Posts tagged ‘food’

Back to School: Chocolate Milk Wars

Glass Of Chocolate Milk

So, it’s back to school already. And the milk wars are heating up. Today’s NYT Food section has a great feature on the fight over schools offering chocolate milk as part of a “nutritious lunch.” Kim Severson, “A School Fight Over Chocolate Milk”

Best quote of the article: “Saying we need to add sugar and flavoring to milk to get kids to drink it is like saying we need to feed kids apple pie if they don’t like apples.” Ann Cooper (she runs the Boulder CO school lunch program, one of the districts that is going back to school chocolate milk free).

The key to the whole fight comes down, as all else surrounding food, to money: the schools only get federal lunch funds if your school lunch offering includes a grain, a vegetable, a fruit and a protein. And milk. And you only get the funds if kids take three of these five offerings. So chocolate milk, being a popular choice with the kiddies, knocks out one of the three mandatory picks. Given that the easy chocolate milk provides more leeway for kids to pass on mystery meat and gray “green” beans, schools are crying foul at attempts to insist that milk is milk, and chocolate milk is something else entirely.

Back in November (2009), when the National Dairy Council started its campaign to save chocolate milk at the school lunch counter, I wrote a post somewhere else. It didn’t make it to Candy Professor then, but it seems just as timely now. So here it is, my two cents on the Chocolate Milk Wars:

Have you raised your hand for chocolate milk? Or have you raised your finger?

The National Dairy Council (farmers) has teamed up with the Milk Processor Education Program (processors) “to provide the latest facts and science on Chocolate Milk’s role in children’s diets.” Check USA Today (12 November 2009) for a full page ad, or the web site and petition at http://www.raiseyourhand4milk.com. Seems those pesky activists and parents and nutritionists have gotten together again, and this time they want to take the chocolate milk out of the school lunch room. How dare they! After all, they say, “chocolate milk is the most popular milk choice in schools and kids will drink less milk (and get fewer nutrients) if it’s taken away.”

Really? Would it be so bad if kids drank less chocolate milk? Yeah, I get that it’s made out of milk. But is it really food? Interestingly, the National Confectioners Association was what brought the chocolate milk promotion to my attention. You know, the candy industry.

I have been thinking about candy in relation to food in the wake of Michael Pollan’s “defense of food.” Pollan encourages us to eat real food, stuff made from plants and animals in traditional, pre-industrial, recognizable forms. The highly processed, the inert, the “fortified,” the refined: these are products of industry, and not food so much as “food like substances.”

Once we can discern the difference between food and “food-like substances,” our diet returns to something healthful and sustaining and simple. And if we are mostly eating food, then there is no harm in eating some candy. So long as we’re clear, that candy is not food, not a substitute for food, and not to replace or displace food. Candy is defensible as part of our diet only when we draw a sharp line between food, what we enjoy as we nourish our bodies, and candy, something we eat purely for pleasure.

Which brings me to chocolate milk. Is it food? or is it candy? Although nobody says it this way exactly, this question is really at the crux of this latest flare up. In fact, this is just the latest salvo in a long-standing fight over the role of candy in school lunches. This was one the candy industry was probably fated to lose, but believe it or not, there was a time when candy was on the “approved” list. Clearly, if the fight now is about chocolate milk rather than chocolate bars, times have changed. But the terms of the fight have stayed eerily constant.

Chocolate milk is an odd hybrid, with an interesting history of its own. In the nineteenth century, there really was no “chocolate milk” as we know it today. Chocolate in sweetened milk was for sick people, old people, people who couldn’t stomach much else. Chocolate was viewed as providing sustenance and strength to the weak and infirm, a sort of tonic with vaguely healthful properties.

Chocolate milk in the twentieth century came to be increasingly associated with childhood. Prior to the “chocolate milk revolution” in the 1950s, cold chocolate milk was not really feasible. Hot chocolate was the childhood equivalent of hot coffee, a combination of sweetness and milkiness that seemed essentially infantile. But hot chocolate required heating milk (a delicate operation) and measuring and mixing at the stove. Not difficult, but not something kids would do alone. Instant chocolate milk mix changed the playing field: Nestle, Carnation, Ovaltine were all introduced in the early 1950s, a time when food engineering introduced the TV dinner and other “convenience” monstrosities to the American table. Now children could enjoy delicious chocolate milk any time, with no mess and no trouble. Ads for these products feature cherubic children and pudgy hands mixing and drinking dark brown elixirs.

