Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Raise Your Hand (pricked from daily glucose testing) for Chocolate Milk

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that chocolate milk in school lunches has become the focus of a controversy. Some school districts, including Fairfax County, whose lunch program has been considered the nation's healthiest, have banned the drink outright. Unsurprisingly, this action provoked the wrath of angry parents, accusing administrators of "robbing students of a tasty drink and the vitamins and minerals that fuel bone and muscle growth." In an attempt to placate the mob, the district is considering a reformulated substitute that will use sucrose, made from sugar cane and beets, instead of the fearsome (and justifiably!) high-fructose corn syrup. Though "healthier," the calories are the same, but the district will have to pony up more money for the sucrose substitution. What's more, if the district continues to ban chocolate milk, the dairy industry will be adversely affected; Dean Foods, a dairy supplier, sells about 144 million gallons of chocolate milk across the nation.
Why the big deal over chocolate milk? School cafeterias have long been hot spots for political and economic contention. The American public school is an attractive and important consumer of food, making them an important client for those in the food industry. Soft drink companies fought tooth and claw over "pouring rights" in schools, a recent development in food marketing in which a payment is given to a school in exchange for that brand's exclusive sales in that school. If Pepsi has pouring rights with P.S. 123, Coke will not be sold within its halls or at any of the school events. Extra money from a corporation, in exchange for a few vending machines, seems sensible for schools struggling with funding. Of course, soda has been linked to childhood obesity, which has tripled in the past 30 years and tooth decay (Nestlé, Food Politics, 200) time and time again. Not only is the social cost high, but pouring rights erode legislative efforts for proper funding for education. Truly, the free market has not only entered, but made itself comfortable within the "safe" sanctum of the school.
So, what does all of this have to do with chocolate milk? In 1999, the National Dairy Council spent $130 million in the "milk mustache" celebrity campaign to try to reverse the decline of milk consumption, from which 40% of its increase came from the sales of flavored milk.
This NDC campaign explicitly pushes children to advocate for chocolate milk
 In 2005, the NDC tried "science-based" marketing to promote a 50% increase of recommended dairy consumption by encouraging consumers to drink 2-3 dairy servings a day, which will meet the Daily Recommended Intake (DRI) for potassium (eat a banana!) of all things. It was a success, grossing the NDC $50 billion. Aggressive lobbying on research funded by the NDC and financial ties to members of the DRI committee made this happen.
I really hope that the Fairfax school district sticks to its guns, because they have a long and grueling fight ahead. Pressure from emailing parents is only the tip of the food politic iceberg. Thankfully, activists like Chef Ann Cooper, the "Renegade Lunch Lady," are trying to change the outrageously unconscionable platforms behind public school lunch programs. Regarding the gripes of the parents in Fairfax, she retorts, "Trying to get students to consume calcium by drinking chocolate milk is like getting them to eat apples by serving them apple pie."
What the hell is this nonsense?

I can't say this any clearer: Industries will always choose profit over people. In this case, it's literally the little people. Any claims a corporation makes that will benefit consumers is most likely going to benefit their coffers more. Yes, dairy has calcium. But so does broccoli, watercress, kale, okra, nuts, sardines, apricots, figs and orange. Here are the bare facts: Too much milk = too much fat = weight gain. Too much milk + too much sugar = weight gain. Don't let anyone tell you any differently.


  1. Thank you for sharing this. You know how I feel about the consumption of dairy (particularly milk) and the "excuse" for drinking it being its nutrition. Poppy-cock. The nutrients one could obtain from drinking a glass of milk can be easily gotten from a variety of fruits and veggies (thank you for the example you provided). I remember reading about soft drink companies trying to dominate the market, so to speak, by ensuring that only their drinks were sold in certain schools. Schools made deals because they needed the money. Companies abused this.

    I hope that when I become a parent, I'll be able to make lunch for my kids everyday the way my dad did for my sister and me.

  2. Thanks for reading! We must be very suspicious when consumer education is pushed by industry. Their interest lies in profit, not public health.
    I'm so glad your father did that for you, as mine did too. In my first few years in an American public school, I was shamed by my peers for bringing not only a bagged lunch, but an ethnic meal (fish and rice, for example). In hindsight, I owe my embarrassment to my desire for acceptance in a new culture, and I am so grateful my parents bothered to give me wholesome food. I'm also very pleased that you will be continuing a wonderful family tradition