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Group rallies to get flavored milk out of school cafeterias

February 14, 2011 |  4:36 pm

About 50 parents and activists brought valentines for the people who run the L.A. school food program: Gallon milk jugs filled with sugar and decorated with hearts, tokens they hoped would help get strawberry-flavored and chocolate milk out of cafeterias.

The group rallied Monday afternoon outside the downtown headquarters of the L.A. Unified School District and then walked to the district offices. Their call for a food services official to come out to meet them went unanswered.

The group had planned to bring a friendly -- yet pointed -- message to a Monday meeting of the district’s Cafeteria Improvement Committee; but a couple of hours before the meeting, e-mails went out saying it was canceled because some members could not attend.

"District officials told us, 'If you want to get rid of chocolate milk, show us parent support.' We show parent support and they cancel the meeting,” said Jennie Cook, a caterer and organizer of the demonstration.

David Binkle, deputy director of L.A. Unified's food services division, later said he had been called unexpectedly to a meeting and that the head of the division was out of town.

The British chef Jamie Oliver, who is filming the second season of his “Food Revolution” reality television series, taped the rally and urged participants to continue their effort. Oliver has been trying for months to get access to L.A. school cafeterias but has been rebuffed by the district.

A school carton of chocolate milk has 2 teaspoons of sugar, said Emily Ventura, an organizer of the demonstration. A child who drinks two cartons every school day for a year would consume 14 cups, or nearly a gallon jug full, of sugar, she said.

Ventura, who is affiliated with the Childhood Obesity Research Center at USC, said she also calculated that a child who chooses a school breakfast of frosted corn flakes, chocolate milk, coffee cake and juice would eat 51 grams of added sugar –- about the total in a can of soda. Such breakfasts can be chosen, but students also have options such as burritos, Ventura said.

The gallon jugs –- decorated with red and pink paper hearts and slogans such as “Keep your sugar, sugar!” –- will be given to teachers to use as teaching aids, Ventura said.

One argument for keeping flavored milk on cafeteria menus has been that without it, children would drink less milk. Ventura called that “not the strongest argument,” adding that studies making those claims are often sponsored by the dairy industry and that obesity is a larger problem for children than calcium deficiency.

As for L.A. Unified’s future milk offerings, Binkle said the district’s dairy contract is up in June.  “Certainly anything is on the table as we go through the budget options,” he said.

-- Mary Macvean

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