible to assume there is not a mental toll that comes at the price of helping others.

Riley*, an emergency medical technician located in the Harrisonburg area, is one of many emergency medical service (EMS) providers who has seen the intersection between mental health and the job firsthand. When discussing the effect of traumatic calls, Riley said that it is not necessarily the anxiety of performing duties in the moment but the aftermath that leaves a lasting impression. 

“When you see family members and friends grieving over the loss of someone, especially in such a traumatic way, it really really takes a toll on you,” said Riley, after detailing a gruesome on-call death. Even years later, Riley still experiences reminders of the incident when passing the spot where it took place.

Unfortunately, Riley’s experience is not unique to first responders. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 30 percent of first responders develop mental health conditions like depression and posttraumatic stress disorder which is 10 percent higher than the general population. 

In one study, it was concluded that first responders are at an increased risk of alcohol consumption after incidents that involve the death of citizens or coworkers. Use rose incrementally for eight days and returned to normal after eight months. Riley said, “Something that I feel like has been normalized is coping unhealthily with that stress… It [drinking alcohol] kind of has turned into, for some people, a legitimate problem.”

With these numbers, there is an increased importance for first responders to have access to adequate mental health resources.

Administrative captain of Virginia Tech Rescue, Isabella Filippone, said, “It’s not about experiencing a traumatic event and then taking care of yourself, it’s about taking care of yourself so that you’re prepared to see those types of things.” While the vast majority of calls tend to be minor incidents, Filippone said finding ways to healthily cope with the stress of major emergencies makes a difference on well-being.

Isabella Filippone standing outside a Virginia Tech Rescue Vehicle in Blacksburg, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. (Photo: Anthony Cusat)

Among first responders, consistent themes for positive coping included having outlets to talk to and fostering a culture of openness. Riley, for example, is able to see a therapist that specializes in EMS-related trauma which they said helped them recognize lingering mental wounds.

Additionally, squad members rely on one another for needed support. Cameron Buck, assistant deputy chief of field operations at Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad said, “I would feel comfortable myself going to any of our officers and talking about a tough call, but I would also feel completely comfortable sending someone else to any of our officers.”

When referring to first responders, Buck said, “It’s a group of people who collectively want to serve something bigger than themselves.” Despite the potential tribulations, those who serve as EMS professionals still have unbounded love for what they do. 

*For confidentiality purposes, the name Riley is an alias.

Quick Pricks for Wellness

by Kayla Frank-

Hydrate or (Die)drate. Intravenous vitamin therapy is the fastest way to receive nutrients in the body. 

If you need a boost, treating an illness, have a migraine, or recovering after a strenuous workout, IV therapy can cut down your wait time. 

Instead of taking vitamins orally and allowing them to break down and weaken in the digestion process, IV therapy is a quick solution that enters straight into the bloodstream.

The trending treatment has also been known to clear your complexion, lose weight, alleviate chronic pain, and enhance your focus. Altogether, there’s an IV drip that can be utilized for anything. 

Photo from by SHVETS Production

Popular amongst celebrities, IV therapy is a quick fix for jet lag and hangovers when you’re constantly on the go and don’t have time to feel fatigued. The cost of the service is another reason it remains popular with certain demographics, as one session is usually priced at a minimum of $100.

Other common services for IV therapy include private parties for groups after a large night out, such as a bachelor party or wedding. Drip Hydration, a mobile medical service, purposefully locates its mobile IV services in areas during big events such as Coachella, the Kentucky Derby, and New York Fashion Week. 

Renew and Restore Wellness Spa, located in Blacksburg, Virginia, offers an IV therapy menu with six different choices such as “Hangover Highroller,” which is “great for after a wicked night out and everything hurts.” Ingredients along with the balanced salt solution include anti-nausea, pain relief, antacid, B12, and B complex. 

Treatments at Renew and Restore Wellness Spa can also be tailored to your body’s demand, literally.

Lacking the energy to even make it to the spa? Renew and Restore Wellness Spa offers concierge services across the New River Valley, with a $150 travel fee in addition to the cost of the IV, which ranges from $99 to $159.

Sessions can take as long as 90 minutes and are recommended 1-2 times a week for optimal effectiveness. 

IV therapy is a way to get nutrients quickly, but it is imperative they are administered by a licensed professional. 

