aka The Slow Cook
Did you watch the opening episode of Jamie Oliver's new Food Revolution series in Los Angeles last night?
Even if you think reality television is a bit hokey, Oliver did a brilliant job of pinpointing some of the school food issues that often make me want to quit this job.
One is the indifference of many parents to what schools are serving kids as food.
Let's acknowledge up front that there are some incredibly active and engaged parents working on this issue. Sometimes you don't hear about them: they are totally focused on fixing their neighborhood school, not making a name for themselves in the blogosphere. But generally speaking, most parents are AWOL. What will it take to motivate them, if not the current health crisis affecting our children around food?
Secondly, I hope you took proper note of how schools would just as soon not have prying eyes looking into their food service operations.
Los Angeles is no different from most school districts I've encountered. The food they serve is kept secret, away from public view. Why? Because even in districts that claim to be exceeding the most stringent government standards, what they are actually serving is crap. You can't know that from the menus. You have to be present in the cafeteria and see what the kids are getting on their trays.
My wife and I watched the show together and she was horrified over the segment where Oliver demonstrated the ammonia treated beef that's used as a filler in hamburger, and the fact that the government does not consider it an ingredient. It doesn't appear on any label.
Finally, it was plain to see why the dairy industry is winning the battle over chocolate milk (read sugar) in schools. Oliver showed up at a California School Nutrition Association convention where a dairy rep was holding forth in a breakout session on why schools need to keep flavored milk.
Sugary flavored milk is a big winner for Big Dairy, which explains why the industry is spending millions on its "Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk!" campaign. It has operatives all over the country telling school food service directors that kids will dissolve in a heap of rickets and osteoporosis if they don't have access to milk containing the sugar equivalent of Mountain Dew.
The dairy industry buys its way into school nutrition associations with sponsorships on the state and the national level, which gives it immediate entree to hold those sales talks where it enlists food service directors in its cause. The industry then trots out a bogus "study"--really a marketing report it paid for--showing that kids won't drink milk unless it has sugar in it. It pulled the same trick most effectively with a gullible Washington Post reporter yesterday.
As Oliver pointed out, the U.S. is probably alone in the developed world in allowing dairy interests to push sugary milk in schools. According to Oliver, flavored milk is not allowed in schools in Great Britain, nor in all of Europe.
Oliver was totally dejected at the end of the episode, when his crew filled a school bus with sugar (or sand) to demonstrate how much of the sweet stuff Los Angeles kids are consuming each week, but only a handful of parents showed up to see it.
If I have any beef at all with Jamie Oliver, its the tired and incorrect information he often gives about what causes people--or children--to get fat. It's not the fat in the mayo or the ice cream, Jamie. It's all the carbs in the hamburger buns, the fries, and the sugary milkshakes.
Otherwise, right on, Jamie.