A cohesive post was forming in my head at some point today, but I’m not ready to write it. Frankly, after taking some time off from the blog and then coming back with my proverbial guns blazing over the Great Breakfast Debacle of 2011, I feel like there’s just some catching up and general “housekeeping” here that I should do today.
First, I would be remiss (and am already) if I didn’t mention that there’s a Twitter party in honor of Jamie Oliver happening TONIGHT. Yes, that’s right — I meant to mention it yesterday, but yesterday got away from me. My blogger buddy Scattered Mom of Notes from the Cookie Jar is helping spread the word about Jamie’s Twitter parties, and I told her I’d let you all know that the first one is tonight at 7 p.m. Pacific time. (I likely won’t be there, though I’d like to be — 7 p.m. Pacific is a bit late here on the East Coast — but I’m told there will be an East Coast-friendly version next week, so stay tuned for that as well.) Please show up if you can and tweet under the hashtag #foodrevparty — I’m sure it’ll be something!
Guilty conscience assuaged; on to thing number 2, which is the aftermath of the major issues we were having with L. and P.’s “breakfast” dates with their grandparents. J. waited until I went out to my choral rehearsal last night and the boys were in bed, so he could have some peace and quiet. He called his parents and spoke with his dad; his mom was not feeling well and was already in bed. His account of the conversation is as follows:
J: So, uh, Dad. L. says he had ICE CREAM on his pancakes yesterday?
P: Um, yeah.
J: I’m not angry. Let’s get that out of the way. I just want to know why.
P: I know. I know. It’s just that he saw it, and he asked for it, and he’s such a good boy…
J: Dad. There were about 1000 calories in that breakfast you gave him.
J: 1000 calories.
P: (sigh) I didn’t know that. I’d say something too, then, if I were in your shoes.
J: Dad. I always had to watch my weight. Remember? Always, my whole life. It never got to be a problem, but that’s because we were careful. Remember?
J: L. is like me. I want you to treat him like he was me. Okay?
P: It won’t happen again. I understand.
I have a couple of thoughts about this. One is that I give credit where credit is due, and J.’s dad really handled it well and seems to have taken the discussion to heart. I’m sure he feels badly about the whole thing and really didn’t realize just HOW bad the choices they had made were for the kids. However, on that note — my friend J.W. observed that he couldn’t figure out what in the world items like ice cream were doing on a breakfast menu for kids anyway, and he’s absolutely right. Of course L. asked for ice cream on his pancakes when he saw someone else eating it — he’s four years old, for heaven’s sake. It’s up to all of the adults in the situation, from parents and grandparents up through the ranks to restaurant owners and corporate executives, to be at least REASONABLE about providing better choices than that, and Friendly’s gets a big fat F for Failure on that front. I’m not saying I expect every restaurant to offer only healthy foods (though wouldn’t that be nice?). I do expect, though, a bare minimum of decency. We’re talking about a kids’ menu here, not a dinner at the famed Heart Attack Grill.
That leads me to my final thought, something I’ve been pondering quite a bit today — this issue of responsibility, restaurants, and yes, Jamie Oliver. Last night was the premiere of the second season of his “Food Revolution” series, as I’m sure most of you are aware. J. was kind enough to record it for me while I was out, so I watched it when I got home last night. I won’t go into detail here about what I thought, watching the show; I do LOVE Jamie Oliver, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to have some critique every once in a while of his show or the things he does. And I did. But in general, I’m excited, glad it’s back on, and anxious to see what he’s able to do for Los Angeles.
