Arizona, Gutting Federal Rules, Says ALL School Fundraisers Can Sell Junk Food

Well, I thought my own home state of Texas was pretty backward, what with our new Agriculture Commissioner’s plan to bring deep fat fryers back into our schools, but now this news comes out of Arizona: the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Diane Douglas, has just announced that she intends to use the “bake sale” loophole in the federal Smart Snacks rules to allow Arizona’s schools to fundraise with junk food every single day of the school year.

Douglas is quoted in Tucson Weekly as saying:

“Forcing parents and other supporters of schools to only offer federally approved food and snacks at fund-raisers is a perfect example of the overreach of government and intrusion into local control.  I have ordered effective immediately, that the ADE Health and Nutrition Services division grant exemptions for all fund-raisers for both traditional public schools and charter public schools.”

Daily fare in Arizona schools?
Daily fare in Arizona schools?

As you may remember, during the 2010 deliberations over the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, the legislation which eventually led to the Smart Snacks rules, right wing politicians like Sarah Palin and conservative outlets like Fox News were erroneously claiming that the law would “ban bake sales at schools.”  Sensing a public relations disaster on his hands, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote a letter to Congress reassuring legislators that the USDA would “consider special exemptions for occasional school-sponsored fundraisers such as bake sales.” He later also wrote a piece for the Huffington Post to inform the public that:

USDA has given states complete authority to set policies on fundraisers and bake sales that work for them. States are free to allow fundraisers and bake sales featuring foods and beverages that don’t meet the new standards during the school day if they choose. They, not USDA, are responsible for determining the number and the frequency of these events each year.

Since the Smart Snacks rules went into effect last summer, some states have used this discretion in a measured way, either by disallowing all junk food fundraising or granting just a few days a year for such sales.  But in conservative-leaning states, the Smart Snacks loophole has given politicians the perfect vehicle to show their general disdain for federal regulation, regardless of the consequences for student health.

Georgia, for example, allows 30 three-day fundraisers, which amounts to one-half of the school year.  But the state that’s really giving Arizona a run for its money in this perverse competition is Oklahoma, which now allows 30 fundraisers a year, each lasting up to 14 days . . .  or 420 days a year.  (Way to go, Oklahoma! You’ve not only flouted federal rules but also the principles of basic math!)

When I was given my opportunity to “interview” USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon late last year,  I asked him about this very issue.  My question was:

The Smart Snacks rules have been a huge step forward in getting junk food off of school campuses.  However, as you know, when the rules were in draft form, the USDA floated two competing proposals for “exempt fundraisers.”  In the first proposal, states would have had to seek USDA approval of whatever maximum number they chose, while in the second proposal, states would be given complete discretion, with no federal oversight.  The USDA opted for the latter, and now some states are exploiting this loophole to the fullest.  For example,Georgia recently voted to allow its schools to hold 30 junk food fundraisers a year, each lasting up to three days, which means any junk food may be sold to Georgia kids during the school day for fully one-half of the school year.  What do you think about states like Georgia and, in retrospect, does the USDA now regret giving states so much autonomy?

Mr. Concannon’s reply:

. . . .USDA has provided flexibility for states to manage fundraisers at the state level. This is a local decision, as USDA understands that fundraisers are time-honored traditions that support local school activities, including class trips, athletic programs and the purchase of school supplies. States also have the flexibility to modify their fundraising policy at any time during the school year should they wish to do so, or in future years. USDA/FNS has been and will continue to work with our  State partners to reach out to schools and other stakeholders in the school community to provide training, technical assistance and resources to ensure that they understand the new rules, and have the tools and information they need to succeed.

In other words, a non-answer answer.

[Editorial update (2/18/15):  According to this report, Arizona PTAs are thrilled to resume making money off of kids’ health.  Lovely.  Hat tip: Casey Hinds of US Healthy Kids. ]

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“Cupcake Amnesty:” Childhood Obesity and the Political Divide

american cupcakeThis morning in Austin, our state’s newly elected Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is holding a press conference to announce his first official act in office.  But Miller won’t use the occasion to address Texas’s troubling water shortage, which he had promised to make his “top priority” if elected, nor will he discuss any other issue of pressing concern to the state’s farmers or economy.

Rather, Miller will kick off his four-year term as Agriculture Commissioner by “declaring amnesty for cupcakes across the state of Texas.”  According to Miller’s press release, “We want families, teachers and school districts in Texas to know the Texas Department of Agriculture has abolished all rules and guidelines that would stop a parent from bringing cupcakes to school.  This act is about providing local control to our communities.”

Whatever you think of Miller’s administrative priorities, there’s actually no legal need to “declare amnesty” for school cupcakes here in Texas.  A parent or grandparent already has the right to bring cupcakes (or any other food) to a school birthday party or classroom celebration, a right guaranteed by our state legislature with the 2005 passage of “Lauren’s Law,” better known as the “Safe Cupcake Amendment.”

So no cupcake-related “rules or guidelines” were in fact “abolished” by the Texas Department of Agriculture, which oversees our state’s child nutrition programs, but Miller likely cares little about the specifics.  His cupcake stunt is more likely a response to the new federal Smart Snacks rules, which set forth stringent nutritional standards for foods and beverages sold to children during the school day, apart from the school meal. Nothing in the Smart Snacks rules affects classroom or birthday treats (since they’re not offered for sale) but the rules did effectively put an end to junk food fundraising during school hours, a development which hasn’t been popular with some Texans.

Given that Miller was once named the “second most conservative” member of the Texas legislature – not an easy status to achieve in these parts — it’s not surprising that he wants to be the standard-bearer for local control against a meddling federal government’s anti-childhood obesity measures.  And Miller isn’t even the first conservative to raise aloft a classroom birthday treat to rail against governmental interference.  Sarah Palin made headlines back in 2010 when she brought 200 sugar cookies to a Pennsylvania fundraiser to protest that state’s proposed guidelines for classroom parties, which would encourage parents to send in healthy snacks like fruits or vegetables.  Palin tweeted that day: “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!”

The irony, of course, is that the states most adversely affected by the obesity crisis (i.e., conservative Southern states) are often the least amenable to policies which might ameliorate that crisis.  This phenomenon is consistent with a 2011 Pew Research Center poll which found that 80% of liberal Democrats felt the government should play a “significant role” in fighting childhood obesity while only 37% of conservative Republicans and 33% of those aligned with the Tea Party agreed with that statement.  (Interestingly, the ethnic groups most affected by obesity – Hispanics and African Americans  – were far more likely than whites (89% and 74% versus 49%, respectively) to support governmental intervention.)

These differing political philosophies will matter greatly in the year ahead, when the Republican-controlled Congress will square off against the Obama White House over a likely effort to permanently weaken school food nutritional standards.  In leading a similar campaign during the 2015 appropriations process last year, Rep. Robert Adherholt (R-AL) predictably couched the rolling back of the standards as a matter of creating “flexibility” in onerous federal regulations and returning local control to school districts.  But let’s be blunt: many of the states most ardently in support of “local control” seem to be doing the least effective job in combatting childhood obesity, if statistics are any guide.

For example, the conservative National Review gleefully declared Miller’s cupcake amnesty announcement to be “further proof that Texas is the greatest state in the union.”  No good Texan would never argue with his or her state’s greatness, but we do also hold the distinction of ranking fifth in the union for obesity among high school students, and thirteenth in the union for our climbing diabetes rate, which is predicted to reach almost three million cases by 2030.  Over 36% of our kids aged 10-17 are overweight or obese, and that number is likely to grow as they age:  in 2009, almost 67% of Texas adults were either overweight or obese, a figure which could reach an astonishing 75% by the year 2040, if present rates persist.

Against that backdrop, let’s examine those unnecessarily “pardoned” birthday cupcakes a little more closely.  In my children’s crowded Texas public elementary school classrooms (some of which had up to 27 kids), students’ birthdays could be celebrated well over 20 times a year.  Putting aside all the other sugary treats kids receive at school from teacher rewards or classroom parties, not to mention illegal junk food fundraising, that’s 6,000 extra calories per child per year (20 x 300 calories). Multiply that figure by six years of elementary school and, assuming a pound of fat equals 3,500 calories, a child in Texas public school could gain over 10 extra pounds from birthday cupcakes alone.

The debate over the proper role of government will rage eternally, of course.  But when it relates to child nutrition, the argument is not just theoretical.  Sid Miller can polish his conservative bona fides by granting “amnesty” to cupcakes, but wrongheaded policies relating to school meal standards and classroom junk food adversely affect the health of real children every day.  When, down the road, those policies manifest themselves in the form of obesity-related diseases and shorter lifespans for those children, I won’t be as generous as Mr. Miller in handing out pardons.

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Food In the Classroom: Teachers Speak Out

The Manifesto! Click to enlarge it - copy and share it if you like.

Yesterday’s manifesto against food in the classroom, which I pounded out at my keyboard in a fit of complete frustration and anger, has clearly resonated with a lot of people.  With three exceptions (two of which I couldn’t print because they contained such foul language), comments posted here and on Twitter and Facebook have uniformly been in favor of getting food rewards and birthday treats out of our schools.

And many readers, like one named LA, wrote in to say, “Thank you for this. I thought I was one of the few parents who felt this way.”

Clearly not.

The other notable development is that I’m starting to hear from teachers.  Just as when I write about school food reform, I welcome comments and guest posts from school food service workers sharing their unique perspective, it’s been illuminating to hear from educators about this issue.  Here’s a sampling.

From Tina B:

I am a teacher, and while I admit I made the mistake of food rewards early in my career, I learned many years ago to stop the practice. I now have a treasure box filled with party favor trinkets items and a huge stash of stickers that I happily use instead. . . .

As for Halloween and Valentine parties, I allow sweets to be brought into the class. Candy treats are passed out at the end of the day (roughly the last 40 minutes or so) and I encourage the children to take most of their treats home. Because I teach in a poor district there usually isn’t that much to pass out anyway.

But the birthday celebrations are a completely different story!!!  . . . .

In recent years I have sent home letters to parents asking that birthdays be sweet free or to send in fruit or veggies, but since other teachers don’t have this class policy I really can’t enforce my requests. Parents of multi aged children (meaning kids in multiple grade levels and classrooms) can never remember which teacher has this policy, or just tune it out all together. Then there are the parents that have the attitude no one is going to tell me what to do when it comes to my kid. Parents will send in cupcakes for all, Capri Sun or the plastic bottles of colored who knows what, as well as bags of chips and bags of candy.

I have had parents go to the principal to complain about me because I absolutely refused a Costco sized sheet cake and two liters of Coke. The parent brought no plates or serving utensils for me, and I have learned from experience that to carve up a sheet cake into 28 peices and pour 28 cups of soda takes almost 45 minutes from start to finish and then the clean up process as well.

I physically cringe when I see all this junk arrive. First, the children see this bounty arrive and then proceed to ask about it all day long. “When are we going to eat cake?” becomes the mantra for the entire day. I’ll be in the middle of a math lessen and a child will raise their hand to ask “is it time for cake?”! Because I do not want to have 28 sugar crazed children in my room I save this stuff for literally the last 20 minutes of the day.

Another reason why I cringe when it arrives is because I myself have a sweet tooth and even when I stand there and tell myself that I will not eat that, I will not eat that, under no circumstances am i going to eat that…I almost always crack and eat the cake. :( I have learned for myself that the best way for me to eat healthy is the total removal of all temptation. Now I am a 40 year old woman and have a hard time refusing the cake, so really, what are the odds of a child saying no? We can teach our children to eat healthy so they have healthy bodies and minds, but cake is yummy, and temptation combined with seeing all the other kids eating will result in our kids cracking every time. . . .

From a reader who goes by “c:”

When teachers try to say no to parents with cupcakes, we get labeled as the mean teachers. It’s tough to stand up to parents on this issue and risk a grudge when we need those parents to work as partners with us to help their children succeed academically. Parents are often looking for something to dislike us for, and saying, “No, I won’t let you serve cupcakes to the class for your child’s birthday, ” is often very hard to say when you know you also need to say, “Mrs. Smith, I would like to have your child assessed for speech.” Just a different perspective to keep in mind.

c also added in another comment:

As a teacher who insists the food in my class is rarely present, healthy, and safe for everyone, I applaud this article. For every 1 parent who is sick of the unhealthy foods, there are 5 who complain when the teacher stops serving it. It’s amazing how many complaints I have fielded from parents who think it’s mean of me to have a party of fruits and veggies with no cookies, cupcakes, or other foods that will send my food allergic kids into anaphylaxis or diabetic kids into shock. Parents think kids NEED sugar to have a fun class party. I have had parents who, even after they have been told no, will still show up without permission with 30 cupcakes and plop them in my arms with a satisfied look on their face, thinking that now that the kids have seen them, I have to serve them. This debate has two sides to it – please remember that there are plenty of teachers who are really extremely tired of having 30 kids hopped up on sugar in their classrooms and parents demanding that it happen on a regular basis.

Parental push back, especially when it comes to birthday treats*, is a real issue.  Here in Texas, our legislature actually passed a “safe cupcake amendment” to protect parents’ rights to bring in sweets for their kids’ birthdays.  And I personally know one parent who was vilified at her children’s school when she dared question the birthday treat practice.  So my sympathy is with well-meaning teachers on the receiving end of some intense parental anger when they try to curb classroom sweets.  (By the way, for an interesting examination of why parents get so riled up over this issue, be sure to check out this post on Real Mom Nutrition (“For The Love of Cupcakes“) and the article she discusses there: “Food Nazis Invade First Grade.”)

But I want to end on a positive note.  Two days before I published my manifesto, a comment happened to come in on a much older Lunch Tray post (“Sarah Palin and Birthday Treats Redux“) about Sarah Palin’s 2010 publicity stunt of bringing sugar cookies to a Pennsylvania school to protest proposed “Nanny state” school nutrition guidelines.  That post turned into a distillation of my many arguments against in-class treats, and a reader named Annemarie, a teacher, had this to say:

Wow. so, I’m having a sort of mini food revolution myself, personally, and this blog comes at such a great time. I’m absolutely a foodie, and one of the hardest parts of trying to eat more healthily is fitting my foodie lifestyle into healthy eating. More importantly, I’m a mother now, to a beautiful almost-two year old, and eating right has suddenly become so much more important. People are encouraging my attempt at losing the ton of weight I want to lose, and it’s hard to explain to them that this isn’t about losing weight so much as its about changing my entire lifestyle when it comes to eating and feeding my family.

The reason I’m responding to this, though, is that i have a confession to make. I am a teacher of sixth graders, and I must say that in my seven years of teaching it never occurred to me to think past the reception of the treat. What I mean is I knew treats made my students happy. I bring treats in about five times a year, if that, although the clemtines I give them for PSSA testing some don’t consider a treat. We have a pizza party to celebrate reading Olympics, and every time we have a fundraising competition the winning team gets an ice cream party (that I have nothing to do with!). It never occurred to me the violation I was committing, and I truly mean that. My job is to educate, and yes, providing treats here and there is great. Bt reading these comments and this article has completely changed the way I’m viewing my treat-giving! It never occur to me that i Might have students who have parents desperately trying to save them by teaching them proper nutrition, and it never occurred to me that providing treats might interfere with that.

I’m a little confused by some comments – no one is entitled to cupcakes, and I think, honestly, the idea of getting creative with treats for the classroom and using non-food rewards is so important. I can’t wait to try and think of something clever for our next reward!

If that doesn’t make you feel hopeful . . . .


* A while back, I was stressing about celebrating my own child’s birthday in the classroom and TLT readers came up with many fantastic, food-free ideas:  “A Happy Ending to the Classroom Birthday Treat Dilemma.”

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Childhood Obesity and National Security: Part Two of My Interview with “Mission Readiness”

Yesterday I posted Part One of my interview with retired Air Force General Norman Seip of “Mission Readiness,” a bipartisan group of retired senior military officers concerned that 75% of American youth aged 17-24 are currently unfit to serve in the armed forces.  Obesity is the leading medical reason why potential recruits are disqualified, with nine million 17-to 24-year-olds (or 27% of all young adults) weighing too much for military service.   This finding prompted Mission Readiness to issue last year a seminal report on childhood obesity, “Too Fat to Fight.”

In Part One of our interview, General Seip and I discussed the role of schools and school food in combating obesity.  Today, in Part Two, we move on to other topics related to the obesity epidemic and how to reverse it:

TLT:  In “Too Fat to Fight,” Mission Readiness mentions using “school based programs that enlist parents in helping children adopt life long changes in their eating and exercise habits.”  Can you tell us which programs Mission Readiness supports?

GNS: We stay away from any particular program because if we latch onto one, we may lose our status as a bipartisan, nonprofit, neutral organization.  But when we cross aisles between Democrat and Republican, we open a door.  We like to call ourselves “unexpected messengers” who can open a door and then when they turn to us and say, “Well, what programs do you support?,” we point to experts who can talk to these representatives, and then we step away.

TLT:  But I noted that your report does mention some specific programs, like Head Start?

GNS: We do cite in “Too Fat to Fight” a couple of programs that seem to have had good results.  What we’d like to see with the passage of the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act is a concerted effort by schools — whether at the state or local level  — to find the best practices that work for their system, their resources, and the type of programs they already have in place.

TLT:  Given that Mission Readiness seems to focus on early childhood intervention to combat a variety of social ills (e.g., crime, lack of adequate education), do you think that’s also the best time to address obesity?  Do you think, for example, that high school kids might be a lost cause?

GNS: I’m a believer that if you don’t get the zero-to-five years right, you’re going to chase it the rest of your life.  And that’s not

General Norman Seip (ret.)

just from the standpoint of learning how to read, or how to follow rules and all that, but learning how to have a healthy lifestyle.  We want to build a physically, morally and mentally strong person, so when they do reach twelfth grade and hopefully graduate, they’re ready for the workforce.  Our take is that regardless of whether they join the military or not, it’s important for our nation to have a workforce that can compete in the global economy.

So I say start it at the earliest age.  And you’ve got to get the parents involved.  Many of them are very lacking in family-raising capabilities because they came from homes that didn’t have traditional families.  You have to get the foundation right with the family, the school, and the individual, because if you don’t have the foundation right, then many times people slip through that foundation because they’re just not capable of keeping up.

TLT:  I know that Mission Readiness is primarily concerned with improving the readiness of recruits for the military, but I’d be curious to know how you feel about the food served to those already enlisted?  Do you think the military is doing a good job feeding our troops?

GNS: There’s always room for improvement but I will tell you I was just at one of my old bases for a reunion and when you go into that dining facility, at each food station there’s a card that gives you a red, green or yellow traffic light.  We’re teaching our kids who come through BMT [basic military training] and into their first assignments the importance of nutrition and the importance of healthy choices.  So if you want a red item, take it —  we’re not the Food Nazis — but then counter it with some green items.  That traffic light system is used across the armed services and I’ve been very impressed with what the services have done to promote a healthy lifestyle on base.

TLT:  But I did read that something like 1,200 enlistees are discharged each year for being overweight.  I wonder how that’s possible given the military lifestyle, which I assume is pretty rigorous?

GNS: Obviously, we’d like a person to have a healthy lifestyle 24/7, 365 days a year, based on the rigor we expect of them in their jobs.  But if you’re just teetering on the line when you walk in, and if you’re only being tested for physical fitness twice a year, it’s possible to be overweight. We want to give everyone an opportunity to achieve their professional goals, and being asked to leave the military because you’re overweight or not physically fit is just so sad. We’re going out of our way to help you, so even if you don’t pass your physical fitness test, you’re given professional guidance, some of it one-on-one.  We give everyone an opportunity to lose that weight because we have a lot invested in you and we don’t want to lose you.  But sometimes we do reach a point where if we’re spending 90% of our time on 1% of the population, we have to part ways.

Fortunately, with the economy the way it is, we have no problem meeting our recruiting goals. The quality of folks walking in is the highest it’s ever been.

TLT:  Is that true?  You’re not worried right now about the pool of potential recruits?

GNS: Right now, we’re turning people away, and the scores on the tests across all of the services are the highest they’ve ever been. But as I tell people, building your recruiting strategy on the economy is not a good strategy.  Someday the economy is going to get better, the job market is going to open up, and we want the biggest pool of available people out there so that when we compete against industry, there are enough good candidates for everyone.

TLT:  You said earlier that Mission Readiness strives to be bipartisan, so if this is too partisan a question, let me know.  First Lady Michelle Obama has been praised for her Let’s Move! initiative, but some politicians on the far right, like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, have accused her of  creating a Nanny State with her programs.  Does Mission Readiness generally support the Let’s Move! initiative?

GNS: The First Lady wanted a national security pitch with her program and we stood side by side with her. Obviously, we like what she’s doing. What’s not to like about trying to make our children potentially outlive us and be healthier?

I think the First Lady’s focus on child nutrition — as well as her focus on our military families — has been very worthy and brings light to the subject.  So even if you don’t like it, at least a debate can go on.  If nothing else, you can educate more people who are unaware that there are 9 million 17-24 year olds who are an average 32 pounds overweight.  We support anyone who stands up there with a comprehensive program to combat obesity.

TLT:  I’ll end with a big picture question.  Mission Readiness mentions in its report David Kessler’s The End of Overeating. That book examines how incredibly addictive some foods are and how hardwired we are to want them.  And there are so many other deep-seated roots to the obesity problem —  relentless marketing, what goes on in the home, etc.  So, do you still feel optimistic?  Do you think the obesity epidemic in the United States is something we can actually reverse?

GNS: I think we can, but I think it’s a question of priorities. If all of a sudden the American public wakes up and says, this is important to us, I guarantee that it can be done.  But when you’re worried about jobs or the price of gas at the pump, nutrition takes a back seat, and I understand that.

We look at this as a journey.  It took us ten years to go from only one state having 40% or more of its young people obese, to having, I think, thirty-nine such states.  It will certainly take us more than ten years to move that marker back.  It’s going to take Congress, our local politicians, our leadership, our families to say, OK, we have to go after this.

And when that happens, we’re going to march.

* * *

I’m very grateful to Mission Readiness for making General Seip available for an interview, and I thank the General for the time he took out of his schedule to speak with me.

If you’d like to learn more about Mission Readiness, its website is here.  Be sure to also read “Too Fat to Fight,” which not only addresses the role of obesity in national security, but also provides comprehensive information and state-by-state statistics on the present state of childhood obesity in America.



Don’t Make Me Eat My Words: A Plea for Help from TLT Readers

There was a while back there when it seemed like my sole purpose in life was to banish the birthday treat from school classrooms.

I discussed the issue during my very first week of writing The Lunch Tray.  I wrote about it some more when a libertarian reader took me on.  It came up again when Sarah Palin decried one school’s efforts to ban birthday treats, and again when I was flooded with reader comments on that post. I wrote about banning birthday treats for my local free newspaper.  I guest posted about it on The Wellness Bitch.  I was even quoted on the issue by the Atlantic Monthly.

No one can claim I haven’t been pretty straightforward about my views.

Well, guess what?  My daughter’s birthday is next week and she really wants me to bring sweet treats to school.  I mean, she really, really, really wants me to.  Sigh.

I just can’t do it, of course.  I’m willing to cop to a little hypocrisy now and then (remember my confession about the Grapple?) but one candid cell phone photo of me toting birthday cupcakes to school would pretty much end my blogging career, and rightfully so.

I understand my daughter’s desire to have me bring to class something to commemorate her special day and I’m totally willing to bring any kind of  non-food treat.  I’m even willing to spend a little more  money than I normally would to make her happy while sticking by my principles.  But what item(s) fit the bill?

This is where you come in, Lunch Tray readers.  I have five short days to figure this out and really need your help.  But before you answer, keep in mind that these are sophisticated fifth graders.  The old decorated-pencil-and-sticker thing is not going to cut it.


[Ed. Update:  TLT readers totally came through!  Read “A Happy Ending to the Classroom Birthday Treat Dilemma.”]

J.O. Defends M.O., Calls Sarah Palin a “Froot Loop”

Well, this put a smile on my face on a Monday morning.

In a recent interview with Associated Press Food Editor J.M. Hirsch (TLT’s friend from “Lunch Box Blues” and High Flavor Low Labor), celebrity chef Jamie Oliver had some choice words for Sarah Palin for criticizing Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood obesity efforts.

According to the AP interview, reprinted at the Huffington Post, Oliver said the U.S. is in a “really dark moment” when it comes to children’s health, and that getting healthy foods to kids is a civil rights issue.

He said he doesn’t have much faith that government will lead the way, but said the Obama administration is on the right track.  Palin, in contrast, “clearly on this issue is a Froot Loop,” he said.

Well put, Jamie!



ObFo: Huckabee Scolds Fellow Republicans, Defends Let’s Move!

If you want to know anything about the Obama White House relating to food, from the administration’s agricultural policy to what dessert is being served at the next state dinner, Obama Foodorama is the blog you’re looking for.

Yesterday ObFo had two interesting posts on Let’s Move!, First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to combate childhood obesity.

The first post relates to the far right’s frequent attacks on Mrs. Obama’s program, coming from folks like Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Bachmann.  I’ve often written here that such attacks have only to do with the messenger and nothing to do with the message.  (Take this thought experiment:  would anyone on the right be attacking Laura Bush, for example, had she adopted childhood obesity as her cause and offered up the exact same proposals?)

Well, recently stepping up to the plate to defend Mrs. Obama was none other than former Arkansas governor and 2008 (2012?) Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee (who himself successfully battled obesity, losing over 100 pounds).  Noting that Mrs. Obama’s message is actually right in line with the right wing emphasis on personal responsibility over governmental intervention, Huckabee said, “Rather than us condemn Michelle Obama, I think we ought to be thanking her and praising her for what she’s done.”   Yay, Mike!  Read all of Huckabee’s comments at ObFo here.

On a related note, ObFo has a recap of White House chef (and TLT’s favorite food hottie!) Sam Kass’s recent speech about the accomplishments achieved in first year of Let’s Move! and what’s ahead for the future.  You can read that here.


Wall Street Journal Plays Gotcha with Sarah Palin on Obesity Issue

Over the TLT winter break, the Wall Street Journal editorial page did a nice job of skewering Sarah Palin for her recent, well-publicized attacks on Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood obesity efforts, all in the name of “personal freedom.”

As I wrote here a few weeks ago, coming down on the First Lady for her concern over what is arguably our nation’s number one health crisis seemed

about as rational to me as attacking former First Lady Laura Bush for ‘meddling in my child’s education’ or Lady Bird Johnson for ‘thinking she can tell us what flowers to plant on our highways.’

Apparently the editorial board of the WSJ agrees, writing:

No one hates the nanny state more than we do, but Mrs. Obama isn’t exactly ordering up Lenin’s Young Pioneers. Adults do have an obligation to teach children how to live, and that includes adults who are role models by dint of their national prominence. JFK asked kids to do chinups for the Presidential Fitness Award, and Nancy Reagan asked them to ‘just say no’ to drugs.

The WSJ then played a nice little game of gotcha, unearthing this passage from none other than then-Alaska-governor Palin’s 2009 State of the State address:

Health-care reform on an individual basis is often just this simple: We could save a lot of money and a lot of grief by making smarter choices.  It starts by ending destructive habits and beginning healthy habits in eating and exercise.

I don’t know about you, but just reading that deeply offensive passage makes me fear for my personal freedoms.  To quote Ms. Palin (in response to similar, pro-health statements by Ms. Obama): “Just leave us alone, get off our back, and allow us as individuals to exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions.”


[You can read more at the Time magazine’s Swampland blog.  Thanks to San Francisco school food reformer Dana Woldow for the tip.]

Sarah Palin Attacks First Lady Michelle Obama’s Anti-Obesity Efforts

A few weeks ago I reported on former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s protest against a proposed Pennsylvania regulation that would restrict sugary treats in public schools.  Palin must have gotten some political traction (or just valuable publicity) with this gambit, because she’s once again taking an odd “anti-anti-obesity” stance in the name of “personal freedom.”

According to the Huffington Post, Palin attacked First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign on Laura Ingraham’s radio show last week.  She’s quoted as saying:

Take her anti-obesity thing that she is on. She is on this kick, right. What she is telling us is she cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat. And I know I’m going to be again criticized for bringing this up, but instead of a government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us according to some politician or politician’s wife priorities, just leave us alone, get off our back, and allow us as individuals to exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions and then our country gets back on the right track.

Just as I’d opined that Palin’s sugar cookie stunt seemed tone deaf in an age of rising childhood obesity (and skyrocketing obesity-related health care costs), the HuffPo also questions the wisdom of taking on the First Lady over this issue:

. . . the apparent glee she takes in attacking the first lady remains surprising, at least politically. Among the deficits in public opinion that Palin suffers are pretty harsh favorability ratings among female voters. Going after the first lady (who remains relatively beloved by voters) doesn’t help that matter. Doing it over something as benign as trying to help children fight obesity seems confused.

But Palin isn’t alone in trying to make political hay out of Ms. Obama’s anti-obesity efforts.  Some time ago, I reported here about a professor who hoped to prove that he could lose weight on a diet consisting solely of junk food like Twinkies.  When the results of that study were recently released, conservative shock jock Rush Limbaugh had a field day with the story and, like Palin, took a few jibes at the First Lady:

. . . Michelle Obama’s on this big obesity kick, right?  Gotta eat healthy stuff, gotta eat the garbage that she grows in the garden, nothing but fruits and vegetables. . . . I know liberals lie, and if Michelle Obama’s gonna be out there ripping into “food desserts” and saying, “This is why people are fat,” I know it’s not true.

I confess it’s hard for me to get into the mindset that sees Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign as encroaching on personal freedom.  Absent pre-existing political animus toward the Obamas (which of course is at work here), that view seems about as rational to me as attacking former First Lady Laura Bush for “meddling in my child’s education” or Lady Bird Johnson for “thinking she can tell us what flowers to plant on our highways.”

But clearly this tactic speaks to some portion of Palin’s constituency.  The woman is nothing if not politically savvy, and I’m guessing we can expect a lot more of this sort of thing in the future.

[Ed. Note:  a nice coda to this post is this Washington Post piece from Saturday, “The New Front in the Culture Wars: Food.” More on this piece later, and thanks to writer Jenny Johnson for sending it my way.]

My Guest Post on The Wellness Bitch

We love the Wellness Bitch around here – a foul-mouthed, take-no-prisoners blogger who specializes in sending out wake-up calls on various health-related issues that are often a much-needed slap in the face.

Last week the WB, aka Jen Maidenberg, asked if I’d write a guest post summarizing my views on the birthday cupcake issue.  TLT readers may feel — especially after Sarah Palin’s latest hijinks — that I’ve already beaten that poor cupcake into oblivion (or at least into a mush of crumbs and icing), but when the WB asks you to do something, there is but one acceptable reply . . .

Yes, ma’am!

Here, then, is my birthday cupcake guest post on The Wellness Bitch.  And to regular readers of TLT, sorry for the repetition.

Sarah Palin and Birthday Sweets Redux

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.

*  *  *

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.  :-)

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

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.]