Sarah Palin Decries Proposed School Nutrition Regulation as “Nanny State Run Amok”

by Bettina Elias Siegel on November 10, 2010

Former Alaska governor and Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin has criticized proposed school nutrition guidelines in Pennsylvania which would limit the sweets allowed for classroom and holiday parties at school, and which would encourage parents to serve more healthy snacks like fruits or vegetables.  The Pennsylvania State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the proposed guidelines this spring.

Before attending a Bucks County, PA school fundraiser Tuesday, Ms. Palin tweeted, ““2 PA school speech; I’ll intro kids 2 beauty of laissez-faire via serving them cookies amidst school cookie ban debate;Nanny state run amok!”   She then brought 200 sugar cookies to event, and was quoted by ABC News as saying:

I had to shake it up a little bit because I heard there is a debate going on in Pennsylvania over whether most schools condemn sweets, cakes, cookies, that type of thing.  I brought dozens and dozens of cookies to these students.

ABC further quoted Ms. Palin:

You shouldn’t been making these decisions about what you can eat at the school.  Should it be the government or should it be the parents?”

Of course, it’s the framing of that last question which is so specious, in that it seemingly pits governmental intrusion against personal freedom.  But that’s not what’s going on here. I personally have no interest in regulating what foods a parent can or cannot bring for his/her child’s own consumption at school.  That would, in my opinion, be a true example of a Nanny State.

What I do object to, however, is the lack of oversight regarding what foods other parents can bring for my child’s consumption.  As I argued in one of my first Lunch Tray posts (“The Birthday Cupcake Debate Heats Up“), when a child is at school, he or she is as captive to what goes on there as a person in an elevator is captive to second-hand smoke.  We don’t allow smoking in elevators, and we shouldn’t allow the serving of food to school children to which a parent might object on a variety of grounds — nutritional, religious, a concern about allergens, or for any other reason.

Moreover, with childhood obesity quickly becoming one of the biggest public health crises facing this country, Palin’s cookie stunt strikes me as somewhat tone deaf.   With one out of three children already overweight or obese, and with the potential health care costs of obesity currently estimated at $150 billion (and counting), is this really where she wants to make her point about “protecting our freedoms”?

[Thanks to reader Renee for the tip about this story.]

[Ed. Update:  This post led to a huge number of reader comments, which are addressed here.]

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Dr. Susan Rubin November 10, 2010 at 9:27 am

The sad thing is that many community have a Sarah Palin: someone who is so clueless about the big picture. Someone who thinks this is a “nanny state” situation.
Her remarks enrage me, but I’m not going to spend any more of my energy dealing with her. It just gets her more publicity. I’ve got more important work to do.

There is a universal law that goes like this: what you focus on grows. I want to focus on gardens in every school with integrated food based curriculum that raises the Food IQ of every kid in America.
Not some ditz from Alaska who thinks she can see Russia from her house.

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goghmary December 1, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Sarah Palin is all but blind to what is really going on in general and school diets in particular. Our children are fat! They get little or no recess at schools that feed them greasy, sugary food which they wash down with soda instead of milk.

Sadly, this is not the only instance of her speaking publicly about something she knows nothing about. Her 15 minutes of fame continue.

Has she never heard the “Peter Principle”?

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NotCinderell November 10, 2010 at 9:32 am

*eyeroll* Why am I not surprised. She is such a flippin’ idiot.

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Al Dente November 10, 2010 at 9:37 am

Palin introduced her new consumer ratings guide “Sarah’s Scores” which she says will replace Zagat, the Neilsen Ratings….even the Richter Scale. – REVEALING story at:

http://spnheadlines.blogspot.com/2010/05/palin-pushes-new-ratings-guide-sarahs.html

Peace! :-)

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suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter} November 10, 2010 at 9:49 am

i am NO sarah palin fan, and i strictly limit sweets for my kids, BUT i happen to think the cupcake bans in schools are ridiculous.

i believe in curbing junk in the cafeteria and vending machines, but children should be allowed to have treats at holiday parties. treats are special occasion foods, and carrots and pencils are just not that special or fun.

i actually grew up in bucks county and fondly remember cupcakes for birthdays, and i think it’s sad that so many schools prohibit it now. schools here won’t allow cupcakes/cookies, but the cafeteria serves pizza and fries constantly and they’re cutting recess and gym. really, what is the bigger threat to kids’ health?

let them eat cake–and then get them playing!

