The Green Light for Good Food

Engineer BillMy last post about the early years of food on TV brought back memories of those days of easy pleasures created by the mere presence of a TV in your home. In our house, the small black and white television sat near the kitchen and afterschool we gathered round to watch Engineer Bill drink milk in between cartoons that he ran with his program, Cartoon Express.

William Stulla, AKA, Engineer Bill, began his program in 1954 and rolled into living rooms at 6:30 in Southern California, when I was six years old.  Our family wouldn’t miss a night.

For a few minutes every evening, around the dinner hour, he would appear in his railroad engineer garb clutching a glass of milk and challenge us to gather around the TV with our own full glasses of milk. He would announce the start of his game, Red Light, Green Light, a game that entailed drinking milk whenever “Freight Train” (his off-set announcer producer) shouted “green light.” Every few seconds he’d shout Red Light or Green Pants or some other feinting ploy to fool us into drinking at the wrong time.

Families like ours were gathered around our small sets, giggling and gulping all the while in an effort to finish our glasses of milk before we mistakenly drank at the wrong time. This required us to be riveted to the TV. Engineer Bill played with us and for those of us who succeeded in downing all of our milk, he’d ring a bright bell and for those of us who stood grasping a glass still full of milk, he rang the “lead bell.”

This was a time of cleaning one’s plate, drinking your milk, “building bodies 12 ways”, as the bag of Wonder Bread claimed.

The game was fun and apparently we must of gulped down gallons of milk over the years of our early childhood, me and my two brothers.

But wait, what if we replicated this program today, gathering around the TV, clutching bags of freshly picked green kale or a priobiotic yogurt smoothie. Would the tactic work? Would this be our modern gamification of good eating habits? Could we engineer a new generation of vegetarians or even vegans? Or, would our children see through the thin veneer of good intentions? Would adults accuse the milk lobby of victimizing our children?  Or would the competitive nature of the game put off those who are revolted by the ideas of winners and losers?

Still, maybe an opportunity to find a motivator for our younger generation to develop good eating habits. (Although gulping might not work.) Instead of wishing our children to eat kale because it’s “sustainable” and good for our planet, perhaps we could fast track their healthy diets by a new engineer, one that builds software, and introduce a game that counts towards building a generation of healthy kids.

Skip to minute seven in this video to catch a clip of the Red Light, Green Light game.


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