What to expect when COVID-19 emergency declarations end

by James Tyler Ennis-

Man getting tested for Covid-19 by a healthcare professional. Photo credit: Kampus Production

New River Valley residents will face increased costs for treatment and tests after federal emergency declarations for COVID-19 end in May of this year. 

At-home tests for COVID-19 will no longer be covered by most insurance policies according to an NBC report. This will force NRV residents to pay out of pocket for any future at-home tests. Without emergency declarations, the federal supply of free at-home COVID-19 tests will soon dwindle as well.

Insurance companies had been previously covering up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests per month since it became required by the Biden administration in January 2022. At-home tests helped reduce strain on testing clinics but have been known to sometimes produce false negatives.

These changes to federal COVID-19 policies come while the country still has about 450 COVID-19 deaths and 40,000 cases per day, according to the New York Times live map. The live map indicates that Montgomery County has about 26 COVID-19 cases per day. The city of Radford has about six cases per day and Pulaski county has about nine cases per day. 

According to reports from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), PCR tests will continue to be covered by most insurance policies. However, individuals without insurance will have to pay for PCR tests. The KFF report indicates that most insurance policies will continue to cover COVID-19 vaccinations, as well. 

Male patient being prepared for a vaccination by a trained healthcare professional. Photo credit: Nataliya Vaitkevich

Residents of the NRV may not only have to pay to get tested for COVID-19 but could have to start paying for their treatment as well. 

Oral antivirals used to treat COVID-19 will continue to be free of cost as long as the national supply lasts. However, NRV residents should expect to start being charged for these treatments once the national supply runs out. According to the previously mentioned KFF reports, most insurance providers will not cover these treatments. 

The effects of increased costs for testing and treatment will be felt even worse amongst NRV residents. According to the census reporter, about 21 percent of NRV residents live below the poverty line, which is about double the Virginia average and one and a half times the U.S. average. The end of emergency declarations in May will leave NRV residents vulnerable to a lack of affordable COVID-19 care.

Latest sleep trend: #mouthtaping

by Mary Griffin-

The latest TikTok sleeping hack is designed to turn anyone into a nose breather. Known as mouth taping, Influencers and TikTok users have claimed mouth taping benefits them in ways from snoring less, reducing bad breath, and even sharpening their jawline. 

Mouth taping is just as it sounds, it is the act of taping your mouth shut, forcing you to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth when you sleep. 

One creator, @courtneysnelll, who creates wellness videos, posted a TikTok stating that “humans are the worst nose breathers in the entire animal kingdom.” As well as claims that mouth breathing causes conditions such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, heart failure, and dental abnormalities.

The #mouthtaping already has over 54.4 million views on TikTok as well as #mouthtapingforsleep which has over 13.6 million views.

However, despite its popularity, medical professionals suggest the research behind the benefits of mouth taping is lacking and even adds safety risks. 

According to an article by Cleveland Clinic, breathing through your nose has several health benefits including lowering blood pressure, filtering allergens, and moisturizing your throat, but sleep medicine specialist Cinthya Pena Orbea, MD, claims that most of this evidence is “anecdotal” and that there is not enough to support that mouth taping is beneficial. Rather than mouth taping, Dr. Pena Orbea states there are “alternative methods to address conditions like snoring and sleep apnea directly.”

Mouth taping, Dr.Orbea also suggests, could cause irritation and even a rash when used. Dr. Orbea suggests discussing this practice with a doctor before putting it into action. 

Kaninika Verma, MD, clinical sleep director at OSF HealthCare, discusses mouth breathing in an article published by OSF HealthCare. 

Dr. Verma agrees that people are supposed to breathe in and out using their nose, but due to safety reasons mouth taping is not the best practice or technique. According to Dr. Verma, snoring stems from a bigger issue and it is important to figure out the root of the issue rather than forcing the body to breathe through the nose. 

Verma also claims that mouth taping is a practice that no physician would recommend to a patient.

Causes of mouth breathing include; snoring, blocked nasal passages, enlarged tonsils, and being a natural mouth breather.

While mouth taping may be trendy, those with health and medical backgrounds tend to stray away from it.

Mountain Biking: A pricey past time

Blacksburg, Va., Jan 26 – Bike Hub: The Bike Hub is the central base for all bike enthusiasts at Virginia Tech. Assisting many bikers every day, Zachary Taub does maintenance on a student’s bike. Photograph: Noah Hayden

by Noah Hayden –

What started as a small club in the 1930’s, has become a worldwide phenomenon that’s grasping the nation. In 2011, nearly seven million people participated in non-paved surface bicycling. That number increased by almost two million by 2021. Mountain biking is only getting more popular and the biking market is expected to grow by at least 3.13 billion between 2023-2027.