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nutritioulicious November 10, 2010 at 10:24 am

I agree with Suzannah. While I think it’s inappropriate that Palin brought cookies into the meeting, I don’t think the answer to childhood nutrition issues is to ban sweets for special occasions. What’s served for school lunch is a greater issue and the reduction of PE is much more troublesome. Kids (and adults) need to learn how to live a healthy life while still being able to enjoy special treats on occasion.
-Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN

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leslie November 11, 2010 at 11:32 am

Hmmm…I am curious to find out when the last time you were in a 1st grade public school classroom? We celebrated “fall” last week, which included frosted cookies, rice crispy treats and extra-large lolly-pops….all in one day. The next day we had “birthday baker” which included a cupcake and ice cream for each child. You would be amazed at the vast amount of cookies/treats/cakes and candies these kids are eating. It is insane. I am all for a NO outside food provided from parents.

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bettina elias siegel November 15, 2010 at 11:28 am

Agreed – I think some parents have no idea what’s going on.

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Renee November 10, 2010 at 1:47 pm

I think it’s important to note that in the report the proposed new guidelines “would limit the amount of sweets in classroom parties and reduce the number of holiday and birthday celebrations.”

They aren’t banning them –they’re placing just the kinds of limits that Bri mentions. I just don’t understand how any normal person could be against such limits in today’s food climate. But then, I don’t consider Palin normal.

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Buttrflygrly November 11, 2010 at 11:21 am

@Renee: The problem is they don’t just limit it; they leave it up to individual schools who are then liable to take it completely away! My kids went to a school that did this very thing. And as Suzanna & Nutritioulicious said….they need to revamp the school lunch menu & stop taking away recess time & PE! It appears our children are going to boot camp now!

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goghmary December 1, 2010 at 6:56 pm

I bet you also fondly remember recess where you were able to run off the calories.

I also remember cupcakes at school fondly. The problem is the children of today get sweet treats all day long with no exercise. We were not planted in front of a television or computer for entertainment. TV wasn’t that good and there were no computers. There were also no sweets at home except for occasional birthday parties and dessert. There was also NO soda at home except for very special occasions.

Where we went wrong is we decided to make EVERYTHING a special occasion. Everyday and for each meal, sweets are provided. Everyday and for each meal soda is practically the sole beverage. I almost never see a baby without a cute little container filled with gold fish crackers, for that matter the mother always has a bucket of soda. Look back nostalgically but take off the rose colored glasses. We seldom got treats but exercised constantly.

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Table for Three November 10, 2010 at 9:53 am

Unbelievable. I could go on about how laissez-faire isn’t exactly a useful term in a public education setting, but what’s the point? She’s the epitome of anti-common sense run amok.

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Trista November 10, 2010 at 10:08 am

This was the second ignorant tweet made by Palin regarding the ban of these treats in the classroom. You can read more about her first comment here: http://www.foodallergyfamilies.blogspot.com. Not only is child obesity an issue but food allergies among children are on the rise as well. Several schools are banning these treats because many of them contain such common allergens as eggs, dairy, wheat, peanuts, and nuts. If an allergic child comes in contact with even a trace of one of these allergens it could be fatal. Based on the link Palin attached to her first tweet she had to have been well aware of these concerns.
Further more I would like to know what kind of example she thinks she is setting for these children by challenging the very same authority that they are told to respect.

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Greg Sadler November 10, 2010 at 10:21 am

This is one of those cases where I find the stances of both sides off-base.

It’s clear that Palin is making political hay out of distorting and oversimplifying the issues involved. Cookies as representative of laissez-faire is pretty laughable. That said, supporters of these sorts of food regulations are themselves a bit “tone-deaf”, and often resort to rather poor arguments.

Like Susannah, I’m all for healthier foods in schools in general, for getting rid of easy access to unhealthy foods — not to mention the pushing of unhelathy foods. But, 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.

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. Some don’t, and some do.

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Pat November 10, 2010 at 10:51 am

Since Palin is making a point about protecting “our freedoms”, well this makes just as much sense:

“I had to shake it up a little bit because I heard there is a debate going on in Pennsylvania over whether most governments allow people to smoke cigarette, chew tobacco in public buildings, that type of thing. So I brought dozens and dozens of cartons of cigarettes to these people.”

