Sunday, August 29, 2010

Potpourri: School Food News Roundup

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Should chocolate and other flavored milks be banned from the nation's schools?

That was a hot topic this week. The New York Times weighed in with a look at the issue, describing how the dairy industry, with help from the School Nutrition Association, is waging a campaign to keep chocolate milk on school menus, while school food crusaders such as Ann Cooper are taking it off.

The piece looks very much like the one we posted here after after the School Nutrition Association announced it would hold a free "webinar" explaining why it's important for schools to continue serving flavored milk. We revealed that dairy interests are big contributors to the SNA and sit on its industry board of advisers.

The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, ran an interesting "pro/con" discussion on the flavored milk issue. Taking the pro-chocolate position was Rachel K. Johnson, a dietitian and assistant provost at the University of Vermont, who has figured prominently in the dairy group's campaign. The Times casually revealed that Johnson, former dean of the college of agriculture at the University of Vermont, has been funded by National Dairy Council in her research.

On the "con" side of flavored milk was Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity Research at Yale University, who argues that kids consume too much added sugar and that flavored milk should be a "treat" served by parents at home, if they choose. Schwartz said she found data from an industry sponsored study showing a severe drop in milk consumption when flavored milk was removed "unconvincing."

But the dairy industry is moving ahead full speed with its campaign with financing from MilkPEP, a government-sponsored group whose sole purpose is to advertise on behalf of milk consumption. They recently posted a five-minute YouTube video--titled "Chocolate Milk is Tasty Nutrition"--featuring a school food services director in Colorado who also has featured prominently in the industry "study" and its promotional materials.

The dairy group has a website, Milk, tied to the study and illustrated with a gallon-size jug of chocolate milk and chocolate colored graphics. In addition, the industry sponsors a second site dedicated to the cause, Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk. Not surprisingly, according to the New York Times, 71 percent of milk sales are now attributed to flavored milk with added sugar, and the majority of those sales take place in schools.

Dairy interests have gone so far as to offer prizes to schools that drink the most chocolate milk. One high school in Iowa won $10,000 after four seniors there helped boost chocolate milk consumption to an average three containers of flavored milk per student per day, the sugar equivalent of drinking of 12-ounce can of Classic Coke.

The Midwest Dairy Council in June announced that it had selected 17 schools to receive grants of up to $3,000 because of the efforts of athletic teams to encourage chocolate milk as a "refuel beverage." The dairy industry also awards $7,500 college scholarships to "scholar athletes" who help promote milk, using endorsements from top athletes and this website to help sell the cause.


Jamie Oliver. who won an Emmy for his "Food Revolution" reality television series, was fuming over a decision by a newly elected conservative government to lift strict nutrition standards in school meals and make meal improvements voluntary.

Elsewhere, the news is full of stories about schools making improvements to their food service--or at least trying.

* In New Orleans, new salad bars are on the way.

*Outside Hartford, Conn., schools are removing sweets and introducing healthier snacks.

*Florida is considering removing flavored milk from its schools.

*One man outside the nation's capitol is making a booming business out of delivering healthy meals to private schools.

*Houston schools reportedly are adding more freshly cooked vegetables, including brussels sprouts, acorn squash, bok choy and edamame, and serving chicken nuggets less often.

*Denver is waking up to the benefits of breakfast, with Colorado offering cash prizes for schools that increase breakfast participation.

*Schools in Abilene announced they would no longer offer cakes, cookies and brownies with lunch.

*USA Today reports that professional chefs increasingly are getting involved in the effort to improve school food.

*Food service workers in Santa Barbara County, Calif., have been attending "culinary boot camps" to learn how to cook food from scratch.

*High school students increasingly are opting for culinary careers, and some people now think home economics should be mandatory.


Finally, Oprah has a slide show of school meals around the world. But if you are looking for a long list of reasons not to eat the food at school, here it is.

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