While the sport is growing at a tremendous rate, that’s not to say it’s for everyone. The biggest initial challenge for newcomers is understanding the bike market. At a glance, there are tons of price points that would scare any consumer off.

According to long-time mountain biker, Ruben from BikingUniverse, parts for a bike can cost up to $10,000. As daunting as that may sound, there is a bright side. Most bikers are not buying parts for $10,000, especially newcomers.

“You can find hardtails for $5,000,” explained Zachary Taub, Virginia Tech Mountain Biking Club president and Bike Hub employee. “I usually tell people, look on Facebook marketplace first because you could probably find a decent entry-level hardtail for about $500 or so.”

There are other factors that go into the price of a mountain bike. Wheel size, tire material, pedals, type and range of the drivetrain, and even the material of the frame affect the price. When buying a mountain bike for around $500, the main concern revolves around the integrity and performance of the bike. More often than not, one may experience an accident due to malfunctions.

Charles Dye, a 37-year mountain biking veteran, explains that there is some correlation between price and safety. “I generally say to people, don’t spend much less than  $1,000,” said Dye. “When you get out on the trails, life is rougher, things break more, you want more features like suspension, and you really need to pony up like $1,300.”

For college students, $1,300 might just mean their entire bank account. How America Pays for College: Sallie Mae’s National Study of College Student and Parents, indicated that in 2021, the average college student in the U.S. borrowed just above $1,300 via credit card. With college students already relying on outside sources for money like their parents, how is it possible for so many to afford such an expensive hobby?

The most common way is by finding bikes or parts for little to nothing. “Get your way in [to mountain biking] however you can get in,” said Dye. “Usually that means borrowing your old uncle’s bike.” 

Others will recall long hours working part-time, or doing odd jobs around their neighborhood. Luke Dangel, cinema student at Virginia Tech, opened his own garage biking service in the summer of 2020. Despite the many exhausting challenges to get the money for a mountain bike, he says he would never take that experience back.

“It was incredibly fun and stimulating. I became super invested,” said Dangel. “It was one of the best experiences of my life.”

Blacksburg, Va., Jan 26 – Bike Racks: Despite dull weather, students still manage to bring their bikes to campus. There are many bike racks across Virginia Tech that display the vast number of bikers in the student body. Photograph: Noah Hayden

The Body Project

by Cyna Mirzai-

Blacksburg, Va., Jan. 27 – The Body Project Faculty Advisor Laurie Fritsch observes her facilitators before their monthly meeting begins. Photo credit: Cyna Mirzai

A typical college student is often balancing rigorous classes, extracurricular activities and a hectic social life. But what is also looming in the background for some, especially women, is a struggle with self-image and disordered eating. 

A study by the Washington University School of Medicine estimated that 11% to 17% of women on college campuses in the United States have eating disorders. While there is no immediate remedy for self-esteem and disordered eating issues, a program at Virginia Tech is working to transform the culture.

The Body Project is an evidence-based eating disorder prevention program that promotes positive body image to college students through workshops taught by facilitators. The program was created by a group of psychologists and, after four hours of the program, it has been shown to reduce the onset of eating disorders by 60%. The program includes two, two-hour workshops held one week apart.

A national program, The Body Project is found in universities across the country. The program’s journey at Virginia Tech, however, began in 2014. Laurie Fritsch, the faculty advisor for The Body Project, said that during this time, there was pressure for women to achieve the “thin ideal”.

“For many years, the aesthetic of the media and society, in general, was around being very skinny,” Fritsch said. “Society has had to continually change the script to reflect what the appearance ideal is at the current time. It used to be centered around a thin appearance ideal, then it shifted to a curvy appearance ideal, and now the norm is this fit and toned appearance ideal.”

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, The Body Project’s goals are to define the “appearance” ideal, examine the costs of pursuing this ideal and exploring ways to resist pressures to conform to unrealistic standards of beauty.

The same study conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine found that participation in The Body Project is also associated with short- and long-term reductions in core eating disorder factors and the prevention of future onset of eating disorders. This program has helped people think more critically about how the things they desire often do not bring that outcome of happiness they think it will, Fritsch said.

