Fruit shmoot – SUGAR FREE popsicles?!!!

Someone recently did a photo shoot in the kitchen of our non-profit.  They wanted to stock the fridge and I explained, they couldn’t put any unhealthy processed foods in the pic.  That’s just not what we’re about at RootDown LA.

The house filled up, photographer, our students, Roy Choi (bad-ass Kogi food truck fame)…by the end of the photo shoot, one of the kids dragged a box of popsicles out of the freezer.  I’m down with popsicles – made from real juice.  I bit my tongue while the popsicles got passed around beneath my radar.  “I’ll let it slide this time.”  I thought.

The next day however, I saw the box, marked “Sugar Free.”  DANG!  I thought, those folks behind the photo shoot figured that Sugar Free = HEALTHY.  NO.  No it doesn’t equal healthy, it equals artificial sweetener.  UGH!  Sigh.

As much as we’re not fans of added sugar, I’d say, eat your real sugar before you start consuming aspartame and other artificial ingredients.  Worse – there was not a single ingredient listed on the back of that popsicle box that had anything to do with FOOD.  No fruit, no juice, just artificial everything.  ICK.

Sorry man.  They went down the drain.  At least, they became a lovely little art project for you to enjoy now.


Wonder why some candy is getting so cheap?!

Kids must be going NUTS in the drug stores nowadays.

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Whenever I’ve wandered in to a chain drug store the past year or so, looking for bleach or Q-tips,  I’ve noticed the increasingly CHEAP deals for candy at the front aisle.  Hershey’s™ once was offering a “3 for 1” on Twizzlers™, Kit Kats™ and Reeses Pieces™ (which, I do eat once a year when I break down on Halloween and crave the little peanutty bits on vanilla ice cream – yum!).

Dang that’s CHEAP!  I’d think.  If I were a kid with a dollar a week allowance (shows how old I am) I’d be filling my pockets with candy!

I Googled these sort of 3-in-1 candy deals today and was startled to find, that not only are these deals being offered in the stores – there are websites dedicated to showing people how to get greater “deals” and “values” by working the coupon system to get even more, cheaper candy!

Now, I’m all for saving money, but what is the real “value” of cheap candy?

My thought, is that all these  3 for 1 candy sales, (or buy 1 get 1 free Frito Lay’s™ chip sales – which, I’ve also taken note of the past five years.)  are a sign that the writing is on the wall.

Folks!  Do you think these companies are just being generous?

My guess – is that these companies are trying to offload products now, that still contain high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated fats.  Such products will get cheaper and cheaper because the food companies know – we are getting smarter and smarter and soon will realize we cannot afford these so called “deals” – cheap foods that, ultimately are playing a huge part in illnesses caused by our calorie dense, nutrient deplete standard American diet.

Maybe these food companies are being kind – Yes save up your candy and chip dollars now folks – ’cause you’re gonna need them for insulin and heart disease medication later.


Ok, to clarify. I’m ALL for chocolate and REAL potato chips, sans all the creepy additives.  Here are some links to help us find and support the food companies who help us enjoy the foods we love – without giving our bodies the additives our bodies just don’t like.

I’m not endorsing these sites: if you have any experience with them, please let us know!

Indie Candy

Natural Candy

Surf Sweets

Working with Jamie Oliver – how was it?

Jamie Oliver brought his Food Revolution to Los Angeles this year, and beforehand, I got a phone call from his production team, inviting me in for a chat.  What’s going on with state of school food in LA, they wanted to know. They’d seen my carefully constructed quote about school food in Mary MacVean’s article in the LA Times.

It was actually, I didn’t realize at first, a casting call for Oliver’s reality TV show, which aired on ABC this spring.  For those of you who have never been brought in for a reality TV casting call – this is what it looked like, sitting in the reception area of the ABC studios:

The Food Revolution producers, I heard a week after my casting call, LOVED me.  Of course they did.  I’m sorry if this sounds vain, but how many people give up corporate careers in food marketing (and potential six figure salaries) to live on sub-poverty level incomes and devote their days to figuring out how to get city kids to eat their veggies?  I love my work. I know I’m in the right place, and it SHOWS. I’m feisty, fierce, and committed to changing the way we eat in America. I’m willing to sacrifice six, and even five figure salaries for now, until we can get this s*it figured out – how to build demand for, and create local supplies of healthy food. No wonder they dig my energy!

