Just Plain Dumb

Leigh Anne O'Connor Issue: Section:

“According to the London Financial Times the DOE stands to make $28 million in five years through the vendor that stocks snack machines”

On Thursday, March 18, 2010, the sun rose beautifully to remind us that spring is nearly here and we deserve a day like this after a harsh winter. At 4:00PM more than three hundred parents and children gathered across the street from the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge decked out in aprons and oven mitts, carrying whisks, cookies, muffins and protest signs.
The New York City Department of Education (DOE), in an effort, they say, to abolish obesity, put a ban on bake sales. Instead of selling homemade chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, banana bread and empanadas, parents and children are allowed to purchase prepackaged cookies, Doritoes, Poptarts and other items available through the DOE’s vendor and sell these as fundraisers. The Parents Associations are only allowed to hold these packaged food and fresh fruit sales once a month. Chancellor Joel Klein argues that these pre-packaged goods are controlled – the package states the caloric and sodium values.
Bake sales have a long history in educational institutions as a way for parents to raise funds for extracurricular activities. With so many budget cuts these sales have become an important part of raising funds to support not only extracurricular activities but also educational activities such as music, art,  and special education. Additionally high school students need these sales to support sports – one school recently had to reach out to alumni to request them to return their sports jerseys because there were no funds to outfit the volleyball team.
One can argue that cookies and cupcakes aren’t the healthiest way to raise money. Baking is a family activity with opportunities to learn math and science (measuring ingredients, observing physical changes related to heat). There is also tradition and culture that goes along with baking.
Doritoes and Pop Tarts are not only taking away this sense of family, they also teaches children that processed foods are acceptable.  According to the London Financial Times the DOE stands to make $28 million in five years through the vendor that stocks snack machines and provides the items for the “food” sales. These funds go to the DOE not the individual schools who house these items.
It is like the DOE is competing with parents in fundraising and has now found a way to take a piece of the parents’ action. Luckily the Bake-in was well covered by the media. All of the local news channels reported on the event as well as NPR, WINS, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and many online blogs.
What happens next? The organizers of the bake-in are a grassroots group of moms primarily from the East Village of New York and have a website: www.nycgreenschools.org. At this site you can sign a petition in support of returning the bake sale to the parents and students.  New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Council Member Gail Brewer have been behind Elizabeth Puccini and Anisa Romero – the founders of NYC Green Schools.  Members of the committee are meeting with community board members to reverse the rule.
What is particularly exciting is that this all brings to attention the quiet revolution of changing school food. This is the underlying bigger issue. Many schools have nutrition committees which are working to bring healthier food into the cafeterias. At this point most of the schools making big change are rich with parental involvement. The revolution needs to spread throughout the system so that all schools serve healthy food, so that all children have access to nutritious breakfasts and lunches.
The occasional chocolate chip cookie or cupcake is not what is causing obesity. It is lack of physical activity and poor nutrition overall. Maybe the next bake sale will help fund the dance class or sports team that gets your child moving and burning calories!

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