Blacksburg, Va., Jan. 27 – The Body Project facilitators meet in small groups to discuss how to teach an activity for future workshops. Photo credit: Cyna Mirzai

“We are fighting a very predominant ideal culture,” Fritsch said. “It’s always an uphill battle because it’s difficult to retrain people to think in such a different direction when they are learning about appearance ideals that have been pushed to them through the media and their childhood for ages.” 

Olivia Rummel, a student facilitator for The Body Project, believes the program is necessary for understanding what causes negative self-image and changing the discourse around body-related concerns.

“I have seen a lot of positive changes in my own life, both in my own journey with my body acceptance and in the ways that I interact with others,” Rummel said.

Any student who is struggling with self-image or disordered eating can sign up for The Body Project workshops on the Hokie Wellness website.

Potentially harmful contaminants found in local water sources

by James Tyler Ennis-

The NRV Regional Water Authority building in Christiansburg, Va., on Jan. 30, 2023. The building helps to supply clean water to the Christiansburg area. Photo Credit: James Tyler Ennis

Residents of the New River Valley need to be aware of potential unregulated contaminants in their tap water with recent reports of ‘forever chemicals’ in the nearby Roanoke River.

According to WVTF, tests from the Western Virginia Water Authority in December 2022 confirmed that potentially harmful ‘forever chemicals,’ also known as PFAS, are still present in the Roanoke River after the initial findings in August 2022. Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are manufactured organic chemicals that have become pervasive in U.S. waterways. In fact, 83% of 114 waterways sampled by the Waterkeeper Alliance revealed at least one PFAS compound in harmful quantities.

Meagan Cox, a lifelong resident of the New River Valley, says she wants the local water authority to start testing for PFAS and other unregulated contaminants as a result of these verified findings so close to home.

“Sometimes it’s like, oddly colored, like it will not be as clear as normal. Like I normally drink tap water so I don’t really mind tap water, but just every now and then it has some odd aspects about it that makes me just not want to,” said Meagan.

Drinking high amounts of PFAS may have harmful health effects. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that peer-reviewed studies link PFAS compound consumption to reproductive effects, developmental effects, increased risk of some cancers, hormone interference, increased cholesterol levels, increased risk of obesity, and risk to the immune system. Once PFAS are ingested, there are no known ways to remove them.

Virginia has not issued any regulations on PFAS in drinking water. Additionally, testing for PFAS is expensive. Without state regulation and funding, PFAS are not often tested for or removed in municipal water supplies. This may be why the NRV Regional Water Authority has yet to conduct any publicly recorded PFAS testing or removal in the New River, the primary source of the NRV’s municipal water.

“When I talk to the public about making decisions about things like lead and bacteria, I say test and then if you need to, treat. Install something to treat the water,” said Erin Ling, with the Virginia Household Water Quality Program. 

“With PFAS, if it is a concern, it is challenging to test for both in the sense that it is expensive and that you may not be able to test for all the compounds that could be there.”

For any NRV residents concerned about PFAS or other contaminants in their tap, Erin Ling says they should use EPA-approved treatments to purify their drinking water. Activated carbon, reverse osmosis, and ion exchange treatments are all effective ways to remove PFAS. Activated carbon filters can be found in most stores and are the cheapest option, while ion-exchange treatments are the most effective. 

Water treatment systems for sale at Home Depot in Christiansburg, Va., on Jan. 30, 2023. Photo Credit: James Tyler Ennis

The NRV Regional Water Authority is filtering all the other dangerous contaminants, such as lead and bacteria, that are currently regulated by the EPA in Virginia. The EPA estimates that new regulations on PFAS in public water sources will be finalized by the end of 2023. 

LIFE/STYLE: How to eat like an Olympian

by Matt Scopa, Gavin Linden–

Olympic athletes train vigorously to compete in their respective sports but training is only half of what it takes to remain in peak athletic shape. To reach the height of Olympic excellence athletes must also focus on their diets.

Olympic dieting receives coverage whenever the Olympics roll around especially with competitors frequently appearing in ads for large food brands such as Subway and UberEats. This raises the question of what does an Olympic diet actually look like? What kind of foods? What kind of schedule? On this episode of the Newsfeed podcast, reporters Matt Scopa and Gavin Linden will try to shed some light on eating like an Olympian.