“You shouldn’t been making these decisions about where you can and can’t use tobacco. Should it be the government or should it be the people?”

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goghmary December 1, 2010 at 7:07 pm

I think people forget that we are the government. It is not a separate entity. We voted people into office who supposedly support our beliefs of what should be acceptable.

The question shouldn’t be “should it be the government or should it be the People” we are the people and the government.

My church may not support Rowe vs Wade but obviously the majority of voting people do, thank God. This law is in place because we changed the makeup of the government to ensure the separation of church and state.

As this question applies to cupcakes we the people are concerned that when we look at class pictures we see more obesity than we should. I have no school age children and no obese grandchildren…it doesn’t mean it doesn’t concern me. If these children got no treats at school I think it is safe to say they will get them at home anyway. Let the school be an island of sanity encouraging healthy life choices. Compare class photos from 40 years ago with class photos today…

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Shelley November 10, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Hmmmm, I don’t recall many obese kids when I was growing up and we ate Twinkies, cupcakes and white bread. Although I’m all for good nutritious foods and swapping out Twinkies for apple wedges with peanut butter, I don’t believe that food is the whole problem here. I’m pretty sure that when we were kids, we didn’t have computer games, Nintendo games or the Wii. We didn’t have cell phones to sit and text our friends all day. We played outside. We ran, climbed trees, road bikes, played softball, Frisbee and kick the can. All of these things require movement. The key word here is “movement.” That being said, I know we have to start somewhere but limiting their physical activity is also a sign of abuse. Now adays, more and more schools are eliminating PE classes for either cost reasons or not enough time. That means the kids have to sit, all day, at a desk without moving! More power to the organizations for better food choices in school but don’t forget the key word here, “movement!”

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Mama Grizzly November 10, 2010 at 9:49 pm

So now you’re saying that the government must tell our kids that they have to go outside and play!?! What about FREE CHOICE! If a kid wants to sit around and get fat in school that should be their right, enough with the “personal trainer state”!

And who do you expect to pay to replace all these PE classes that have been cut? More taxes I suppose! Why should I pay more so that some other person’s kid can get some exercise! SOCIALIST!

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Peta (EAThoboken) November 10, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I’m with Dr.Rubin on this one…she’s (Palin) getting too much publicity and it’s not only insulting, its also infuriating!

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Bri November 10, 2010 at 1:23 pm

She’s so tone-deaf in so many ways, it’s truly frightening.
The concern here is this: I like the IDEA that kids can have cookies or cupcakes on special occasions, like at the school holiday party (if their school allows holiday celebrations…a whole other can of worms we shan’t open) or on someone’s birthday. But as class sizes increase, it’s bound to be somebody’s birthday, oh, once a week. Seems like a lot of cupcakes if you add it up. Allergies are also a legitimate concern, though I’ve been vocal about my struggle with the fact that a strict allergy-friendly labels-only policy usually means the kids get stuck with something that’s loaded with preservatives and additives rather than a real cookie — you know, one made with sugar, butter, and flour.
If, however, the schools did something rational and said: Look, we’ll do a once-a-month celebration; we’ll have a treat one day a month and honor all the kids whose birthdays were in that month; and because we are not allowing homemade foods anyway, we’ll do it in the school cafeteria with a clearly labeled food product that’s friendly to the majority of our students; and parents can sign a permission form for it — that might cause riots from some, but frankly, it might be the only sane way to bridge the gaps. Because the issues are becoming so vast and so varied and so off-the-charts in their scope that it’s impossible to know whether a ban is even going to work, or whether it’s just going to be another way that we push food confusion on our kids, when we’re piling junk on their plates at lunchtime and taking away their exercise opportunities anyway.
And Sarah Palin has just personified laziness of thought by “solving” the problem with cookies. Can’t wait for her bid for the presidency.

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Melody Kolb November 10, 2010 at 4:02 pm

So now Sarah Palin is taking on school lunches. She never ceases to amaze me. I betcha’ there are many-a teacher out there that would appreciate no sugar served at school. I’m for that and I’m a taxpayer. She is a panderor and I suppose she may be running out of panderees. But school lunches? It just gives me another reason to think she’s clueless and to be afraid of 2012 because of all the people who think she isn’t.

