Epidemiologist Alex Ortega is professor of public health and psychiatry & bio-behavioral sciences at UCLA, where he is also director and principal investigator of the Center for Population Health and Health Disparities. Before participating in a panel on how Angelenos eat now, he taught us the word “tittup,” explained why karaoke makes him sweat, and contemplated a world without kung pao chicken in the Zócalo green room.
What’s your favorite word?
It’s probably “tittup”—it means like, moving in a very prance-y way.
What, if anything, will you miss once trans fats are banned?
Probably kung pao chicken. [Laughs.] I have no idea. At least good kung pao chicken.
What’s hanging on your living room walls?
A few friends of mine are artists, so I have some of their art on my wall. One of my favorite pieces is by a friend of mine named Margaret McCann, and it’s a self-portrait.
If you didn’t live in Los Angeles, where would you be?
Probably Northern California—San Francisco.
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
“Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang. I do all three rappers. I’m usually sweating by the end of it.
What’s currently the most overblown public health menace?
E-cigarettes. Marijuana might be another one.
Where do you go to be alone?
Usually in my room.
If you had one more hour in the day, what would you do with it?
I would probably play [the game] Candy Crush because I’m addicted.
If you could be anyone in history, who would you be?
I was going to say Martin Luther King Jr., but he gets killed … But I’ll say Martin Luther King Jr.
How would you describe yourself in five words or less?
Social, curious, fun, a little lazy, and generous.