How much did they really love me though, by shows end?  My hat and face appear in the second episode, where Jamie is dressed as a tomato, handing out healthy lunches to elementary school kids.  I refused to put on a veggie costume, so instead I’m more prominently featured in the final episode, during the chocolate milk protest; I’m spouting one of my favorite quotes (my own) stating that kids aren’t getting sick in the US of A from lack of Vitamin D nowadays.  They are getting sick from too much added sugar, of which, flavored milk served at LAUSD, delivers more than half the daily recommended allowance (40 grams).

I got a call from KPCC, and NPR radio affiliate,  a few weeks after the final episode of Oliver’s LA Food Revolution show aired. They wanted to know, did I think Oliver did much to change the landscape for school food in Los Angeles?   You can read the gist of the article here.  If you really want to hear the broadcast, email me and I’ll send it.

Bottom line, I think there’s a story that remains untold.   There’s a greater “reality” story, of all the organizations and individuals who are working to create change in the communities where unhealthy food is taking its greatest toll on the human populations.  I’m convinced, that whoever is willing and able to tell THIS story – is going to spark the REAL food revolution that will bring critical new voices to this healthy food movement.  It MUST become a movement OF, BY, and FOR the people – ALL the people.

Take a look – it’s starting to happen – we’re catalyzing and revitalizing an interest in healthy food that already exists in our communities – we just need the Jamie Olivers of the world to synergize our efforts and support not only their own, but others’ efforts to make the change.

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No Jean, chocolate milk’s not the devil but…

Last year I attended the awesome Farm to Cafeteria Conference.  I sat in on a panel titled “Learnings from Large Urban School Districts”; panelists were from districts participating in the  School Food Focus’ Learning Lab, a project of the Wallace Center’s national initiative to help participating school districts with 40,000 or more students to procure more healthful, more sustainably produced and regionally sourced food.

I’m a BIG fan of people who work to bring fresh and local foods into urban school districts.  It’s NOT easy.  It IS possible.  And I applaud those who are willing to make the effort. You are HEROES so don’t take this the wrong way but…
I was super  bummed, when I heard the St Paul School District panel rep, Jean Ronnai, share that they thought it was a huge improvement to reduce the level of sugar in their flavored milks, rather than just get rid of sugar milk altogether.

I could feel several of us in the audience shift uncomfortably in our seats.  We were biting our tongues not to say COME ON people!  Your districts have SO much purchasing power.  Just TELL those producers you don’t want your kids getting diabetes and you can’t afford to have them drinking more than half the daily allowance for sugar in one serving of school milk! Jean sensed the resistance and addressed it, “Now I know some of you are rolling your eyes. Chocolate milk is not the devil.”

I wanted to say,  “No Jean, chocolate milk is not the devil, but when a kid is consuming chocolate milk, soda, cheetos, coffee cakes, sweetened cereals throughout the day, chocolate milk is like the devil’s right hand. THIS is why kids are suffering from epidemic rates of obesity and diabetes!”   What’s it going to take to get people to realize the urgency of this nationwide health crisis?

Our kids want to be healthy.  They are TRYING to get healthy. Yesterday during lunch at Jefferson High in South Los Angeles, a student proudly told me he lost 46 pounds giving up soda.  I said “that’s awesome!” and asked if I could help him continue his efforts with a tip – did he know the strawberry milk he was drinking had just about as much sugar as a soda?  We looked for plain milk from the lunch line to compare, but were told they don’t give out the plain milk anymore!  So his only milk option yesterday gave him 23 grams of mostly added sugar – nearly half of what the CSPI recommends.

If we are even remotely serious about addressing diabetes and obesity in this nation, we can’t keep mainlining sugar to our kids via all the juices, sweetened milks, and refined foods that can be part of the so called healthy school lunch.  On a recent day in LA, a school breakfast delivered MORE than the 50 grams of added sugar. How is that healthy?

Meager funds and logistics make feeding large school districts a daunting task, but if we are ever going to give our kids a real fighting change to change their health statistics, we can’t wait ten or even two more years to incrementally lower levels of sugar in school milk.

Kraft Mac & Cheese – You may love it, but it doesn’t love you.

