For every rule, there must be at least one exception.


One of my rules is no reality television.  It really has not been difficult.  I’d just as much watch paint dry as observe people living on a tropical island, racing across some country, dancing or singing for some panel of judges.  One never knows how much is real and how much is staged, and non-disclosure agreements pretty much hide the truth.  Why invest one’s limited time in that?

The one exception I’ve made is Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, which is back on ABC on Tuesday nights for a second season.  I was drawn into this reality show because Huntington, WV did appear to embrace the diet changes promoted by the Food Revolution.

This season is going to be one of Jamie Oliver trying to make it on the mean streets of Los Angeles.  The Food Revolution is locked out of Los Angeles public schools, leaving Oliver working with parents on the streets, not school lunch workers in the cafeterias. 

The way the Food Revolution responded to the obstacles that LA’s school bureaucrats put up I thought was spot on.  Oliver attacked on two fronts that hurt, badly hurt, all the pious talk coming out of the LA schools about improving school lunch menus.  They are probably multi-billion dollar items in the national school lunch menu and they are not going to be going away because of new nutrition standards.

They are pink slime and sugar milk.

Pink slime is material made using an ammonia process.  It starts out with all the bits and fatty trimmings that once went to pet food or cooking oil businesses.  An industrial company located in North Sioux City, SD — Beef Products Inc. — is best known for making the pink slime.

On his first show of the season, Oliver demonstrated how pink slime could also be made by hand.  He acknowledged he does not know all the proper amounts to turn what is essentially garbage into the meat your local school district is buying for  lunches.  The important thing is that ammonia does not have to be listed as an ingredient in those fast-food hamburgers made from pink slime. 

It is true that all those previously discarded bits and pieces are more likely to be contaminated with deadly pathogens.  Ammonia, in turn, is an effective kill step.  

But for anyone who thinks the National School Lunch Program would never buy pink slime and feed it to your little child, may I remind you that just three years ago the program was buying half the beef served in schools from the Chino slaughterhouse known for processing “downer” cows.

Oliver’s second shot at LA public schools involves milk, namely the flavored sugary kind.  The United Kingdom and European Union allow only regular pasteurized white milk to be served in schools.

A cup of regular pasteurized white milk comes with 11 grams of sugar.  A cup of nonfat contains 12 grams. A cup of 2% chocolate or strawberry milk contains 26 grams of sugar.   Oliver wants the schools to forsake the flavored brands.

To illustrate his point, before a scant audience of LA parents, he demonstrated that one week’s worth of sugar served in the LA schools — some 57 tons — is enough to bury one of those big yellow school buses.

Last week, I tried to figure out where this whole school lunch thing is going by reading USDA’s 76-page filing of new nutritional standards and I came to the conclusion that sugar is not under attack.  The new school nutritional recommendations will allow flavored, sugary milk in schools.

No surprises on that one.  There are few more pampered bottoms in America than those found on the sugar lobby.  About $2 billion of our money goes annually to a handful of sugar barons.

So is Oliver right?  Are school lunch programs disposal outlets for pink slime and sugar?  Can anything be done about it?