Chocolate milk was a big part of twentieth century childhood, to be sure. But chocolate milk at home as a snack or a treat in the context of all the other foods that mother has chosen is one thing. And for the most part, those 1950s kids were skinny and didn’t know a thing about diabetes or pediatric heart disease.

For most U.S. kids in the twenty first century, chocolate milk every day on the school lunch line is something else. For kids with serious food and health issues, the line between food and candy needs to be drawn, and it needs to be crystal clear. And we all need to acknowledge: chocolate milk is candy. That is to say, chocolate milk should be enjoyed as a treat, occasionally, not as a daily beverage.

They say kids won’t drink milk unless its flavored. They say at least chocolate milk has the nutrients of milk. They say it’s better than soda.

By this logic, I should have a screwdriver with my oatmeal every morning. Because otherwise, I just won’t drink that orange juice.

Teach kids to drink soda, they drink soda. Teach them soda is a bad choice, give them water, they’ll drink water. Chocolate milk is no different. Pandering to the lowest denominator, the sweet tooth, and insisting that children will do no better if given the chance is just patronizing. The school lunch programs are making huge improvements. In the New York City schools, they are eating the whole grain breads, they are learning about fresh fruits and vegetables. Alice Waters has her kids eating okra and kale, for pete’s sake. Will kids drink less milk when it’s not sweet chocolate? Some. But that’s because they had the chocolate to start with. We need a little re-education here. There is no reason they can’t learn to appreciate the difference between real food and nutritionally tarted-up candy.

August 25, 2010 at 4:34 pm 5 comments

Eat More Candy! or not?

Extreme close-up of mid adult woman eating a chocolate candy bar

Happy New Year! If your New Year’s Resolutions include a more nutritious diet, you are probably planning to cut down on candy.

Of course, in different times there have been different ideas about nutrition. Early food science in the late nineteenth century introduced the idea of the “calorie” as a measure of the energy content of food, and recognized three major components of the diet: protein, fat, and carbohydrate.Back in the early 1900s, this food science provided an outstanding rationale for eating more candy.

For example, one food expert wrote:

It will be seen that candy has a high energy value–higher than meat, fish and vegetables. From a laboratory point of view, half a pound of chocolate creams, supplemented by a small bag of peanuts, contain all the dietetic elements that are essential for a wholesome and nourishing day’s diet. Three meals can be obtained from the chocolates and peanuts, and the body’s needs be met and the appetite satisfied.

The craving for sweets also could be framed in scientific terms suggested by ideas of “instinct” and evolutionary utility. A physician offered this explanation:

Sweets are the necessities of childhood and youth, hence Providence has wisely implanted in the young an insatiable desire for sugar. Without this element largely mingled with its food the healthiest born infant would die in a month. In vain would it nestle on its mother’s bosom, in vain its exposure to the warm sunshine, and in vain the softest blankets and warmest furs to encase its body. For the warmth which sustains human life comes from within, and must be generated by the internal combustion of carbonaceous food as found in all sweets and fats. It is the most inveterate of all prejudices in civilized life that sweets hurt children. On the contarary, they are a prime necessity, and to deprive them of those, if made pure, is downright barbarism.

Where science led, advertising followed. One candy shop asked:

Are you eating Candy Enough? The hunger for sweets is natural. The normal man or woman who is not eating a reasonable amount of candy daily is not being properly fed. Recognizing the wholesomeness of the candy DEMAND, we have equipped our store to meet it with a wholesome SUPPLY.

For us in the twenty-first century, candy is clearly an indulgence, a treat, a little something extra. But the story of candy in the twentieth century was often dominated by a struggle to persuade or prove otherwise, that candy was wholesome and nutritious food. Is it?