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bettina elias siegel November 10, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Hey all – Love the comments that this post has generated, both here and on FB, and decided that I’d like to directly answer some of them. So take a look at TLT tomorrow for that post. – Bettina

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Clay Boggess November 10, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Obesity is caused mainly by students living a sedentary life style. Parents have also become lazy at parenting and have found the ‘ultimate baby sitter’ in TV and video games for their kids. Eating sugar cookies is just the icing on the cake.

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bettina elias siegel November 15, 2010 at 11:35 am

Clay – No question that the problem is bigger than any one thing – it’s not birthday cupcakes/cookies per se — but my feeling is, let’s tackle the easily-solved problems first, and this seems to fall into that category (for me, anyway). Thanks for commenting! – Bettina

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Karen November 8, 2014 at 2:42 pm

I realize that it’s been many years since this discussion was in full swing, but I would like to point out that current thinking in health research is that energy levels follow good nutrition. In other words, children with chronically poor eating habits are unlikely to have the physical stamina to run around the playground. Good physical health really does start in the kitchen. The junk food at school needs to go.

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Mrs. Q November 11, 2010 at 12:11 am

Another side to the “cupcake debate” is that bringing cupcakes to school for a birthday is a status symbol. At my school many kids are too poor to bring any kind of treat to school for their birthdays. I see kids brag about having cupcakes at school and other kids say they will too even though they won’t when their birthdays come around. I don’t know if they should be banned, but I do think that it’s more than “just” cupcakes because like all food there are psychological components underlying actions.

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Kim November 12, 2010 at 10:08 am

Mrs. Q makes a good point about the ability to provide birthday treats being a status symbol among students. I think this is a good argument for allowing individual schools to decide what’s right for their particular student population.

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bettina elias siegel November 15, 2010 at 11:16 am

Agreed – I hadn’t even thought about that angle. My blithe suggestion to go to the dollar store doesn’t take into account that not everyone can spend $20-$25 on trinkets. Thanks Kim and Mrs. Q for the important reminder.

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Green Eyed Cookie Monster November 11, 2010 at 12:58 am

Palin and Ayn Rand Paul would have us like this if they got their way:

“Chinese father punished for food safety activism”

http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/world/ci_16570911

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bettina elias siegel November 15, 2010 at 11:33 am

Green Eyed – wow, what a horrible story. Thanks for posting. – Bettina

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Laurie November 11, 2010 at 6:51 am

Sarah Palin aside – I’d like to weigh in on Pennsylvania and cupcakes at school. I am the principal in a small public school that has a similar policy to what Pennsylvania is proposing. We allow one celebration with sweets per month in the classroom. The teachers work with parents to coordinate one party for those that are having birthdays that month. In Kindergarten, the teacher serves a special pancake breakfast for students on birthdays. Its healthy and special. Creativity and planning make birthdays fun and healthy.

We have had this policy for a few years and it is working. Students choose healthy foods over sweets even when both are offered. Fresh fruits and veggies are especially popular. I am proud policy.

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bettina elias siegel November 15, 2010 at 11:31 am

Laurie: Can I send my kids to your school?? :-) Thanks for commenting. – Bettina

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Christina @ Spoonfed November 11, 2010 at 9:36 am

I think too many people miss the bigger point about birthday treats in school. And that is this: If it were just birthday treats in school, we’d be right to call foul. But it’s not. Far from it.

As I wrote in a post on my blog about Halloween candy: “It’s not just one day a year. It’s Halloween night and class parties and community events and then the winter holidays and Valentine’s Day and Easter and birthday parties and swimming class and soccer games and the bank and the shoe store and restaurants with kid menus and the grandparents’ house and anyplace else kids set foot, including, of course, school. The sugar culture is so strong, the highly processed foodstuffs so epidemic, that we no longer have the luxury of viewing these things in isolation. It’s not just a few Halloween treats or one blue cupcake. It’s a crushing pile of chemical-laden pseudo food. And at some point we just have to make it stop.”

To people who fondly recall their own childhoods filled with Twinkies and white bread: Yes, we all played outside more. But the food now is also very different than it was back then. It’s far more chemicalized and processed. And think about it: Did we have neon-frosted birthday cupcakes in school every week? Or Gatorade and donut holes after every soccer practice? Or party goody bags loaded with candy? Or Happy Meals for dinner on a regular basis?

No, of course not. But a lot of kids these days do. Kids face a very different food culture than we did. Greg above wrote: “provided we get away from the culture of ‘every day is special,’ it’s not as if you’d be exposing kids to unhealthy food all the time.” But see, that’s exactly the problem: We do have that culture, and without common-sense limits like the one proposed in Pennsylvania, it will only get worse.

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Keep it at home November 11, 2010 at 12:21 pm

I could not agree more with the above poster. I don’t think that vast majority of parents have the first clue what their kids actually eat at school. In kindergarten (early 70’s) we had a cardboard decorated cake with glitter sprinkles that the teacher whipped out when it was your birthday, you got a crown and everyone sang to you. We loved it! Maybe, just maybe, and it was more rare, a mom would bring in tiny cookies or mini cupcakes, not treats the size of your head from Costco. Kids did not have diabetes and food allergies like they do now. These are different times. And, let’s not forget, sharing should be about SHARING. If some kids are going to be left out of the treat because of some dietary issue, the teacher should role model good citizenship and respect for others and celebrate in a different way. Otherwise we are raising a generation of narcissistic children who think they’re entitled to what they want at anyone else’s expense. Me, I’d rather raise a compassionate, empathetic, child who can always eat treats at home with her family and friends should *I* choose to provide them.

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bettina elias siegel November 15, 2010 at 11:18 am

Well said, Keep it at home! Thanks for the comment. – Bettina

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tg miami November 11, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Why does Sarah Palin want your kids to be fat? Why does Sarah Palin want your kids to be addicted to junk food? Why does Sarah Palin hate the idea of having healthy kids?

Why does Sarah Palin encourage people to have diets that will guarantee they get diabetes????????????/

This is a perfect example of idiotic dogma. The taxpayer ends up paying the healthcare bill for all these unhealthy, fat people who get diabetes.

Sarah Palin a MORON.

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Marly November 11, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I think I’ve found some kindred spirits on this blog. Great comments! I agree with you all. My daughter’s teachers even handed out sweets for kids when they did certain things in the classroom. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy sweets, but we ration them here at home. I love to bake and we are always trying new recipes, but we’re also vegan and try to be healthy and not have a lot of snack foods. Well, thanks for the opportunity to chime in and thanks for this post!

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bettina elias siegel November 15, 2010 at 11:17 am

Welcome, Marly! Please visit and comment often! – Bettina

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Julie @ LifeSpace.com November 11, 2010 at 11:11 pm

I completely agree with – Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN. Banning sweets even occasionally is not a real solution to the child’s nutrition problem.

Julie
LifeSpace Nutrition

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laura November 27, 2010 at 2:34 pm

I just want Sarah Palin to stop talking. Her interest is not in the children or their health, only herself.

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Tshane3000 March 4, 2011 at 12:53 am

Is it any wonder Bill Maher said “Sarah Palin Twittering is a redundancy”?

This woman has no clue that people actually need food and money when they don’t have enough. She exemplifies Patrick the Starfish’s (from Spongebob Squarepants–shockingly, a fount of wisdom once in a while!) gem:

“Stupid people are blissfully unaware of just how stupid they really are.” (droooooooooollll)

She’s a pathetic nattering nabob, the Queen of Nothing Good. I guess the difference between her and a pimple is makeup. Lead the Tea Party off the cliff! Run, run, run in 2012! Please, let’s see how a laughingstock nincompoop recovers from a steep drop.

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Tshane3000 March 4, 2011 at 1:00 am

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin: “I can see Russia from my porch!”

Yeah, and I can see 20 obese kids from mine.

Palin: “You shouldn’t been making these decisions about what you can eat at the school. Should it be the government or should it be the parents?”

Me: Sane people support good nutrition, but don’t mind a few cookies. The govt is changing its nutritional guidelines and apparently weeding out the subsidies of Big Agriculture to feed greasy chicken fingers and King Corn to ever more obese kids.

I’m for sitting on people’s front lawns to stop them from teaching their kids to be fat like them. Get up and exercise, America! Walk around your block, plant a tree and pick an apple off your neighbor’s!

Not to mention, support good wages (Hello! Unions are good!) so working poor don’t have to make poor food choices–grease 1 or grease 2 over expensive fruit and veggies.

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Cody March 14, 2012 at 10:46 am

If you “parents” don’t want to see your child become obese then make your child join a sports team or some kind of physical activity. IT’S THE PARENT’S FAULT! Also children above 13 years old should be able to choose what is good and bad for their body, limiting cupcakes is not the answer, teaching kids about nutrition is.

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