I grew up eating Kraft Mac & Cheese,* and I’m definitely a big fan of scarfing down  a quick cheesy, warm, noodley meal on occasion.  The  high dose of salt and mostly empty carbs these boxed macaroni and cheese products deliver won’t kill you, if the rest of your diet is low on sodium and high in nutrients.  (IMPORTANT Note: IMHO, Macaroni & Cheese as a regular part of daily diet is NOT ok.  A doctor in Indiana told my sister-in-law it was ok my niece was eating macaroni & cheese everyday as long as she was eating something. WTF?!  A kid can NOT eat empty carbs every day as the primary source of calories.  Sorry to say folks, MDs don’t always know best about what to feed kids.  They too get brainwashed by food companies.  Btw did you know that most medical schools don’t give their students adequate training in nutrition education? But I digress….)

So cheesy goodness, noodles YUM! on occasion are ok.

However, I’m not down with food companies that continue to put unhealthy ingredients, like artificial colors, in their macaroni & cheese then spend millions of dollars advertising these products.  Kraft, for instance, according to an article in the New York Times, is spending $50 million this year (an increase of 30% over last year) to advertise its entire line of Mac & Cheese products and convince more adults to eat the product. Here’s one ad Kraft’s new creative agency came up with for this purpose:

Now I don’t know about you, but first off, I can think of PLENTY of things that are more fun to do behind a stove, than watch Kraft’s artificially colored cheeseturn a bunch of noodles near-florescent orange.
(I can also think of better ways to spend $50 million dollars to help assure that all people get access to truly healthy food, and my time will come.)

What’s my beef with artificial colors?  I found this solid article on Food Colorings to give you more information to consider if you are reading ingredient labels. And in the meantime…

ForPeopleWhoEat: Healthier boxed brands of Macaroni & Cheese

Annie’s Homegrown

Trader Joe’s Macaroni & Cheese

*unfortunately I was raised w/ Kraft Mac&Cheese

Frito Lay just can’t seem to put our health first.

I about cried last spring, when I saw a student carrying around a bag of Baked Cheetos.  Kids know me.  I wrestle them to the ground to try to get unhealthy food from going into their growing bodies.  This kid didn’t know me yet though, and I’m glad that I held of tackling him before I heard that he’d been to his DOCTOR who told him baked Cheetos are a healthy option.  It was like a knife in my heart.  What’s true here?….Read the label first.  It’s tiny.  Of course.

Baked cheetos may have less or better fats than old Cheetos, but look carefully, they have MSG and artificial ingredients!  Can you think of a single Chinese restaurant that HASN’T taken MSG off their menu because it’s known to cause so many problems?  And why do we ever need artificial ingredients when we’ve got cheese, corn, and healthy oils…to make healthier snacks.  Thank goodness, some food companies are on it.

ForPeopleWhoEat Healthy Alternatives
to Frito Lay Regular or Baked Cheetos:
Barbara’s Cheese Puffs
Pirate’s Booty

Sad state of our food nation – Smuckers Uncrustables?!

I teach thousands of kids nutrition lessons every year.  The most powerful one?  I ask them simply to read an ingredient list from a certain food product, and ask them to guess what that food item is.  Want to try? Read this ingredient list for Smuckers Uncrustables, PB&J. Can you even find the “peanut” or “jelly” in here?

Most kids (and adults) start reading and can’t even pronounce the words on this list.  They stumble, laugh, and wonder “What the heck is this?!” Right?!  We agree. What the heck IS this food?  When we say it’s Peanut Butter and Jelly, the unhealthy Smuckers way, they groan.  How hard is it, they ask, to make a PB&J?

EXACTLY!  We say. It’s not hard at all, and it only costs about $80 cents to make a healthy (even organic) PB&J.

It’s downright terrifying, when mothers are mislead to think that such a product is a godsend for their children.  It reminds me of my own mother, who was a single parent and understandably wanting to believe the misleading nutrition claims from companies who sell cheaper products filled with high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated fats.

Remember though – Cheap food savings now=high health costs later.

Parents – make the PB&J or let your kids do it – with bread and peanut butter and jam made withOUT unhealthy additives.

Your kids deserve it.

  • ForPeopleWhoEat:  Healthy Options
  • Jelly and peanut butter with only 1-3 ingredients. NO High Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrogenated Oils or Artificial Ingredients
  • Whole grain bread without caramel colorings or added sugar