In 2005, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver successfully experimented with healthy whole foods in school lunch. Now, Tom Laskawy at Grist reports that first lady Michelle Obama could be preparing policy to wrest school lunch from the grip of food conglomerates. And earlier this year, Obama planted an organic garden at the White House (recently harvested by local schoolkids) and called for the food in school lunches to be as healthy as possible.
Now, with signs that the less-than-nutritional school lunch status quo is in danger, the milk industry is on the offensive. Their mission: trying to save chocolate milk from being eliminated from schools because of its added sugar.
According to an AP report, the milk industry is claiming that sweet, artificial flavors are the best way to get kids to choose milk over soda or juice. (For the record, I'm a big milk drinker, but I've never much cared for flavored milks. Even in school, where we had a vending machine that sold strawberry and chocolate milks, I would always go for the plain stuff. Apparently, I'm an anomaly.)
Obesity experts and nutritionists have disagreed, insisting that kids will drink milk without added sugars, dyes or artificial flavors, if that's the only milk available. The Boulder Valley School District in Boulder, Colo. jettisoned flavored milk at the insistence of their director of nutrition services, Ann Cooper (a self-described "renegade lunch lady"), and now has kids who "happily drink white milk."
The new flavored milk campaign, run by the same people behind the popular "Got Milk?" ads, is called "Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk" and it has its own promotional video. In the video, various nutritionists, moms, and celebrities talk about how wonderful chocolate milk is, while downplaying its extra calories and additives.
One serving of chocolate milk has four teaspoons, or 16 grams, of sugar, notes Sarah Gilbert at Daily Finance, who writes, "In the past few decades, food makers seem to have been asking themselves the question 'without sugar, would kids eat anything?' And based on the types of products they've released, it seems they're arrived at 'of course not' as their answer."
There's nothing inherently wrong with a moderate amount of sweeteners, but sugar and high fructose corn syrup are in nearly all processed foods (and are often disguised under names that don't look anything like "sugar"), and sugar is in whole fruits and vegetables. And now kids are being diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes. There's simply too much sugar in the American diet, and it needs to be reduced. Eliminating sugary drink options in schools seems like the perfect way to do that.
--Shani O. Hilton