Bake sales aren’t about the sweets.
That insight seems to be missing from the ridiculous debate raging in Virginia and across the country over whether public school kids should be able to keep peddling goopy cupcakes and lumpy cookies to raise money.
New federal guidelines on school lunches and wicked vending machine snacks are slimming down the school menu. Amen to that. But those rules are also being used to kick the classic bake sale off campus.
In Virginia, a Republican-led legislature is calling it government overreach and debating a bill to restore the bake sale to its rightful role in public schools.
“But kids are fat!” policymakers shout, pointing out that about 17 percent of U.S. kids are obese . Virginia Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) warned colleagues to vote against the bill “unless you believe America’s just not fat enough,” reports my colleague Laura Vozzella.
Yeah, kids are getting chunkier. But bake sales aren’t the problem.
The real culprits include shorter recess, gallons of sugary drinks, insane fast-food consumption, video games, electronic gadget addiction, the fear of letting kids play outside on their own, the meddling of adults who turn children’s sports into elite competition instead of recreation, and a huge, cultural shift that has parents chauffeuring kids around like pashas instead of letting them walk or bike everywhere.
The bake sale? A mere crumb on that mountain of woe.
Sure, I wasn’t thrilled when my son came home from school not long ago with a hunk of brownie bigger than a brick and an empty allowance jar after a class bake sale. Didn’t we go four rounds over asparagus the night before?
But he also told me about the animal shelter that the kids in fourth grade were raising money for. Then he and his brother spent two nights plotting to sell their own baked goods on our sidewalk to raise money for some of the expensive Lego sets I cruelly won’t buy for them.
Okay, maybe altruism wasn’t their take-away from the bake sale.
Derailed by debate over which Lego set they would agree to fund (echoes of Congress?), that particular caper never came to fruition. But the inspiration — entrepreneurship, independence, self-reliance, creation of a product — all came from a bake sale.
It’s a very important life lesson. Kids want money, they make something people want, they sell it. Bingo! Business 101 on a card table. I’m willing to add a few veggies and reduce the carbs later in the week in exchange for that light-bulb moment.
The classic school bake sale to raise cash for sports equipment, class trips or charitable causes is actually an essential part of a curriculum.
Some schools have suggested alternative sales: T-shirts, homemade jewelry, crafts. Nice ideas. Knock yourselves out coming up with other ideas — they are certainly out there. But nothing’s easier to make than a dozen muffins, and few things are easier to sell than a 50-cent cookie.
In New York City, where a bake sale ban was debated and passed nearly five years ago, some schools shifted to sell snack foods that fit into the guidelines, peddling low-fat Doritos, Pop-Tarts, gummy candy.
Seriously? That’s holistically healthier than a product made at home?
That scraps the very basis of healthful eating habits — real food, made with real ingredients at home — in favor of the very processed foods that are killing kids today.
And really, if you want to get all pious about food, there are plenty of other fundraisers to fry.
Just about every school has fundraising nights tied to pizza places and corporate food restaurants that are at the very heart of America’s obesity epidemic. (You know, the ones that put a little heart-healthy symbol next to the 800-calorie salad?) They give a percentage of a night’s profits to that school if the parents and kids pack the place. Why isn’t anybody trying to end those?
Other school districts have tried selling fruits and vegetables. Effective with kids only if the price also lets you throw them at someone.
School nutrition has always been politicized, and it was no surprise that there was a national freakout blaming first lady Michelle Obama for killing cupcakes on campus because she was the one who launched the healthy food initiative.
Anyone remember the nationwide tantrum when some schools took chocolate milk off the menu?
The truth is, if you click through PTA minutes from the last few years, school bake sales are far from dead.
“We need delicious home baked goods for our bake sale table” for the Jingle Bell Bazaar, announced parents in Chester, Va.
On the other side of the state, in Harrisonburg, kids raised “$145.74 from bake sale for 4th grade field trip!”
All the legislative hours spent on a bake sale bill seem pretty pointless. Especially coming from a bunch of folks who took a break from the debate for a catered lunch that included, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, key lime pie and cookies.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.