DOUGLAS PARK — Harriet Fraser, Christine Goddard and Beth Ricanati spent one of their first days of summer at Douglas Park on Wilshire Boulevard.
It was a perfect Friday. The marine layer had burned off just an hour or two before, leaving the temperature at a comfortable 68 degrees and wispy white clouds streaking across a deep blue sky.
But rather than enjoy the day in peace, the three women, with small children in tow, were on the hunt for others like themselves, parents of children in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District that have a beef with flavored milk.
Each, armed with a plastic sandwich baggy weighted with seven teaspoons of unprocessed sugar, approached likely-looking adults with a plea that they sign a petition stating their opposition to the presence of flavored milks in school cafeterias.
The sugar represents the seven teaspoons of sugar in each carton of flavored milk. Although three of those are naturally-occurring lactose, the remaining four are added with the chocolate or strawberry flavor, and are a trap for children who can develop diseases like diabetes earlier and earlier as a result of excess sugar.
“This is one thing we can do to really cut down sugar consumption a lot in a day,” Fraser said. “It sends the right message.”
Fraser, a family doctor trained in England, moved to Santa Monica three years ago.
Although she had trouble finding foods in local grocery stores that didn’t have added sugars in general — “It’s in things you wouldn’t even imagine,” she said — items sold at schools like the milk, cookies and Rice Krispies treats were even worse.
Flavored milk became a focus point for her when celebrity chef Jamie Oliver outed the Los Angeles Unified School District for selling the stuff, and the amount of sugar it added to children’s diets.
“A few things were mounting up, and made me think it was time to do more and get more involved,” Fraser said.
With that, she began a Facebook page for the Santa Monica Malibu Schools for Food Revolution. Food Revolution is the name of Oliver’s campaign to reform school meals in America, much as he did in the UK.
The page quickly gained traction, enough that Oliver’s organization reached out to her for a meeting.
Out of that meeting came Friday Food Fest at Grant Elementary, where Fraser’s son attends school.
Chef Gino Campagna, who works with the Food Revolution campaign and has his own program, Kitchen Daily, that teaches children how to cook, has come to the school twice bearing fresh ingredients so that the kids can make their own lunches.
The dream is to go from a flavored milk ban to eventually reforming all of the food served in SMMUSD, which they feel is overly processed and loses much of its nutritional value.
Efforts to reach out to the district have been flummoxed, however, by the economic realities of the system.
As Food Services Director Orlando Griego explained for a May article about school lunches, his department funds itself with the money it gets from food sales.
That means school lunches have to be healthful, as required by state law, but also tasty enough that children who pay for the meals will want to eat them.
“It’s all about the figures,” Fraser said. “It’s really sobering.”
But the nutrition-minded moms haven’t given up. Instead, they’re starting small.
They’re hoping to gain momentum with the milk ban and roll right into snack foods sold at the schools, particularly cookies and other treats that the children can buy right alongside their chocolate or strawberry milk.
Fraser and her supporters have already accumulated over 600 signatures against the flavored milk between the paper petition and an online version, in both English and Spanish, hosted at ipetitions.com.
They’ll find out if those signatures and a June 16 presentation before the Board of Education are enough to make an impact at the July 20 district meeting.
“The target is milk and snacks,” Fraser said. “Hopefully, after July 20, we can take on snacks further.”
To view the petition, go to www.ipetitions.com/petition/noflavoredmilkinsmmusd