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Fizzy’s Lunch Lab a Little Fuzzy on Nutrition

Professor Fizzy in his Lunch Lab

Professor Fizzy in his Lunch Lab

New PBS Show on “Healthy” Eating Misses the Mark

By Guest Blogger, Jessica Claire Haney, Crunchy-Chewy Mama blog with Monica Corrado, Simply Being Well

Watch out parents: there’s a new show in town trying to convince your kids that it knows something about healthy eating. Before I share my concerns about PBS’s new show, “Fizzy’s Lunch Lab,” I’d like to describe the kind of show about healthy eating I would actually consider allowing my son to watch.

There would be lovely images of farms, farmers markets, orchards, produce aisles, and, of course, gardens of all types – backyard, patio, windowsill, balcony, community/shared. Featured foods would be fresh and whole – as close to the source as possible. A connection to nature would be everywhere with innovative ways to bring nature to the city and to pack in a lot of growing like the national non-profit organization, Growing Power, Inc.

I’m a mom who makes nutrition a top priority, and, after looking closely at this show, I think PBS has really missed the mark in its attempt to encourage healthy eating with “Fizzy’s Lunch Lab.”

Giant Junk Foods Scare This Mama Away

What concerned me at first were the aesthetics of the animated show, which takes place in a creepy urban dystopia with eerie greenish-grey lighting behind the city in general and behind “Greasy World” amusement park. The intro begins with a movie-like voice-over – “In a world where greasy, salty, sugary junk food is all around us” – while children standing on a black ground are dwarfed by towering mounds of ice cream and junk food that hover menacingly above them. (Watch out for the falling pizza slice, kids!) If what you really want kids to focus on what is good, I don’t see the purpose of using these images, even in a sinister way.

Where’s the Green, PBS?

Moreover, it’s not like these dark, ominous tones are juxtaposed against a bright, fresh place that calls out to kids as a verdant oasis of green. No, there is no Oz moment in this show. The Lunch Lab is a tech-focused, plant-free place that exalts nifty appliances. It’s decorated with an off-mustard yellow against cool blue (tempered glass?) cabinet doors. The theme is futuristic with a jet-powered flying TV as the show’s logo, hovering pizzas that evoke the Jetsons era (a golden time for nutrition, indeed!), and Mixie Bot as our guide and kitchen gadget extraordinaire. It’s as though machines are supposed to save us from unhealthy food. But how, in a place where there is nary a growing shoot of green?

New Science Findings Not Tested in Lunch Lab

November’s Lunch Lab content theme is “Whole Grains,” complete with a song telling us to “leave white on the shelf, ‘cuz wheat is better for your health” and proclaiming that “wheat is sweet, and white is just ‘aight.” The character Sully the Cell goes into the stomach to talk about how “white processed flour” is stripped of the good stuff and is used up too quickly by our bodies. “Whole wheat flour,” he explains, has all the fiber, minerals and vitamins we need for sustained energy. He doesn’t explain that bread made from whole grains is a processed food, and that their nutrients can’t be absorbed unless the grains are soaked or sprouted and eaten with a healthy fat (More on that later!).

Nutrition Primer for the Professor

Nutrition Primer for the Professor

I’d like to remind PBS and the advisory board to this show that human ancestors only started eating grains 5,000-10,000 years ago after 2 million years of living mostly on plants and game. Our bodies are not designed to eat a grain-based diet, especially not one with modern grains and their added gluten. Research by Dr. Stephen Wangen, Dr. Rodney Ford, and Melissa Diane Smith have demonstrated how damaging gluten can be, even to people who don’t have celiac disease. High- profile celiac researchers Dr. Peter Green and Dr. Alessio Fasano have also begun to acknowledge non-celiac gluten intolerance. So can we please stop pushing something that is not good for anyone in significant amounts?

Whole Foods Seem to Be Missing in Fizzy’s Fridge

This brand-new show makes it seem like healthy eating is something that depends on gizmos rather than gardens. Some of the recipes are okay, but many rely on grains and/or have questionable ingredients like non-stick cooking spray, corn (with no warning about GMOs), “low-sodium” (implying not homemade) chicken stock, and … SUGAR! There are no references to organic, sustainable, fair trade, local, pasture raised, biodynamic, or pesticide-free labels.

Fizzy Having Fun In His Lab

Fizzy Having Fun In His Lab

Professor Fizzy Not Smart on Healthy Fats

On the up side, the recipes on the show’s site use feature olive oil as the primary oil source, which is better than alternatives might have been. However, the show has failed to address the importance of healthy fats – grassfed butter, lard, and beef tallow, and unrefined coconut oil, all safer for cooking than olive oil. Healthy fats are an important source of absorbable Vitamins A and D, and are a critical part of healthy brain development of infants and children. Grassfed butter has the perfect ratio of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and, unlike its grain-fed counterparts, it contains conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, which has strong anti-cancer properties and may reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and immune system disorders.

Some of the Professor Fizzy Food Facts (accessible from the “Food” tab, which also houses recipes) are useful; they promote exercise, adequate water intake, and family meals. Fact #17 notes that the “human brain is almost 70% fat.” If only the creators understood how important dietary fat is to developing brains! I wonder, then, if they would begin to promote full-fat cheese?

Flying Pizza, Healthy Kids?

Flying Pizza, Healthy Kids?

The current episode maligns the “Pizzanator,” a “greasy” and “processed flour” creation of Professor Fizzy’s nemesis, Fast Food Freddy, who appears in a commercial complete with “enjoy the free sample.”

The kitchen character Corporal Cup shouts that the ingredients for the supposedly healthier whole wheat pizza include “low-fat cheddar cheese.” (Incidentally, vegetables fly by unnamed with a vague “you can add your favorite veggie toppings.”)

This show just launched a week ago. I don’t know what plans PBS has for future episodes or themes, but I’m concerned when I see the current focus on grains and the no-green zone of a kitchen without a hint of food’s connection to the earth. The food isn’t especially healthy, and kids are not being taught to honor or respect – or even think about – where it comes from.

This approach seems to me a bit like a fitness program that encourages someone to run laps around a factory with smoke stacks spewing toxic waste into the air. Probably better than no exercise at all and okay if it’s all you’ve got, but not exactly “healthy.” Or sustainable.

Jessica Claire Haney of Crunchy Chewy Mama Blog

Jessica Claire Haney is a freelance writer, editor and tutor. Her writing has appeared in parenting publications and poetry journals. A former high school English teacher, Jessica is mother to one son and is passionate about holistic health. She is a Holistic Moms Network chapter leader. Read more from Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama and on DC Metro Moms Blog. Visit Holistic Moms at their website:  www.holisticmoms.org.

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Comments

  1. If I start reading an article about healthy food and catch any variation of a complaint that modern diets are “too fatty,” I have a pretty good notion it’s going to contain bad or incomplete advice. Not only are modern diets NOT “too fatty,” they tend to contain the wrong kinds and/or proportions of fats.

    I’m not eating well, but my eating has improved since I was pregnant with my daughter and I’m eating more fats now than I was then. Despite the unhealthfulness of much of my diet, I’m a lot saner than I was then. Just the feeling better part tells me I’m on the right track. It’s not a change in hormone levels; I was really moody before I got pregnant too. Just telling people to ignore the bad advice about saturated fat might be enough to halt some disease processes in their tracks, or at least get people off of Prozac or Lexapro or similar.

  2. After reading guest-blogger Jessica Claire Haney’s article “Fizzy’s Lunch Lab a Little Fuzzy on Nutrition”, I feel compelled to respond.

    Ms. Haney argues that PBS’s new web-based show is “tech-focused” and “plant-free”. She ridicules the show’s purpose and compares it to the encouragement of someone running laps around a factory spewing toxic waste into the air – which frankly, seems a bit over the top.

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I suppose, but before harshly criticizing a website that is working to diminish childhood obesity, Ms. Haney should have researched her facts…or at least watched more than one five minute episode before passing judgment on the direction or mission of Fizzy’s Lunch Lab.

    If you click on the “Parents” link at the bottom of the page, you are taken to the “PBS Parents” page. Here, PBS has clearly outlined episode descriptions for each of the 10 months it will air. Yes, “Month One” happens to be about Whole Grains – and since humans have been eating them for 10,000 years – it’s likely an important and relevant topic to cover.

