Friday, December 30, 2011


Opinion by Chuck Robinson, The Packer – a trade publication of the fresh produce industry |

Chuck Robinson, Media Watch

12/30/2011 12:53:22 PM :: The trash can has consumed most of the Los Angeles Unified School District’ revamped, healthful lunch menu.

The Los Angeles Times reported in mid-December that the “trailblazing introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop.” A student is quoted calling it “nasty, rotten stuff,” and many of her classmates echo the sentiment.

It is enough to waken the snarky high school student in most of us. The Wall Street Journal gave in to that inner malcontent, saying, “L.A.’s education whizzes forgot the law of unintended health-food consequences. You can’t make a child eat vegetables without a little dessert to wash it down.”

Well, it was just before Christmas and the WSJ editorial writers had run out of inspiration. It happens.

The past year has been tumultuous for the school district’s lunch adminstrators.

TV chef/activist Jamie Oliver shines a spotlight on the district with his TV program “Food Revolution.” The school board refuses Oliver access to criticize LAUSD lunch operations, as he had done to a school district in the first season of his show in Huntington Beach, W. Va.

Still, Oliver rabble rouses. Meanwhile, over the summer, a new superintendant takes office and announces with the TV show host on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that the district will outlaw sugared, flavored milk in cafeterias.

Then the menu changes, which the district says was not the result of Oliver’s haranging. The district virtually eliminates canned and frozen fruits and vegetables and boosted spending on fresh produce. Boo-yah.

Also, the district chefs produce vegetable curry, pad Thai, beef jambalaya and other more exotic fare in their central kitchen. They earn some rave reviews during community taste tests.

However, mass production, transporting the fare to schools and serving 650,000 kids took its toll on food quality. Go figure.

So changes will be made. Some exotic items are gone. Hamburgers will be offered daily. Pizza returns, but with a whole-wheat crust, low-fat cheese and low-sodium sauce.

Despite the critical remarks about the more healthful changes being disastrous, there are positive notes. For instance, the Times article mentioned salads being popular among students, which echoes reviews we have heard about salad bars installed in schools through United Fresh Produce Association’s Salad Bar in Every School initiative.

The Times, in an editorial, suggested the district should have introduced new fare more gradually.

I can imagine Jamie Oliver’s stunts are annoying to school district officials, who came off as being very prickly about criticism. A cynic might wonder if everyone involved in L.A. school lunches wanted the healthier-menu effort to succeed.

We shall see if the district has sufficient resolve to see this healthier food push through.

Our industry needs to keep providing support to the healthier school lunch efforts in this and other school districts. We must help deflect crass comments. We need to reinforce the patience of those trying to serve students healthier food.


smf |Los Angeles  |  December, 30, 2011 at 03:08 PM

I have been a parent rep on the LAUSD Cafeteria Improvement Committee for a while – and I appreciate and respect your industry's support and viewpoint. Thank you.

Jamie Oliver's self promotion needs to be recognized for what it was; his efforts in Huntington NY cost that school district far more in money than benefit he brought to Huntington or the children thereof. …though it did create a lot of buzz around Jamie!

A year later Jamie came to L.A. and found a little more media-savvy school district – one that had been hammered by Reality TV and was not so naive a victim (Do the names "Bruno+Borat" ring a bell?

Jamie was able to ingratiate himself with the LAUSD/Show Biz Connected – notably at LA's Promise partnership schools which has a tight Hollywood connection – and the old superintendent saw though that and shot it down. But within weeks the Hollywood Connection to the new superintendent brought Supt .Deasy, Jimmy Kimmel and Jamie Oliver together on Kimmel's show for a great staged media "Peace Hug" …though too late to save Jamie's ratings or show.

For Superintendent Deasy to appear on a TV Show with Oliver and announce his flavored milk ban – and then to claim that Oliver no had no role in the decision process tests everyone's suspension of disbelief. The next step – the expedited roll-out of the new menu – led to what it led to – a result so predictable it could have been scripted.

Except of course, there are no scripts in Reality TV.

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