We live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the oldest and most patriotic of these United States. Y'know ... the Freedom Trail, the shot heard 'round the world, the cradle of liberty, etc. etc. etc.
Well, last week, this fine state threatened to take away one of our cherished traditions: the right to bake sales. Holy home-baked brownies, Batman!
Fortunately, the public outcry was intense enough to dissuade Governor Partick. "Nobody is interested in banning bake sales," he assured reporters. "We are interested in student nutrition."
My childhood was full of baked goods — wonderful homemade goodies sent to school for birthdays and holidays and, yes, bake sales. My mother was known for her gorgeous cupcakes (this, by the way, was decades before cupcakes became the trendy over-priced urban phenomenon we know today). For birthdays, multicolored frosting, each with a candle tucked into a holder made of two life savers. Christmas, each cupcake had a small candy cane standing in snowy frosting like a miniature North Pole. And, Easter, little nests sculpted from tinted coconut held tiny jelly bean eggs.
I think I made cupcakes for my own daughter once or twice. But early on in our elementary school years, homemade sweets were banned because of peanut allergies.
My first encounter with an allergy situation was during my daughter's fairy birthday party when she turned four. A friend from daycare came and her mother wouldn't allow her to eat any of the nut-less sandwiches (turkey, bologna and cheese) because they were on platters with the dreaded peanut butter and jelly. I felt terrible. The girls were working up quite an appetite, flitting about the park in their fairy wings and tiaras.
Another year, my daughter had a classmate with an extremely severe nut allergy. A separate nut-free table wouldn't be sufficient protection for this boy, so we were all forbidden to pack anything that had nuts or was made in a plant that processed them. Let me tell you, it is very difficult to find snack foods that are guaranteed free of peanuts. But, whenever I thought about the inconvenience, I quickly stopped myself by thinking about how stressful it must be for the poor boy's mother. The world is a frightening enough place when you have healthy offspring. Imagine what it must be like to walk around worrying that your child will go into anaphylactic shock.
So, when I learned about the proposed ban on bake sales, I assumed it was to protect kids from allergens. In addition to nuts, there are children with sensitivities to dairy, soy and gluten. An eleven-year old friend of my daughter's is already vegan.
It turns out, the focus was not on individual ingredients, per se. The focus was on too much of a good thing. This was meant to help prevent childhood obesity. I, for one, am glad that the state backed down.
Is childhood obesity a growing problem (no pun intended)? Yes. But, is "the big bad" really bake sales? I don't think so. Lack of exercise, too much screen time, 24/7 junk food. A sweet treat to help raise money for the school band is not going to push an otherwise lean child into the abyss of the forever overweight. The whole thing is pretty silly, if you ask me.
We have become so politically correct, so scared to offend anyone, so afraid of potential lawsuits, that we have really turned a mole hill into a mountain. Or, perhaps a better analogy would be a tiny little homemade cupcake into a seven-tiered wedding extravaganza complete with spun sugar swans, white chocolate-dipped almonds and poofs of meringue.
But take it from someone who has been serially dieting since she was fourteen (sometimes successfully and sometimes ... er ... not): demonizing food will not work. Guess what happens if you forbid a young person to eat a particular item? They will crave it all the more. Not only that, they will stuff themselves with it when you aren't looking. Ever heard the phrase "forbidden fruit?"
Here's a compromise then. Don't have a bake sale every day. But, do allow them at reasonable intervals (once a week? every two weeks?). Limit each kid to a couple of items or a specific dollar amount. To be on the safe side, encourage moms (or dads) to label their offerings. Educate people about food allergies and ask them to be considerate. If your child has a very severe allergy, coach him or her about what they can and cannot purchase. Or, send a special — safe — treat that they can enjoy while their friends buy the contraband.
The ideal is moderation. Offer more opportunities to exercise. Serve healthy choices at the school cafeteria most of the time with a sweet treat now and then. Those young waistlines might decrease.
And bake sale sales might be better too.