  • Doc Mudd

    Well, Dan, I dunno.
    I agree with you that “reality TV” is anything but. And, like you, I carelessly stumbled across the vapid program you’re describing. I, too, watched pretty much the entire thing and had to admire the audacious cheek, the practiced showmanship and slick snake oil sales prowess of Oliver and his producers.
    The program’s content (using the term loosely here) kept me, not on the edge of my seat in sanctimonious anticipation of the next scripted regal Oliver sermon/cussing out of American commoners’ provincial stupidity, but attentively making mental notes for the very fundamental fact-checking this pudgy dough-boy cockney know-it-all was just begging for. This puffy rotund little chap with professionally styled ‘bed hair’, Oliver, could be a passable smoke and mirrors stage magician if only he had both oars in the water.
    I knew Oliver had televised an earlier propaganda siege of a school in West Virginia where he wasted no empathy setting thick-headed American colonists onto the repentant high road of effete foodie righteousness. But now, after watching the L.A. program (45 minutes of my life I can never get back), I was not gonna sit through any tapes of his arrogant Appalachian invasion…but I did wonder about the final success of his belligerent agenda. So, I googled to learn how the “reality show” ended in the real world of mid-atlantic America:
    About what I might have guessed. Ah, the irony of “reality” TV.
    So, anyway, the L.A. episode…
    I thought spray painting on the cow during the ‘pink slime’ rant was clever, but off the point. Who was the uneasy yes-man the writers provided – some make-believe butcher or school cook or janitor or something? Why Oliver put giant gobs of suet in a front-loading washing machine I still cannot fathom. His dumping ammonia into a plastic pan of meat was probably quite the olfactory shock to the little live audience if he used real ammonia and wasn’t faking that, too. Basically an overkill of low budget theatrics to convince us pink slime is ‘yucky’. OK, we get it Jamie.
    Speaking of theatric overkill, the ‘sugar’ (bet that was fake, too – it flowed surpisingly like white sand) dumped into the junked schoolbus to “drown” a tiny population of cardboard ‘kids’ was imaginative. The sand-moving equipment and short handled shovels artistically arranged in camera view added a charming sense of drama to the stunt. But, the basic arithmetic was lacking (surprise, surprise) from this contrived skit. If anything, it merely demonstrated the power of economies of scale.
    Sure, 57 tons of sugar is a lot of freakin’ sugar. Of course, there are something like 700,000 kids in the L.A. school system (that’s a lot of freakin’ kids – considerably more than one busfull of cardboard cutouts). Do the math and that works out to about 14 grams of sugar per kid per school day. About 60 calories each, which they would burn off in about 10 minutes of playground activity (if we encouraged or even permitted them to get up off their precious little asses and move around).
    I’m assuming that 57 tons is intended to represent the added sugar in the flavored milk at lunchtime. See, the 11-12 grams of sugar you remark “comes with” pasteurized milk is lactose (milk sugar) which the good ol’ moo cow lovingly put in it originally. Sort of an all-natural feature of milk, don’t ya agree? Probably shouldn’t be quite so obsessively paranoid of the very word “sugar”, eh?
    I can’t bear to watch another episode of Jamie Oliver’s hokey hystrionics but he does have me hooked. I do wonder if he will resume his haughty assault on Dino and the hamburger stand where he made such a consummate ass of himself in this episode. I almost hope he does. I’m rooting for Dino to knock the porky little faker on his cockney bum, literally. Bounce his royal self out the door, past paying customers and across the pavement of the parking lot. Now that I would watch.

  • Reality shows aren’t all “The Jersey Shore” so don’t confuse the genius of “Top Chef” with the vapidity of, well, anything on ABC. This could have been a great show, but the mainstream ratings-getting gimmicks hurt it more than the LA school bureaucrats.
    Imagine “The Biggest Loser” without an hour of soap opera filler – that would be something to watch, proving to me the problem of reality shows is not the format but the idiots who dumb them down.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Doc, do you have children in the public school system? The hot lunch and breakfast programs that I have witnessed for the last 20 years had added to the childhood obesity outbreak which we now have. What I have seen is over-processed and over-sugared foods. The schools did a healthy thing many years ago by outlawing soda and soda machines, but it is about time that the school hot lunch programs are brought to light. I thank Jamie Oliver for doing it in any which way that he can. Joking is good, because our nation’s schools hot lunch programs have been a joke.

  • Laure

    What I’ve seen in public schools definitely contributes to poor health, and it is no joking matter. Jamie Oliver may be doing a reality tv show on the topic, but that doesn’t make him just another opportunist. Look, Jamie Oliver makes perfectly good money as a tv chef and his various shows have all been incredibly enjoyable, educational and entertaining…I really like his At Home show and I’ve learned a lot on his travel show, as well, which are his two recent offerings. But he also has passion for health and for the importance of good nutrition for all children, and is trying to make a difference using his celebrity status to open doors, and his creative juices to find ways to communicate the issues…hence the dramatics. Any teacher will tell you that those sorts of lessons are often the ones that are remembered the best.
    If you think that approaching a school board quietly will do anything to change the status quo….yikes, perhaps you believe in the tooth fairy still.
    If the LAUISD had nothing to hide, they would have said: “Jamie, reality tv isn’t our style, but to avoid looking like nefarious and evil control freaks, we’d love to have out dietitians consult with you…we will assign Mr. XYZ to be the liason to schedule it.” And then they would have done it, instead of palming him off on someone who refused to speak to him. Instead, they chose to behave and appear as nefarious, evil control freaks that have something to hide, calling out their lawyers, threatening to have the man with the veg removed by the police should he dare to enter a school that had given him permission to enter.
    In fact, I would go so far as to say that the current board members might have outlasted their stay on the board, if they didn’t have the common sense to realize that their idiocy was going to make national news. Poor, poor judgment. if they were in my backyard, I’d be scrounging for new candidates, like, yesterday.
    Are we shamed that a lone ranger is out there with the temerity to say “this is a problem, let me help you fix it!”
    Probably. Should we pretend we don’t have a problem, even if it causes even just ONE child to develop diabetes?
    LAUISD’s board needs to examine their consciences. And their common sense.