Sources: “Pure Candy is Healthful–Sound the Slogan,” Confectioners Journal Oct 1916, p. 86; “Infancy Dependent Upon Sweets,” Confectioners Journal May 1915, p. 68; Viedts advertisement, Confectioners Journal October 1916, p. 83.
Related Posts:

  • The Chocolate Cure
  • Creed for Candy
  • Candy Lunch Bars
  • January 4, 2010 at 8:17 am 2 comments

    Candy is Life: Korea, 1952

    In the 1950s, Edward R. Murrow was the nation’s pre-eminent television journalist. His CBS program See it Now pioneered the TV newsmagazine format that spawned familiar programs like “60 Minutes” and “20/20.”

    Detail of a Map of Korea

    Murrow was suspicious of the new medium of television, and insisted his program actively involve itself in the issues of the day. To insure the most engaged and accurate reporting See It Now maintained its own camera crews to coordinate filming on location and used 35mm- cameras to record the most striking images.

    In a March 1952 report from Korea, “See it Now” reporter George Herman focused on the effects on the civilian population of the Korean War, which was entering its third year. Candy was part of the story.

    Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the candy industry and candy enthusiasts had promoted candy as “good food” and a good source of energy. In times of plenty, candy was consumed along side all sorts of other foods, and the emphasis was on enjoyment and pleasure. The positive message about candy was something like: Candy is good energy food, so why not enjoy it?

    But when the economy was down, candy for many was more than just pleasure and fun. Candy was also, calorie for calorie, incredibly cheap. During the years of the depression, candy bars with food names like Lunch Bar and Chicken Dinner suggested that for many, a candy bar was a way to sate hunger in the place of a proper mean. By the 1940s, candy bars were being fortified with vitamins and sold as “packed with nutrition.”

    Even in America’s darkest hours, candy always promoted a positive, fun image of enjoyment and pleasure. “See it Now” put candy eating in a different light.

    Herman explained,

    Candy is no joke in Korea. In a country where people just barely survive the winter every year, where sugar is scarce and calories are counted in tens rather than in hundreds, candy can mean the difference between surviving and succumbing to tuberculosis or pneumonia or some of the other deaths that cold and poverty reap per year.

    As Herman described the suffering of Korea’s population and their economic hardship, the camera showed images of Korean children, scrambling for candy.

    In the first and second World Wars, American soldiers would often carry candy to give out to civilians as a gesture of friendship and good will. The reporting from Korea suggested a more disturbing and desperate story. For those Koreans who were lucky enough to grab something in the candy scramble, candy wasn’t just a treat. Candy was, in wartime, life itself.

    Source: Candy Industry April 1952, p. 1

    December 2, 2009 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

    A Complete, Well-Balanced Diet

    Assortment of Vegetables, Spices, Grains, Nuts, Pasta and Fruit

    In 1951, food engineering was in its infancy. Imagination was the only limit to what the chemists might achieve. And what could be better than a candy bar that offered all the nutrition and sustenance of a complete, well-balanced diet?

    Monsanto Chemical Co. thought it was possible. After all, they had already worked on emergency subsistence bars for the Army which were rough derivations from chocolate candy bars. The food scientists were learning the secrets of concentrated proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. A Monsanto representative explained the principle:

    It requires no great stretch of the imagination to foresee that with current knowledge already in hand … a tailor-made bar could be achieved which would sustain life for a long period of time with essential elements. A ’meat bar’ is already under investigation. Peanut bars, contributing a valuable source of protein, have already been in commerce for some time. … If properly qualified scientists, chemists, and food technologists directed their attention toward developing the kind of product necessary for human sustenance, I am quite confident that a tailor-made, approximately balanced candy bar can be achieved.

    It’s probably a good thing that they decided to abandon this line of research. Imagine all those school kids opening their lunch boxes and pulling out “well-balanced candy bars.”

    Wait, I err. In the twenty-first century, we can buy “well-balanced candy bars” at any grocery or drug store. They come in convenient and delicious flavors like chocolate almond and caramel crunch. Look for them under the wholesome sounding name of “meal replacement bar” or “protein bar.”

    I do wonder what happened to the idea of “meat bars,” though.

    Source: “Candy Bar to Equal Well Balanced Diet Seen in Near Future,” Candy Industry, 17 July 1951, p. 3

    September 30, 2009 at 6:55 am 7 comments


    Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

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