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.