Today in D.C. History: Williams Bends to Pressure on Chocolate Milk Day
On May 11, 2001, the District did not celebrate "Drink Chocolate Milk Day." Then-Mayor Anthony Williams, relenting to pressure from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and other activists, scrapped his plans to declare the holiday and promote dairy in the popular "Got Milk?" campaign.
After hearing about the mayor’s plans to promote chocolate milk, PCRM launched a public campaign to relay the risks associated with consuming dairy products. And the group wasn’t shy about hitching its dairy concerns to other political hot button-topics. Washington City Paper reported the following quote in its May 3 issue:
“For the mayor of a large African-American city and role model to allow himself to be portrayed [wearing a milk mustache], in addition to his position on closing D.C. General Hospital, makes me question his concern [for the health of his constituents],” argues PCRM physician and advocate Milton Mills. “His actions suggest that he is insensitive to the needs of the people he is trying to serve, and I find that very unfortunate.”
At the time of that issue's printing, the city had intended to go forward with the plans. Chief Health Officer Ivan C.A. Walks acknowledged concerns about African-American lactose intolerance, while observing that "[i]t’s certainly appropriate for the mayor to support the drinking of milk, which is healthy for many citizens." In the end, though, the chocolate milk celebration was canned.
Ten years later, chocolate milk is still the subject of heated (or maybe cultured?) debate. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver spoke out against chocolate milk in schools during a recent Ted talk (at the 12:20 minute mark). And first lady Michelle Obama has certainly lent her star power to childhood nutrition with her "Let's Move" campaign.
Here in D.C., we've come a long way from declaring holidays for chocolate milk. It’s been more than a year since Fairfax County and D.C. schools banned chocolate milk from elementary school lunch lines. (Although pressure from parents, students, and special interests groups is bringing chocolate milk back to Fairfax County, according to The Washington Post.)