Several States Ban School Bake Sales, Sad Cupcakes Weep Bitterly

"Why do you hate us?" the castoff cupcakes sob tragically. "All we ever did was love you."
Publish date:
May 7, 2012
body politics, obese lifestyle, school lunches

No children were fed any cake during the writing of this story.

I always associate bake sales with a quaintly idealized vision of the 1950s, in which a full-skirted housewife, probably all doped up on barbituates to dull the boredom of her suburban life, would bake magnificent cakes to donate to the school fundraiser, so they can buy nicer band uniforms or less explosive laboratory equipment for the chemistry classrooms.

Bake sales have an aura of old-fashioned Americana about them, after all -- far fewer parents are able to choose to stay at home these days, and baking can be a time-consuming enterprise for a working family, such that in recent years many bake sales consist primarily of store bought goods. Regardless, the bake sale is a persistent fundraiser, one I still saw employed for fundraising for the Feminist Union when I was in grad school (it’s true most of those cookies and cupcakes had meticulously rendered vulvas and boobs on them, but still, it’s the thought that counts).

Whatever their context, bake sales are a part of American history, and a fairly reliable means of raising money in a nonprofit setting, most particularly in public grade schools, which generally never have enough money for anything. And the funds raised by bake sales can be more impressive than you might think: Many of these efforts raise upwards of $25,000, which is hardly a miniscule result.

Unfortunately, the all-American bake sale is currently on the chopping block in many states. This might seem inexplicable, given the current state of the economy, and the fact that states are cutting budgets wheerever possible, thus making grass-roots fundraising efforts a critical source of income for school sports teams and other extracurricular groups.

It might also seem inexplicable to remove a source of financial support for sports, because aren’t we always saying that kids need to get outside and play more?

But it’s true: The bake sale ban is creeping through the nation and spreading its evil like an infestation of cake-hating pestilence. Have you guessed why yet?

Oh, I’ll just tell you: Bake sales are getting the boot because some have decided that these fundraisers are partly to blame for childhood obesity.

Never mind the fact that our parents -- and our parents’ parents -- probably saw 10 times the number of bake sales we currently do, living as they did in a time when lots of people baked, and when bake sales were a regular occurance to fund all sorts of endeavors at church, school and elsewhere in the community. Never mind that both of these generations did not seem to be excessively enfattened by their unrepentant and compulsive bake-sale-having ways.

Also never mind that childhood obesity rates already seem to be in decline, even now. Also ALSO never mind that according to many assessments, childhood obesity rates actually seem to have been flat since 1999, with the sole exception being boys age 6-19 falling in the very heaviest category (and representing roughly 4 percent of all boys in that age group) -- not, it turns out, exploding wildly out of control, as our public discourse on the subject might have us believe.

But no, you guys: BAKE SALES are a problem. Says a recent piece on the subject in Bloomberg Businessweek:

Public school students in Maryland’s Montgomery County know they’d better not even think of holding a bake sale to raise money for the football team or math club. Selling sweets is outlawed during the school day, and officials make the rounds to ensure no illicit cupcakes are changing hands... Montgomery is one of a growing number of school districts around the country that have in recent years declared the humble, beloved bake sale a threat to children. Schools in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Texas have regulations aimed at limiting bake sales to nutritious food. Massachusetts will soon join them...

In an extra bit of fun-hating, the Massachusetts version of the bill will also prohibit kids from sharing cookies or cupcakes from home on their birthdays, even if they are not selling them, but simply giving them away to their classmates. As if that weren’t depressing enough, these rules come with some very strange loopholes:

With so many overweight kids, it’s easy to see why schools want to discourage high-calorie snacks... New York City public schools prohibit students from selling unapproved home-baked goods, but allow some packaged, store-bought sweets that meet the schools’ restrictions on calories, sugar, salt, and fat. Under the rules, grandma’s fresh-from-the oven banana bread can be declared contraband, while some Kellogg Pop Tarts are deemed wholesome.

So we’re going to compel kids to eat heavily processed prepackaged foods high in preservatives and refined sugars instead of homemade baked goods made from ingredients which said kids can actually pronounce and recognize. That makes sense. In BIZARRO WORLD.

These bake sale bans are, in fact, a part of a larger movement to ban all “unhealthy” foods from school-related events even beyond lunchtime limitations, one which intends to prevent the consumption of sweets both during school hours and even outside of the normal school day (in other words, you can expect the concessions at school sporting events and other school-sponsored functions to be affected).

If I truly believed that this was a movement toward increasing the variety of food options for children, I could deal with it. But improving kids’ access -- at least during the school day -- to “healthier” meals is not necessarily the same thing as turning cookies into contraband, a move that, as we have very recently discussed here on xoJane, is as likely to backfire as it is to succeed.

The outcome of making sweets forbidden is not a healthier student body (pun intended), but is rather likely to be the sudden growth of a cupcake underground, where dessert is secretly smuggled into lockers and traded or sold on the sly. Though the analogy is limited, I am bound to observe that drugs are illegal in schools too, you know, and yet I don’t know many kids who have trouble procuring those when inclined to do so. Why would baked goods be any different?

All this dessert-ban does is create food guilt among our youngest citizens; it makes eating a cupcake into something shameful and appalling. We won’t raise intelligent eaters by using guilt as a punishment. We will only raise intelligent eaters by educating kids on nutrition and activity and health, by role-modeling good behaviors, and then by ultimately trusting them to use that knowledge to make sound decisions.

Cupcakes are not the enemy, people. The enemy is a lack of both education and access for both kids and parents. Don’t blame cupcakes.