At last month's Food for Thought Festival in Madison, Martha Pings attended a panel discussion titled "Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children." Among the panelists was Frank Kelly, director of food services for the Madison school district, who spoke of his desire to provide kids with nutritious food.
Two weeks later, Pings' daughter came home from O'Keeffe Middle School on Madison's east side with news that the cafeteria had a new a la carte option: a slushie machine.
The machine drew a backlash from Pings and other O'Keeffe parents, and last week was removed from the school at the request of the principal, Kay Enright (see article, 10/21/10). "I wish they would have asked me to begin with," says Enright, who agrees the slushies were not "a healthy addition to our menu of choices."
"Thanks to the miracle that is a la carte lunch, middle school students can choose from one of the fast-food-type selections offered daily (typically pizza, hot dogs, a processed chicken product or hamburger), served with French fries," she wrote. "They can also choose chips, two separate desserts, giant soft pretzels and [now] slushies."
The slushie machines were installed this fall at three Madison high schools (East, West and Memorial) and three middle schools (Sennett, Cherokee and O'Keeffe). Kelly says the reaction has been positive, except at O'Keeffe.
He touts the slushies as "100% juice" and says that, other than being frozen, "I don't see that it's any different than the other juices we've been selling."
A flyer from the manufacturer (PDF) calls the 8-ounce Slush Puppie Plus treats, which sell for a buck, the "next best thing to real fruit." They are "100% fortified juice," with no added sugar or salt, containing 119 calories and about 30 grams of carbs.
But the ingredients list includes a host of additives (calcium lactate, citric acid, sodium benzoate, etc.) as well as artificial flavors and colors. Mused one O'Keeffe parent, "There is no known fruit that turns a kid's lips and tongue bright blue."
Even if the slushies are healthier than other treats, Pings objects to the message it sends: "You're telling our kids that carnival food is good food." And while she's glad the slushies are gone from O'Keeffe, "I'm not pleased at all that district-wide it remains acceptable."
In 2006, the Madison school board banned vending machines in elementary and middle schools and restricted the beverage and snacks vended to students in high schools (no soft drinks, no candy). Mary Teppo, the district's director of administrative services, says revenue from all vending machines (including those in faculty lounges) totaled $22,450 last year, about a quarter of what it was before this change.
But Pings says the a la carte items sold in cafeterias to middle and high school students undermine this initiative. She's not surprised that healthier offerings, like pre-made chef's and garden salads, are not popular.
"Studies show you need to present folks with 90% healthy choices before they choose healthy foods," she says. "If we continue to offer our kids junk overwhelmingly, they will overwhelmingly choose junk."
Enright, in an email to Pings, voiced frustration with the "grief" she got over her quest to offer a fresh salad bar at O'Keeffe. In an interview, she explains that her interest in seeking a private grant to make this happen yielded "a lot of information from the district about why we don't have salad bars in schools."
She nonetheless intends to apply for the grant, from the national Whole Foods chain, saying she's confident she can make the salad-bar plan work.
Parking meter déjà vu
Bill Knobeloch, Madison's parking utility manager, says the city is just about to activate its newfangled multi-stall terminals, where parkers can pay with cash or credit.
Why does that sound familiar?
From Watchdog, 3/26/10: "As of this week, 14 of the terminals are in place [and] Knobeloch expects the devices to be operational by month's end."
But even after three months (Madison.gov, 6/18/10), none of the meters were operational, because the meters weren't reading credit cards on first swipe. Knobeloch set a deadline for fixing the problem and subsequently expressed optimism that everything would be up and running by...well, now.
Knobeloch's hope springs eternal. The first two terminals have been running at the Buckeye lot off State Street since Sept. 15, successfully recording "more than 10,000 transactions." The remaining 12 terminals just "need to be turned on," starting within about two weeks.
More than 60% of parkers are using credit cards, a much higher percentage than expected. Each such transaction costs the city 26 cents.
The city has budgeted to buy 100 new terminals, 70 of which are slated to be installed next year. That's the same number Knobeloch earlier said would be installed by the end of this year.
This time, the city seems serious. It's even created a video showing folks how to use the new meters. Step one: Keep your fingers crossed.
War and peace
The letter writer to Isthmus made his points clearly and well, in response to an article on the upcoming renovation of the UW's Memorial Union (Arts Beat, 10/15/10).
"When we name something in memoriam, the idea is that we'll remember what we're memorializing when we reference the memorial," the letter writer said. To this end, he urged that stories about the building use its full name: Veterans Memorial Union.
Well, no. According to Ted Crabb, director of the Memorial Union from 1968 to 2002, this was never the name. From its 1928 opening, the building has been Memorial Union.
But, unknown to many, it is indeed a veterans memorial, dedicated to the UW students, faculty and staff who died while serving in the armed forces in the Civil War, Spanish American War and World War I. Their names appear on plaques in a hall on the second floor.
More hidden history: When the other UW campus student building, Union South, opened in 1971, it was dedicated as a peace memorial. Will that dedication be part of the new, rebuilt Union South? UW spokesman Marc Kennedy says this has come up for discussion, but "hasn't been decided yet."
Candidates to voters: Go BLANK yourself
There is nothing partisan about the League of Women Voters' mission, to help the electorate make informed choices. There is nothing tricky or unfair in the questions it asks candidates for its helpful "Voter's Guide." And there is nothing defensible about the refusal to participate.
And yet, as publisher Vince O'Hern noted last week ("Making the Paper," 10/22/10), a bumper crop of contenders did not respond to the League's general election guide (published in Isthmus and available here). Given a chance to tout their qualifications and positions, they gave voters the middle finger.
This group includes the following contested candidates: Republicans Chad Lee, Scott Walker, Rebecca Kleefisch, J.B. Van Hollen, David King, Scott Fitzgerald, Kurt Schuller, Vicki Milbrath, Keith Ripp, David Redick and Dan Henke, and Democrats Dwayne Block and Gary Hebl.