Yesterday I posted a news item about Sarah Palin’s publicity stunt of bringing 200 sugar cookies to a Pennsylvania school to protest the proposed regulations in that state which will limit sweets in school for classroom and holiday parties. There were quite a lot of comments generated by that post, both here and on Facebook and Twitter, and I’d like to take a minute to respond to a few of them.
Why Pay Palin Any Attention?
School food activist Dr. Susan Rubin (for whom I have great respect) questions why I even gave Ms. Palin the “air time” (so to speak). On Facebook, she wrote: “She’s just looking for publicity. Let’s NOT give it to her. we’ve got more important work to do,” and she left a similar comment on TLT.
My response is that Sarah Palin is unfortunately not alone in bringing muddled libertarian arguments into this particular arena. Let’s not forget that in my own adopted state of Texas, the legislature was successfully prevailed upon a few years ago to pass a “safe cupcake amendment” which preserved parents’ God-given right to bring sweets to school on a child’s birthday. And my original post on this topic, “The Birthday Cupcake Debate Heats Up,” was written in response to a self-proclaimed libertarian TLT reader holding similar views. So rather than ignore Palin, I say it’s far better to bring this faulty reasoning out into the light for open discussion and critique.
Why Not Worry Less About Cookies and More About School Lunch and Exercise?
Readers Suzannah and Nutritioulicious both felt that the classroom treat should be preserved and that more focus should be placed on increasing PE and improving school lunches. I don’t disagree in principle, but in today’s reality, lunch is often pizza or nuggets, and PE may come around only once every seven school days. Until those problems are rectified, classroom sweets are compounding the problem. I would ban them altogether (for the reasons stated below) but if we have to have treats, I say let’s put them on hiatus until we come closer to that ideal school environment with healthy lunches and more physical activity.
Lighten Up. Treats Are Called “Treats” for a Reason.
Suzannah also stressed that “treats are special occasion foods” and Nutritioulicious agreed, saying,”I don’t think the answer to childhood nutrition issues is to ban sweets for special occasions. . . . Kids (and adults) need to learn how to live a healthy life while still being able to enjoy special treats on occasion.” Reader Greg added,
. . . special occasions are precisely when the rules ought to be relaxed — that helps to establish them as special — and provided we get away from the culture of “every day is special”, its not as if you’d be exposing kids to unhealthy food all the time.
My problem here is that sugary foods are such a constant in our children’s lives these days — far more than when I was a kid in the 1970s — that the idea of the “special” birthday “treat” is almost meaningless.
First of all, as I calculated in “The Birthday Cupcake Debate Heats Up,” my own children are served a birthday treat about 1/7th of the instructional school year (for my daughter, it’s 1/6 of the year, due to her large class size.) Moreover, my children frequently receive candy from friends during the school day and even from teachers who pass it out after the school bell rings (a clever way of evading our district’s Wellness Policy.) Then there’s the fact that these days no activity can be convened for children without the provision of a snack, which is almost invariably junk. By way of example, just this past Saturday, my daughter was plied with Rice Krispie treats, cheddar Goldfish, and Capri Sun juice pouches as a mid-morning snack at a dance clinic she attended.
I would argue that when one in three children are already overweight, we don’t have the luxury of viewing any individual treat in a vacuum anymore. A cupcake isn’t just a cupcake in 2010.
If the Shoe Fits . . .
Greg also wrote:
The nanny-state charge can easily be avoided by not acting and talking in such as way as to deservedly have it apply. Palin can be fast and loose with that charge — for ideological reasons which are often boneheaded — but the charge might well fit. The nanny state embodies a micro-managing, choice-eliminating, self-righteous stance. The proponents of these food bans should take a close look at themselves to see whether they exhibit that.
I’m not sure if Greg was obliquely referring to me, a proponent of such a ban, with this comment, but here’s where I would disagree with him.
A cupcake ban, rather than being “choice-eliminating” is in fact “choice-creating.” That is to say, if you’re a true libertarian, presumably you would support the idea of each parent taking full control over the feeding of his/her own child, free from interference by others parents. Pro-cupcake parents never seem to pause to consider the fact that by bringing their treats to school, they are potentially trampling on the rights of all other parents in that class who might object. (This is nowhere more evident than in the case of parents with food-allergic children who are literally begging for an end to the treat onslaught, as I’ve learned by dropping in on this site now and then.)
Of course, it’s true that we can always demand that our kids decline the offered treat. But as I wrote to the pro-cupcake parent in my original cupcake post:
. . . why should I be put in the position of asking that of a seven year old, glassy-eyed with envy as 24 of his peers sit around him, licking cupcake frosting off their fingers? Just to accommodateyour inalienable right to celebrate a birthday with sweets on a school campus — sweets which could be enjoyed at your off-site party instead, or a birthday which could be celebrated in the classroom with dollar store toys, healthy food or the other items suggested by readers here? I guess I’m not sure why your rights necessarily trump mine in this case.
Finally, while I’m sure many anti-cupcake parents are self-righteous, as Greg states, many of us are simply asking, why can’t we just live and let live? And many of us are the opposite of rigid Food Nazis — to the contrary, one reason why we so hate the birthday cupcake is because it often deprives us of the chance to give our children our own sugary treats, something we thoroughly enjoy.
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OK, those are my thoughts on the comments to the Palin post. If you want to keep the debate going, I’ll certainly post any new ideas as they come in.
As an aside, I now understand why the media (of any political bent) love Sarah Palin: the woman is ratings gold, people. I put her up on TLT yesterday and received the highest ever readership since launching the blog.
I’m going to have to drop her name around here a LOT more often.