Last week, I was granted three more reasons to be glad I moved to Minneapolis seven years ago.
(Full disclosure: I don’t live in Minneapolis proper, but in a suburb 15 minutes west of the city. But when I travel and people ask me where I’m from, I always proudly proclaim “Minneapolis.” )
Not that I needed more reasons. Since the moving van unloaded all my worldly possessions on Mother’s Day 2004, I’ve grown genuinely fond of this part of the world. I especially appreciate the sense of community, the culture, the food, the lakes, the Guthrie, The Marsh, and most recently, Target Field. (The mosquitos, the winters, and the Minnesota-nice drivers who merge into one lane two miles before they need to, I’m still trying to acquire an appreciation for.)
But last week, three separate announcements gave Minneapolis -- and its citizens, like me! -- even more reasons to celebrate being here.
- Bicycling magazine named it America’s best biking city.
- Advocate magazine named it the gayest city in America.
- Minneapolis public schools are taking chocolate milk off their lunch menus for good.
I’ll leave the first two items to those more qualified to write about them. But number three is all mine.
Two months ago, I wrote an SGT blog post asking: Does Chocolate Milk Belong in Our Schools? After outlining the pros and cons of removing chocolate milk from school lunch menus, I wondered which Minnesotan school district would be the first to ban chocolate milk from its lunch rooms.
Little did I know that it would be the state's largest, though there were signs that Minneapolis schools were moving in this direction when they removed chocolate milk from their breakfast menus last year. So hooray for them and their brave and decisive nutrition services team, who analyzed the data, summoned their courage, and gave notice to chocolate milk that it’s no longer welcome lurking around their school cafeterias.
So starting with this year's summer-school programs, there won't be any more candy masquerading as milk -- or as Renegade Lunch Lady Ann Cooper calls it, “soda in drag” -- tempting unsuspecting MInneapolis school children to ingest, in each serving, almost as much sugar as what's contained in a can of Mountain Dew.
Minneapolis follows school districts in Boulder, Berkley, Washington, DC, and, if Jamie Oliver gets his way, Los Angeles, the second largest district in the country, which is expected to make its official announcement in July.
I talked to Minneapolis schools’ Nicole Barron, nutrition service’s business manager, about the big decision.
“Last year, for the first time, we did not offer chocolate milk at our summer community sites. And then, starting with the 2010/2011 school year, we took it off the breakfast menu,” she explained.
“But now chocolate milk will no longer be a choice at lunch, either.”
She was quick to add, “We’re excited, but also a little nervous.”
Nervous because currently chocolate milk makes up 60 percent of the district’s overall milk sales; this is significant, because chocolate milk isn’t offered at breakfast. That means the percentage of chocolate milk sold would be even higher if only lunchtime consumption were measured.
“To be honest, we’re prepared for an initial drop in the amount of milk sold,” Nicole admitted. "And we’re ready for negative push-back from the students,” she said, “but we’re optimistic that parents and staff will be supportive of the change.”
Nicole mentioned a school district in another state that decided to remove chocolate milk from its menu; but after only six weeks, it buckled under pressure from a vocal minority of parents who wanted it back. Another large school district, Fairfax County in Virginia, recently did the same thing.
“No matter what, we believe this is the right decision. And we’re committed to sticking it out. Even if milk sales don’t rebound completely. Even if we get some criticism," Nicole asserted.
“We are guided by our responsibility to our children: to feed them and make sure they’re ready to learn,” she said. “Kids may not always like what adults do in their best interests. But we’re confident that most parents will support what we're doing."
I asked Nicole if she was concerned that kids would eschew milk altogether if chocolate milk were no longer a choice, a concern expressed by some parents and dietitians -- not to mention representatives for the dairy industry -- citing a “calcium crisis.”
“When we took french fries off the menu, no one complained, ‘they’re getting fewer vegetables!’ We have plenty of other food that provides calcium without the added sugar of chocolate milk: yogurt, cheese, calcium-fortified juice with breakfast, just to name a few,” said Nicole.
“This complies with the school’s mission to get back to the basics: whole fruits and vegetables; food that’s less processed; plain milk without added flavors and sugars.”
Then she added: “If nothing else, we want kids to learn to appreciate flavors other than sweet.”
Everyone knows that milk’s flavor is best when served ice-cold; that’s why Nicole and her team pushed for a new fleet of coolers designed to keep the temperature of their milk just above freezing.
They also considered selling milk in plastic bottles, because some research suggests that kids prefer these to cartons. But Nicole said that Minneapolis schools are consciously moving away from plastic waste products, so this is not an option that they would consider.
It's talk like this that makes me proud to be a part of a community that brings such thoughtfulness and conscientiousness to its business decisions.
Does chocolate milk belong in our schools? Definitely not. But those of us who agree belong right here in Minneapolis. Even if your actual home is somewhere else.
Shari Manolas Danielson is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good and Tasty. Her last post was Why Don't Minnesota Lawmakers Want to Talk About Proposed Law Against Videotaping Inside Animal Facilities?