I was reading this article the other day about how many states are changing the rules about snacks, junk food, candy for fundraisers, and school lunch programs to address the “obesity crisis.” And it hit me: why did it take anxiety about fat kids for the schools to address the way that they’re feeding kids while they’re in school?
School districts across the country have been taking steps to make food in schools healthier because of new federal guidelines and awareness that a growing number of children are overweight.
In California, deep fryers have been banned, so chicken nuggets and fries are now baked. Sweet tea is off the menu in one Alabama school. In New Jersey, 20-ounce sports drinks have been cut back to 12 ounces.
Food and beverage companies have scrambled to offer healthier alternatives in school cafeterias and vending machines, and some of the changes have been met with a shrug by students. The whole-wheat chocolate-chip cookies? “Surprisingly, the kids have kind of embraced them,” said Laura Jacobo, director of food services at Woodlake Union schools in California.
You know, it’s not just fat kids who benefit from better nutrition. ALL kids benefit from fewer fried foods, fewer sugary drinks, more fruits and vegetables, and candy as a treat rather than an everyday occurrence. What does it say about the way that this country views fat and health being linked that nobody really made a concerted effort to feed kids better as long as they stayed thin?
The federal guidelines, by all accounts, are not only antiquated but based more on what’s beneficial for farmers who benefit from agricultural subsidies than what’s beneficial for children. Which is the way a number of food assistance programs work (they don’t call it “government cheese” for nothing). In addition, according to Fast Food Nation, school lunch programs often get substandard food through federal programs designed for farmers.
Add to that the vending machines and candy sales that have proliferated in the past 20 years or so as school funding gets cut (not to mention the ads that kids are barraged with) and school districts have to make up the money somewhere.
And look! Who’s been holding back changes to the federal school nutrition guidelines that would allow the federal government to issue guidelines for food sold outside the cafeteria, which is currently left to the states?
A bill sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, that is pending in Congress would authorize the Department of Agriculture to update its rules for what could be sold at schools throughout the day. Several previous attempts by Senator Harkin have failed because of opposition from the food and beverage industry.
This time around, however, the American Beverage Association, which represents the soda industry, does not oppose the bill but is trying to iron out differences with Senator Harkin’s staff about rules on beverages. The Snack Food Association favors guidelines rather than a mandate.
The real kick in the pants of it is, it took the moral panic about kids getting fat for the government to even think about doing anything — and that moral panic is probably the only reason Harkin’s bill will have even a prayer of passing. Who cares that we’re giving kids substandard nutrition, as long as they all look thin?
Oh, wait! I sense a chill. Who could it be?
And while some parents bristle at cupcake crackdowns, others argue that such guidelines are reasonable because children can be inundated with junk food at school.
MeMe Roth said she tried in 2005 to persuade other parents to ban Twinkies, doughnuts and other treats from celebrations at her children’s school in Millburn, N.J. While some parents supported her, Ms. Roth, who is president of an nonprofit organization called National Action Against Obesity, said that some were openly hostile. Her effort ultimately failed.
“Until healthful food stops competing against junk food, it doesn’t stand a chance,” Ms. Roth said.
Ah, it’s the joyless MeMe Roth. Note that the snacks and baked goods she is objecting to are meant for special occasions, like birthdays. Not for every day. And even if you get 30 kids in a class, that’s at most 30 cupcakes over the course of a school year, less if you lump all the vacation birthdays together. Hardly something that’s going to harden the little dears’ arteries right then and there.
More importantly, though, taking away cupcakes on birthdays seems unnecessarily punitive, especially if it’s linked to the fat kids in class. Could you imagine being the fat kid in a class where everyone’s upset that they can’t have cupcakes anymore, and everyone knows it’s because of your fat ass? Moreover, Me!Me!’s approach makes eating healthy seem like punishment or duty, something you do not because, hey, this tastes pretty good, but because you’ve been bad and you need to atone for your sins.
In any event, what’s wrong with a birthday cupcake now and again? Special occasions are supposed to be special, which is why you get cupcakes.