The XX Factor

Cookies, Cookies, Cookies Under Siege

My good friend and colleague Dahlia Lithwick has a piece in Slate this week suggesting that if you fear a coup-d’etat by broccoli , you might be a little bananas. Well, color me yellow.  I can’t help but feel a little crazy after reading that the St. Paul, Minn., school district is declaring its buildings ” sweet-free zones ” by year’s end.

This policy, which the Minneapolis Star-Tribune says has been in effect but not enforced for a few years, goes beyond banning candy bars and sodas from school vending machines.  Cafeterias won’t offer snacks, booster clubs can’t sell hot chocolate (or anything else that people might actually want) at concession stands at school events, and, most egregious of all, kids can’t pack anything “sweet, sticky, fat-laden [and] salty” in their lunches. Wow, I bet kids can’t WAIT to take in apple slices and bags of mini carrots for their birthday celebrations.

Besides working my inner libertarian into a peaked lather-the government is invading our kitchens via the lunchbox (kind of like how Draco Malfoy let the deatheaters into Hogwarts through that cabinet)-this policy seems like a bad idea on a number of levels.

For one thing, how can a district possibly enforce this? Are overworked teachers now supposed to take 15 minutes of their teaching time to inspect lunches? Is carrot cake OK? What about carob cake? Will  schools be outfitted with Geiger-counter-like devices to detect the presence of too much salt in the air? “Alert! Alert! We have detected potato chips in the third-grade wing. Send in the SWAT team!”

For another thing, the school district seems remarkably unaware of any downside to this.  The distict’s “assistant director for student health and wellness” tells the Star Tribune that “”It’s very basic. Healthier kids are better learners.”

It’s basic, yes, and also simple-minded.  Are hungry kids better learners? Probably not. And if parents can’t cajole their kids into eating their grapes and bananas by tucking in a tiny bag of chips or a couple cookies as a treat, you’re going to have a lot of hungry kids. And if students aren’t enjoying an occasional treat at school, what are they going to do when they get home from school? Maybe if they had been sated by an oatmeal raisin cookie with lunch, you could talk them into an apple after school. But if they’re starving, they’re going to be tearing into a bag of chips.

And finally, as much as we righties get a kick out of picking on Michelle Obama for her admonishments that we need more vegetables, at least she talks about making healthy choices , and she admits to her own cravings for delicious unhealthy food .  It sets an expectation that, as Cookie Monster now says, “Cookies are a sometimes food.” That’s far more realistic than anything that’s going on in St. Paul. Because you can’t expect kids to make healthy choices if you’re not letting them make choices at all.