By Sonya Rehman
In a bid to get children in New York City to start eating right, the Department of Education, which has already moved to make only healthy beverages available from school vending machines, has prohibited bake sales from public schools.
“We understand the need for parent groups to raise funds at school gatherings. However, we are doing schoolchildren a disservice by using these events to distribute and promote foods that contribute to obesity,” said an Oct. 7 press release by the Health Department, responding to the Department of Education’s initiative to curb childhood obesity.
William Havemann, the media spokesperson from the Department of Education stated: “We don’t track how often schools have bake sales but schools are now permitted one bake sale per month during school hours, and after 6 p.m. on weekdays they can have as many as they want.”
The ban “makes me very angry,” says Liza Campbell, a teacher at the Bushwick School in Brooklyn. “It’s a traditional form of fundraising where kids can bake stuff with their families. It brings families together.”
Caitlin Duffy, who teaches at the MS 245 Computer School in Manhattan, says she is disheartened by the reasoning behind the ban. “The actual reasoning seems ineffective,” she said. “Minimizing their sugar intake is definitely not the effect. The amount of baked goodies students can buy with what money they have on hand is hardly enough to cause them a lot of harm unless these bake sales have a daily frequency.”
Cassandra Dillenberger, a concerned parent, doesn’t think the bake sales will curb childhood obesity. She says, “Better lunch meals provided at schools and better home nutrition are better places to develop good eating habits. Bake sales are fundraisers for class/school activities for which no alternative school funding is available. These are for enriching activities such as school trips, graduations and things like that.”
The Health Department release made no suggestions how to replace the bake sales. Duffy says that some of her teacher friends are unsure how to raise money for extracurricular activities without bake sales, “They can’t possibly get funding through Parents Associations or their budgets or fundraising programs purchased by the school,” she says, “So they are stuck without means for extracurricular activities where they might want to quickly raise a registration fee, the cost of T-shirts, or other simple club needs.”
Merril Zgar, a parent of four, thinks the ban is misguided. “Banning bake sales won’t teach children anything,” she says, “They can snack across the street on Twinkies at a bodega. As a parent, it’s important for me to limit my child’s sweet intake and that comes from parental discipline. It’s not about having no sugar. It’s about moderating your sugar intake and if you eliminate something entirely, it only causes the child to want it more.”
Lana Ajemian, vice president of the New York State Parent Teacher Association, says the group “strongly encourages innovative ideas and alternatives to providing high sugar, fat or salty foods for classroom celebrations.”
This sentiment is echoed by Mary Jane Detroyer, a nutrition and exercise consultant, “If they want to initiate change, why not have allow the bake sale and provide healthier recipes for options to sell, like muffins using less fat and some whole grains, zucchini bread or banana bread or carrot bread, or homemade granola bars, etc.”
“I think our government is truly hypocritical when it talks about the obesity epidemic,” Detroyer says, “They do not fund money for gym class and they provide high fat, processed food for lunch. The children need to learn how to eat at home, also. I think a better idea than getting rid of bake sales would be for each district to have a registered dietitian on staff that could visit the schools and teach the children how to eat properly and work on recipes for the cafeteria and offer education to the parents.” The cost, she said, “would be well worth it for what it is going to cost down the road to pay for the health care for these children.”
Class assignment – Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism