New PBS Show on “Healthy” Eating Misses the Mark
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!).
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.
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?
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 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.