Ban The Bake Sale Ban

Crack cookies

Can this ban be anything other than a media ploy?

Photo by magerleagues via Flickr, under the Creative Commons license.

I don’t live in New York City. And I don’t have kids. In many ways, I am ill-qualified to weigh in on the recent move to ban bake sales in New York City schools. But I’m so annoyed that I think it’s a threat to my health to do otherwise.

An off-topic discussion at my book club last night made it abundantly clear that I have no idea what it’s like to raise kids in this age of hyper vigilant child rearing. The constant headlines about the childhood obesity epidemic would probably cause me to experience agonizing guilt over giving my child a cupcake. But let’s just take a step back here. Childhood obesity has lots of causes – sedentary lifestyle, access to highly caloric processed foods, and even genetic factors that we don’t fully understand. But, does anyone really think that bake sales are significantly contributing to childhood obesity? Or that banning them in schools will make a difference in NYC kids’ waistlines?

Taking such an extreme stance against home-baked goods is just another sign that Americans’ relationship with food is getting more and more distorted – to the detriment of our health. The most convincing argument from The Omnivore’s Dilemma is that Americans have lost our cultural knowledge of food – what to eat, how much to eat, when we’ve eaten too much. Instead, we’re inundated with advertising, media, and government messages about what the “right” diet is – which means that our dieting patterns can shift rapidly upon hearing new information. How else to explain how Americans swore off fat in the 1980s because we were convinced that high-fat diets would kills us, only to embrace the Atkins diet in the 1990s?

Making sweets “forbidden” merely encourages a polarized view of food and diet that is inconsistent with our own traditions and history. No, I don’t think that kids should be living off cupcakes – but sweets are part of food culture. The French may have perfected the art of pastry, but ancient Romans ate dessert, the pilgrims made pumpkin pies in hollowed-out pumpkin shells, and gingerbread dates back to Medieval times. Instead of banning sweets, shouldn’t we accept that they have always had a place in our diet? And treat them as what they should be treated – as special, occasional treats with unique histories and traditions? By making desserts “forbidden” and “evil” we just encourage kids to eat more of these “forbidden” items when their parents aren’t looking.

Like I said. I don’t have kids. I don’t know what it’s like to raise kids. But I really hope that, when I have them, I can teach them that the occasional cupcake has a place in a “healthy” diet. In fact, I’d feel better about giving my kid a cupcake that I baked than giving them a scientifically engineered candy bar. In the end, I think that banning bake sales is merely a media ploy to boost Mayor Bloomberg’s “tough on fat” image, rather than a well reasoned intervention to fight childhood obesity.

There. I feel a lot better now. I may just go have a cookie.



  1. Rebecca said

    My mother in law is a teacher and her school has sort of a modified ban. No home-baked goods allowed. They say it is because of allergies rather than obesity. I guess if the snacks are store bought then the label will clearly state all the ingredients. But I’m thinking that home baked goods are probably more healthy than the trans fat loaded mess they sell in my store’s bakery.

    I’m all for the occasional cupcake. Otherwise we would all eat intravenously or take some magic pill. Where is the fun in that?

    • moderndomestic said

      I didn’t think about the allergy thing – that’s a good point.

      So . . . what happened when people had crazy peanut allergies in the 1950s? Did they live in a bubble? Did people even HAVE peanut allergies in the 1950s?

  2. Phil said

    I agree wholeheartedly. I know soon after I left NY, an advertising campaign was started by the city against soda…”don’t pour on the extra pounds” or something like that. I was happy to see it, but something like this bake sale ban just seems misplaced. The obesity epidemic with kids as related to baked goods has much more to do with processed foods than homemade treats.

    Cooking, and especially baking, can be a great activity and can provide so many memories. When a parent makes a cake or pie with their children it’s much easier to reinforce how much and how often it should be eaten, as opposed to walking down the aisle at the mega-mart and throwing three boxes of oreos into the cart. I’m all for healthier eating, but it shouldn’t be at the complete expense of quality homemade foods.

  3. While I agree that homemade baked goods are not evil, Moderndomestic knows I’m one of her biggest fans, I think we’re getting the issues confused.

    NYC is removing bake sales from schools, not from people’s homes. Most of the bake sale items from my childhood consisted of goodies baked from a box or squeezed from a tube. Eating an extruded Toll House cookie after class is not the connection to food that Michael Pollan is talking about.

    Offering high calorie snacks in schools takes power away from parents. Let parents create for their children happy memories of warm cookies and milk. Let parents teach their children dessert is for after dinner or special occasions, not whenever a post-class craving strikes.

    Almost a quarter of American children are overweight or obese. Studies have shown this epidemic is fueled just 200 additional calories per day. These calories are coming in from sodas, processed foods, and yes, bake sale items. To combat expanding waist lines we need to accept kids don’t need 24/6 access to treats, homemade or not.

    Keeping goodies special is not deprivation, it’s part of why they’re so delicious. However, school is for learning, not snacking, so let’s keep the cookies at home!

  4. lemmonex said

    Moderation is key and fostering a healthy relationship with food is essential. I do think we need to move away from using food as a reward system.

  5. Becky said

    I always thought home-made cookies were more nutritious also. No wonder more kids are fighting obesity.
    School lunches are also filled with tons of calories and fat, and now the more nutritious cookies are banned – wow! Speaking of childhood obesity… it is really depressing to find creative ways to help kids obtain healthy life-styles- I have an overweight child and we really struggle. Recently I stumbled across Dr. John E. Mayer’s latest book titled, “Family Fit,” which points out a lot of great activities that families can do together as a whole, as well as great healthy nutritious foods that kids can get excited about. Has proven to be a godsend to me and my family.

  6. katy said

    ModernDomestic– Peanut allergies (as well as other food-based ones) are very much on the rise, both in incidence & severity of the allergy. There are lots of arguements as to the cause (our immune systems are bored, environmental issues we can’t quite determine, delaying introduction to certain foods, etc).

    While spawn-free right now, I am truely terrified that any “Little Radish” would have an allergy to wheat, corn, peanut or soy. We don’t even eat that many preprocessed foods! But those things are really everywhere you turn.

  7. Jul said

    Interesting stuff!
    Hmm… are bakesales pretty uniquely American?

    • moderndomestic said

      I actually don’t know – I think they are, but I’m not sure.

      Readers? Any thoughts?

  8. ban the bakesales ban. 😀

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