Jonathan Fielding is the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. In February 2012, he and his wife made a $50 million donation to the UCLA School of Public Health, where he is a longtime faculty member. Before participating in a panel on how and when health propaganda works, he sat down in the Zócalo green room to talk about philanthropy, chocolate, the Beatles, chocolate, movies … and chocolate.
What salad dressing best describes you?
Probably the balsamic vinaigrette, because that’s the only kind that I use. I don’t think of that describing me; I don’t think it’s the best descriptor. If you’re talking about chocolate, I could tell you. I don’t use chocolate on my salads usually. Not that I wouldn’t, but I don’t usually have that opportunity.
So what chocolate best describes you?
All chocolates. I like chocolate hazelnut—bittersweet chocolate hazelnut. Why would you want anything else?
Who’s your favorite Beatle?
It probably wouldn’t be Ringo. I think Paul McCartney, just because I’ve seen him, and I haven’t seen the others. I thought it was pretty amazing to see him in concert, just by himself for over two hours, no frills. No accompaniment. No beginning act.
When did you last break a sweat?
This morning. On my treadmill.
You started the county’s ABC restaurant grading system. What else in Southern California do you wish we graded publicly?
I’d like to see us be able to grade specific services that people receive in terms of their responsiveness, their timeliness, their reaction. It could be utilities, for example. One of the things that needs to be graded in some way, is that it’s really hard for people to choose their long-term care facilities. There are some quasi-grades the federal government gives, but that is a place that could really use that scrutiny and objectivity to help people making these really great, important decisions for their loved ones.
What’s the last movie you saw?
I think it was Zero Dark Thirty or Lincoln.
What inspires you?
The people I work with every day, and the commitment that they show to improving everyone’s health and to protecting the public and preventing disease and injury. Not always in very heroic positions, with very modest salaries in many cases, but with a commitment to public service that I think is exemplary.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Chocolate. Dark chocolate with hazelnuts. That was easy.
Where would you like to travel to next?
What are you enjoying most about being a philanthropist?
I don’t really think of myself as a philanthropist; I think of myself as a public health worker. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to give back in a way that will live on beyond my lifetime. I love the idea that you can create an enduring legacy for things you strongly believe in that can help people you don’t know and never will.