A couple of months ago, I blogged about how much harder it is to make sane public policy decisions about food and nutrition in an era when the tides of social media, carrying along our celebrity-crazed soundbite culture, influence a rash of dumb decisions.
Which takes me to the City of Angels, and the decision made yesterday by the school board there. In a vote made without any apparent discussion, the board eliminated flavored milk from the country’s second-largest school district, starting this summer. Ciao, chocolate. See ya, strawberry.
Setting aside whether such a move will actually do something about obesity issues in L.A. County, what’s interesting is the stage that was set in order for this vote to take place. Who was the big driver behind this decision? None other than Jamie Oliver, British celeb chef and author of a self-proclaimed “food revolution.” In fact, look at this news release he issued HOURS BEFORE the board voted: “Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Wins Milk Battle.” Somehow, he knew the vote outcome before it occurred. Hmm.
This nugget from the LA Times story today speaks volumes about not just the decision, but the factors leading to it:
Among his first acts as superintendent in April, John Deasy appeared on Jimmy Kimmel's TV talk show with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to say he would propose eliminating flavored milk.
So the new school superintendent appeared with Oliver, months before, on a national late night entertainment program, to promote plans to clear out flavored milk from the county’s schools. Not exactly the way things once were, when the serious issues du jour were discussed on Nightline, or maybe the Charlie Rose show. Now Jimmy Kimmel is a platform for public policy.
At least not everyone on the school board was dazzled by Oliver’s polemical antics:
Board member Tamar Galatzan, who voted against the plain-milk contract, suggested that the district was letting "a TV chef who's trying to get publicity" dictate the decision.
"I think we are demonizing milk," Galatzan said. The juice the district serves at breakfast has more sugar than flavored milk, she said.
And there you have it: it’s not like sugar is being expelled from school, just certain products that have become a lightning rod for everything else that’s wrong with kids’ diets and lifestyles today. And when a celeb gunslinger comes in, aiming a silver bullet at the alleged wrong-doer, it makes for great TV. Which is what really matters today, unfortunately, and not just in Hollywood.