    Since Ms. Haney didn’t bother to do so, let me share with you what’s written on the parent webpage:

    Month 1 – Whole Grains (Visit a bakery)
    Month 2 – Balanced Meals (Visit a school – what kids bring for lunch)
    Month 3 – Veggies (Visit a local farmer’s market)
    Month 4 – GOOD FAT AND BAD FAT (Visit Organic Community Farm)
    Month 5 – Hydration (Visit a cranberry bog)
    Month 6 – Family Meal (Visit a neighborhood family as they prepare for dinner)
    Month 7 – Fruits (Visit fresh produce market)
    Month 8 – Protein (Visit a seafood restaurant)
    Month 9 – Exercise (no mention of running around factories and/or spewing toxic waste – just a school playground and recess choices)
    Month 10 – Carbs and Sugar (Visit apple orchard)

    Surely, Ms. Haney, you don’t teach your son to judge a book by it’s cover. Before writing a highly critical article, it’s best to check the facts….

    Kate Smith
    mother and teacher

  3. Kimberly Hartke says:

    Someone from the production company submitted this link, I think it is to the information, above, but just in case you’d like to investigate further:

    http://www.pbs.org/teachers/lunchlab/episodes/

    I hope the show staff will take this critique and look for ways to improve the show. I do think Jessica’s concerns about gluten intolerance are well worth taking under advisement!

  4. Were all trying here, to get people to become more educated about the benefits of healthy eating. Any effort in that direction is a good effort. Now all of a sudden a doc up in Colorado is trying to make those who focus on healthy eating think that they have a psychiatric disorder. Orthorexia Nervosa – The obsession of eating healthy. Check it out for a chuckle or two. http://www.advancedhealing.com/blog/2009/11/23/orthorexia-nervosa/

    Dr. Ettinger

  5. To clarify about Kate’s concern above, I focused this review on the show and the features that are currently available *to children* at pbskids.org. I’ll be happy to delve more deeply into the related parent and teacher resources at pbs.org as the show goes on.

    I agree that grains should certainly be addressed in a show about healthy eating – with the caution that they are over-consumed and not generally prepared in such a way that our bodies can utilize their nutrients! While 10,000 years may seem like a long time, it is really a “blink of an evolutionary eye” as Dr. Stephen Wangen writes in his book, Healthier Without Wheat (2009). He explains: “For approximately 2 million years humans consumed little grain and virtually no wheat. It is only in the past 10,000 years that humans have begun to cultivate and eat most grains.”

    I did not discover my celiac disease until my 30s and only then because of several other serious health complications that cleared up with proper nutrition. I’ve been impressed and amazed at stories of people who made great health strides by limiting or removing grains from their diets. I hope that new research on gluten and grains in general can encourage us all to put grains lower on our eating priority list, celiac or not.
    .-= Jessica Claire Haney´s last blog ..Review of new PBS show on "healthy" living =-.

  6. Fizzy’s Lunch Lab sounds great especially for children. It is also very enthusiastic show. Lots of learning is being shared. Thank you so much for creating for this blog. And I hope many parents will be glad if they saw their children watching the show about healthy benefits of foods.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Rales, Bill Jones, Deborah Williamson and Deanna Child, Melissa Makris, Bonnie Koenig, Cynthia Z., Jessica Haney, Maria van Heemstra, Robyn O’Brien, Robert Waldrop, Sarah Pope, John Coles, Anthony Kovats, […]

  2. […] of them on children’s television these days.  This is why this article caught my eye – New PBS Show Fizzy’s Lunch Lab – read all about it.  Seems harmless?  I know a whole generation of people that don’t […]

  3. […] Read the rest of this review — about the lack of green on the show, the lack of understanding about healthy fats, and the overselling of grains — on my guest blog post at Kimberly Hartke’s blog, HartkeIsOnline.com. Thanks, Kimberly! […]

  4. […] recently wrote a not-so-positive review of a new PBS show, and I’ve been writing about health-related stuff in a new column at the Washington Times […]

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