Except for the milkshake guy. If you watched, you know what I’m talking about. See, Jamie visited a local fast-food joint — a small family-owned place, not a franchise. The restaurant has been around since the 1950s and was passed down to this guy by his father. And it’s a good old-fashioned fast-food place, with burgers, fries, shakes, etc. — just what you’d expect. It may not be the kind of place I’d eat regularly, or take my kids to, but I can make that choice comfortably for myself and my family without thinking that the man needs to be run out of business or completely overhaul everything that’s made his restaurant successful for over 50 years.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure Jamie Oliver felt the same way. Most noteable among his critiques of the menu was the discussion about milkshakes. Now, everywhere in America that I know of, a “milkshake” is milk, ice cream, and maybe some sort of flavoring (except here in Rhode Island, where for some mysterious reason, you have to order a “cabinet” to get ice cream in it — otherwise it’s just milk and syrup). But I digress. Jamie was trying to convince the restaurant owner to convert his milkshakes from the old formula — which even the owner said he wouldn’t give to his kids, because of all the artificial syrup in them — to a mixture of yogurt and fruit. “That’s delicious,” the man said of Jamie’s concoction, “but it’s not a milkshake. It’s a smoothie.”
Arguments ensued. Jamie kept insisting that if you just CALLED it a milkshake, everything would be fine. That the old ice cream formulation needed to go completely. And the more the restaurant owner dug in, defending his right to serve the classic milkshake — possibly even reformulated to remove the syrup, but still with ice cream — the more disgusted and fed up Jamie seemed. That’s where he lost me.
I think the idea of a fruit and yogurt smoothie-style “milkshake” alternative is a GREAT one for an L.A. fast food joint. And I’m certainly not guzzling old-fashioned milkshakes or cabinets or whatever the heck you want to call them at every turn, nor am I giving them to my kids any more than once or twice a year (and then always homemade, with lots of fresh fruit in with the ice cream). But I think Jamie missed the mark in thinking that somehow, this business owner had a responsibility to stop serving something that is 1) a classic bestseller; 2) likely a relatively benign dessert/treat item, in the grand scheme of the kind of nutritional damage one COULD do at a fast food place; and 3) part of the array of choices that consumers can make when they show up at such an establishment. I highly doubt that as part of his work in Britain, Jamie Oliver has campaigned to have every fish and chips shop close their doors, despite the fact that deep-fried fish and potatoes (and Mars bars, for heaven’s sake) are also quite damaging from a nutritional perspective — if they’re consumed too frequently, that is.
The problem isn’t the fact that milkshakes exist at all; the problem is our lack of ability to exercise self-control and understand what moderation really means. And that’s not the problem of the restaurant owner. It may seem like I’m talking out both sides of my mouth here, since I did just say that I think the Friendly’s people should be exercising better judgment about their kids’ breakfasts — but I think there’s a distinct difference here. In one case, you’ve got a milkshake on a menu of various choices, with the intention that it’s up to the customer to fit that milkshake into some slot — dessert, beverage (!), snack, whatever. But on the Friendly’s menu, it’s a slew of MAIN DISH items all centered around candy, ice cream, whipped cream, and so forth, and specifically labeled for and marketed to children. That message isn’t “You might choose to include this one sweet item in your purchases today;” it’s “You should feel free to indulge in a large portion of sweets instead of a meal.” In my humble opinion, that’s where we get into the darker areas of responsibility. When you have something on a menu that’s not a great choice, okay. When you construct a menu of terrible choices and purposely try to sell them to little kids, you and I are not going to be friends.
So back to J.O. — I love you, Jamie, and I think you’re trying sincerely to do great things. But targeting the milkshake on this small business owner’s menu was a big misstep. It’s not his responsibility (at least, I don’t think it is) to completely eliminate popular menu items just because they’re not perfectly healthy; it’s not even his responsibility, necessarily, to add ANY healthy items to the menu. Of course, I’d like to see him take that responsibility upon himself and set your smoothies alongside his shakes; your grass-fed burgers alongside his conventionally farmed ones; your chicken sandwiches alongside his battered and fried ones. But part of getting people on board with any campaign, revolution or not, is bringing them along in a way that doesn’t threaten basic things like their livelihood, which was a very real concern of Mr. Fast Food.
Tell me what you think. I’m dying to hear. I may be wrong, but I think there are levels of responsibility here that are not always clear-cut; and I think sometimes making great change also means accepting compromises. Am I way off base?