Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sugar for the tots

I have been continuing to volunteer as a Milk Monitor at Elli's school.  Initially I had hoped that getting out and volunteering would be a positive, enjoyable experience but the more I do it the more discouraged I get with the whole process.  It isn't as if the work is hard or annoying as all I do is sit in a chair, take change and hand out cartons of milk for an hour.  Getting out of the house and doing useful things is something I enjoy but I find myself looking for the 'useful things' part and not finding it.  I am primarily selling chocolate milk.  This is not a helpful thing for the kids.  If I were selling regular milk it would be much more reasonable but even then I can't find a particularly compelling reason to suggest that regular milk is better for the kids than fountain water.  City of Toronto water tastes fine and is extremely good for you (as much as water can be) so is selling milk even doing anything helpful?  And if it is questionable that selling milk is even being useful then how do I justify selling 90% chocolate milk with all its added sugar?  If somehow getting enough calories were the problem for these kids it might make some kind of sense but that certainly isn't the case; these kids need less sugar, not more.

When I started out I thought that I would probably just do a little bit of cleanup and such and keep myself busy.  I was operating under the assumption that the union rules preventing me from lifting a finger wouldn't be enforced but it turns out I was mistaken.  Yesterday there was only one staff member overseeing the entire lunchroom of ~160 kids so I decided to grab a cloth and clean off some tables so the second group of kids could come in and I was told to stop working.  Rather than get things done in a timely fashion the staffer did it all herself while I sat on my chair staring at a wall.  What a pathetic waste.  It is strange because I don't mind volunteering when there is work to be done.  Generally I am happy as anything working really hard even on simple tasks as long there is some reason to be doing what I am doing.  Just sitting there doing nothing pisses me off though, if I am going to be putting in time my time had better be *used* for something.  After all, I could be slaying pixel monsters otherwise!  It reminds me of my first coop job working for the government which was a miserable exercise in boredom and uselessness.  They didn't care what I did at all but at least I was getting paid to be there.

I figure I will finish out my year doing this because if nothing else I am getting to see and learn new things but my starry eyed idealism is wearing very thin and I am only 3 weeks in.


  1. You sell milk over water for the calcium, not the calories. You sell chocolate milk because, presumably, the kids are more likely to drink it than regular milk.

    I did a quick search and it looks like Toronto tap water has 34mg of calcium per liter. 4-8 year olds are recommended to get 1000mg of calcium per day. Milk looks to have 1200mg of calcium per liter.

    So milk is substantially better at getting calcium into the children than water would be.

  2. Admittedly this is from a site pimping milk products and you probably want to dig into the sources they site but it really looks like your fears here are really overblown. It sounds like chocolate milk doesn't replace milk or water in the diets of children, it generally replaces pop. Children who drink chocolate milk are healthier than those who drink normal milk because they simply drink more milk overall.


  3. I certainly buy that in the general population children that drink more chocolate milk drink less of other things. I would assume that a good portion of the chocolate milk being drunk is a 'treat drink' that could otherwise be pop, which is certainly much worse. However, I am not the one delivering chocolate milk to homes but rather to kids at school. There isn't any pop available there, the kids can choose milk or water. In this case I don't think adding chocolate milk to their diets is replacing pop but rather water for some kids and juice for others (Some parents obviously send change for milk instead of a drink box).

    I don't know that there is any necessity for the kids to get calcium in their drinks. There is calcium in all kinds of things like many/most vegetables, meat, soy, and reams of others.

    http://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile68e.stm#hf003 - scroll down a bit

    We do need calcium but we also need all kinds of other vitamins and there is little need to worry about getting them for the great majority of the population. As long as you eat a reasonably normal diet calcium just isn't an issue and getting enough is not a concern (hence the reason that there is a little, but not a lot of calcium in our water).

    Parents who use chocolate milk as a replacement for 'punch' juices or pop are certainly doing their kids a favour. However, I don't think that that is a good argument for selling chocolate milk in schools but rather a good argument for not drinking 'punch' or pop at all.

  4. This link talks a bit more about chocolate beverages (which are not at the school, we are serving real milk with additives) but also about what is in chocolate milk. The comments are interesting too, if you are curious about the arguments for drinking dairy at all. Apparently the only reason milk is such an integral part of the government food pyramid is aggressive marketing by dairy farmer lobby groups.


  5. Most people don't eat a reasonably normal diet. The stats on the page I linked say that 37% of 4-9 year olds don't get enough calcium. 83% of 10-16 year old girls don't get enough calcium. Replacing water with milk for these people is critical.

    I agree that the ultimate conclusion is punch and pop are bad deals. Chocolate milk is probably worse than normal milk (though not by as much as you make it out to be) but as things stand right now getting kids to drink any milk at all is a victory.

  6. There is no proven link between dietary calcium and calcium levels in your body, strangely enough. Obviously you have to take in a certain amount of calcium, but whether or not you actually receive that calcium and what use it is put to is another thing. Cultures that traditionally do not consume dairy products do not have higher levels of osteoporosis. In fact, it is a disease that primarily strikes in the most dairy addicted cultures. The disease has a strong genetic component, however, so it's hard to draw conclusions.

    If you want more unbiased information about causes and treatments, I think I found a page that helps:


    Under nutrition they certainly mention dairy, but fruit, vegetables and protein are given equal billing there. So basically, they key to avoiding the low calcium associated disease is eating healthy rather than junk food and getting a good (but not excessive) amount of exercise.

    Anyway, I'm assuming you are selling 250mL boxes of milk. In that case the chocolate milk has about 60 more calories than regular milk of equal fat content. It has less sugar than orange juice and also contains protein. I don't think it's a huge cause of concern.

  7. Yeah, it isn't as if selling chocolate milk is awful. Thing is, I don't feel like volunteering my time doing something annoying is worthwhile if the best I can say is "Well, I am probably not hurting anything". I really want to invest my time in things that either I enjoy or I can confidently say are doing some real good (which makes me enjoy them). We could do a lot worse than chocolate milk selling, but I don't feel like selling chocolate milk is any better than doing nothing at all and that doesn't give me much incentive to do the work.

  8. There are plenty of useful volunteer opportunities in your community. Pick up dog poop, broken glass & needles in the parks and cemeteries. Cook and serve lunch at a homeless shelter. Move heavy boxes of food at a food bank (trust me on this one, almost all of the people working there are old and they NEED your help). Tutor kids who can't stay in school, or adults who are struggling to get back into school. Teach axe throwing at Old York Historical Park. Go get 'em!