June 19th, 2011
Revolting! Jamie Oliver wins battle of Los Angeles
They can take away his television series, but they’ll never take Jamie Oliver’s freedom to do what he does best: attempting to cajole and shame the world’s fattest nation into slowing the flow of junk-food into the stomachs of its schoolchildren.
After a rocky few months, in which the Los Angeles version of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution was temporarily pulled from the airwaves due to falling viewership, the British chef (pictured left) has achieved one of his key aims: persuading America’s largest school board to remove chocolate and strawberry-flavoured milk from its canteen menus.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which serves 650,000 meals a day at 1,000 sites across the metropolis, announced the move this week, as part of an overhaul of menus that board members claim will turn it into a “national leader” in child nutrition.
In addition to banning the cartons of flavoured milk, which are laced with synthetic additives and can contain the same amount of sugar as Coca-Cola, the school district voted by 5-2 to outlaw two of Oliver’s other bętes noires – chicken nuggets and “corn dogs”.
The decision represents a sterling achievement for Oliver, who, with his Hollywood career stuttering, has fought a noisy rearguard action against the products. A few months ago, he invited local media to a car park, where he proceeded to fill a yellow school bus with sand, in order to demonstrate how much unnecessary sugar was being consumed per year by LA schoolchildren who drank the flavoured milk products.
Yet helping to stem the rise of early-onset diabetes doesn’t endear you to everyone. Not in America. The ban, which was vigorously lobbied against by the dairy industry, has been widely – and furiously – described by right-wing commentators as an example of liberal social engineering.
The Drudge Report, an influential and highly-conservative news aggregation website, linked to reports that Los Angeles schoolchildren would in future be offered an increased array of vegetarian and ethnic dishes (along with optional soy milk) under a banner headline declaring: “let them eat sushi!”
One of the LAUSD board members who voted against the ban, Tamar Galatzan, complained that her colleagues were allowing a “TV chef who’s trying to get publicity” to dictate policy. “I think we are demonising milk,” she said.
Her comments mirror those of lobbyists working for the dairy industry, which makes $100m (Ł62m) a year from LA schools. It recently organised a free seminar in which it attempted to educate California’s cafeteria workers about childhood nutrition, called “Keep Flavored Milk from Dropping Out of School”.
At the event, the industry cited studies showing that overall milk consumption can drop by a third when artificially sweetened milk disappears from school menus, reducing the intake of calcium by children. It claims that young people are reluctant to drink low-fat milk which doesn’t cater to their sweet tooth.
Opponents of flavoured milk, meanwhile, note that a single cup of the chocolate version contains 20 grammes of sugar and weighs in at 120 calories. For strawberry milk, the figures are 26 grammes and 130 calories. A spokeswoman for the healthy-eating lobby group Food for Lunch told the Associated Press that banning the products was “a social justice issue”.
“Thirty per cent of our kids are obese or are on track to diabetes,” she said. In Los Angeles, the proportion of children who are clinically obese has risen from 18 per cent to 25 per cent in the past decade.
In his TV show, Oliver has claimed that 21st-century America is on track to be one of the first societies in human history where children have lower life expectancies than their parents. “This is a giant step forward for the health and future of 680,000 kids in Los Angeles,” Oliver said of the LAUSD’s revamped canteen menu. “It leads the way for more school districts around the country to follow.”
His attempt to shine a light on practices in LA’s schools had until now enjoyed mixed success. Although last year’s first series of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution won an Emmy, this year’s has suffered poor ratings. It hasn’t been helped by the fact that the LAUSD banned Oliver from filming in its schools.
Last month, the broadcaster ABC announced that the show was to be temporarily removed from primetime schedules in favour of repeats of Dancing With the Stars. Its last four episodes have been aired this month, at 9pm on Fridays, a slot widely regarded as a “graveyard”.
Off the menu? America’s sacred foodstuffs
For years, the dairy industry has added sugar and synthetic flavours to normal milk, hoping youngsters will drink more of it. Now, the backlash: LA joins Berkeley, Compton, San Diego, Boulder in Colorado, Minneapolis, and Washington DC in removing it from schools.
Supplied frozen, and beloved by McDonald’s customers, the nugget is America’s version of the notorious Turkey Twizzler, a deep-fried, poultry-based snack that Oliver successfully campaigned to have removed from British school canteens.
How do you make a hot dog even less healthy? Simple: wrap it in batter, attach it to the end of a lollipop stick, and then deep fry the whole thing. Consume with either ketchup or bright yellow mustard, and try not to let all that dripping fat ruin your T-shirt.