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Thursday, May 04, 2006
Junk Food in the Schools..., there's always a couple of sides to every issue and I'm going to try treading around in all of them without issuing an opinion this time because I agree with various statements that have been made.

There's been a push in California to get rid of junk food in the schools. There's been a national push to do so as well, the Coca-Cola Company, Cadbury-Schwepps, and PepsiCo have agreed to stop selling sodas in the nation's schools, except in the high schools where only diet sodas will be available for sale. Specifically, closer to home (at least closer to my home) the Santa Clara County Unified School District (SCUSD) has decided to wage a war on junk food.

A really big war that's got a lot of people really steamed, and a lot of people really happy. I don't know which side of the fence to be on. I think I know which side some people think I *should* be on, but realistically I don't. And here's why...

The SCUSD doesn't just want the junk food out of the cafeteria and hallways. They also want to outlaw it completely on all parts of the campuses 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That's right. That means no soda machines in the halls or cafeterias, and no fund-raising activities that involve cookie dough sales. Really good idea, right? Well... that also means no hot dogs or nachos at the football games and no PTA bake sales. It also means no cupcakes for class birthday parties or celebrations or Halloween/Christmas/Valentine's Day parties in the class unless they involve fruit juice and carrot sticks. The SCUSD is attempting to do this in order to promote healthy eating and curb childhood obesity. Never mind the fact that they cannot restrict what the kids get to eat at home, nor what they bring for just themselves in thier lunches, although I've heard on local radio that that may be the next step for the SCUSD.

That's right. The schools will become food police instead of focusing on educating our children. Now you could argue that this would be part of the education of the nation's children - health education. Well, when you bring back the PE programs to the levels they were when I was a kid, then I'll attempt to buy into that one, but not until. Something to keep in mind that soda manufacturers will still be able to sell sodas that are less than 10 calories. Coke Zero anyone? There's still a sugars/carbs gain right there that won't help the obesity rates of kids.

Don't get me wrong - I don't want the obesity rates to get out of hand, and I think the kids of the world need to be schooled on better choices. Anyone who read my McDonald's blog entries knows what I'm talking about. The rates aren't increasing just for kids, but for adults as well. And they're not just due to sodas and chips, but to fast food and eating out and people making generally bad choices about what they eat. And for those who don't know me well, or are hit and run readers, I'm not against junk food as a whole. Heck, DH fed me ice cream the other night while I stitched, and while I write this I'm munching on some french fries and a Coke (the burger is long gone...). But a little bit of everything is ok in moderation. Take that for what you willl; I'm the one who never believed in diets. But I digress...

We have a school district that's going to remove everything that they deem "junk food" from the schools in an effort to teach children to make better food choices. Now, there are two lines of argument I can take on this, and I think I'll look at both of them.

First off, if you take away everything that is construed as "junk food" you're taking away classroom parties that kids and teachers often enjoy as a break from the routine (not that they happen that often, but still), and you're taking away a prime source of funding from sports teams, classrooms, school theatre productions, school bands, proms, and a host of other school functions/benefits that are partially (if not totally) funded by food sales and fundraisers. From a simplistic macroeconomic view, the school could foot the bill for all of these things but that would require raising the budget which would require more school bonds, which means more taxes for you - even if you don't have any students in the school system. Private schools would just pass the budget increases along in the form of tuition hikes, which they already do and *still* have fundraising efforts. The other option schools have is to make the parents/kids pay for 100% of thier band uniforms, stage sets, hall/hotel rentals, DJ's, team uniforms, etc. Those things get expensive and without some other supplemental funding there are quite a few kids that wouldn't be able to participate in such things.

Prom already costs about $1000 on average when you figure in dresses, tuxes, pictures, limos, dinners and tickets to the prom. How about raising that up a couple hundred dollars more by raising the ticket prices to cover the hotel, the DJ, the food, the waitstaff, table rental, table linen rental, the photographer's fee, and any number of other incidentals I may have forgotten that junior/senior class fundraising often offsets. Oh yeah, forgot about the decorations. If you take the so-deemed "junk food" away from the sporting events there are 7-11's around the corner that would be perfectly happy to take parents money and keep that much more away from the school fundraising efforts at an off-field, on campus, snack shack during the game. It's hard enough when I watch the snack shack at our school suffer from the Starbucks that's around the corner because people would rather pay $2 for coffee when they could be paying $1 for fruit juice - and get a few more ounces in that $1 bottle than they do from that $2 cup.

What the heck else are the students and boosters going to use as fundraisers if they can't use some good cookie dough or boxes of See's Candy anymore? Gift wrap 4 times a year? Car washes in the middle of winter? Department stores and chains don't want to sell scrip/gift certificates anymore to schools because they're focused on the bottom line so you can't really depend on that. Grocery store eScrip or some local chain card based incentive program - what if you have kids going to separate schools? You have to pick one over the other. And trying to get your relatives to sign up might be a challenge if they also have non-food related fundraisers to depend on. Non-bake bake sales - where you donate money to "buy" something, but what you're "buying" is the option to *not* have to make that item. In that case you might as well just donate money to the school for no reason. You're not really getting anything out of it because not every state allows deductions for monetary donations to schools.

The second line of argument I can take on this is that the schools aren't teaching the kids about how to make healthier eating choices. They're just teaching them that they, a beauracracy, can make a rule that suits them and enforce it. That they can be the food police. And children learn thier eating habits from a variety of places, but the one that makes the biggest impact is the example that is set at home. When a parent just has bags of chips and Lunchables and sugar loaded carbonated drinks around, and makes dinner out of some microwaveable thing or orders take out all the time, what example is that setting for the child?

Not a very good one in my mind.

DH and I talked about making healthy choices, and we realize that our daughters actually will make a healthier choice about what to eat from time to time. We don't leave around snack sized bags of chips, or constantly have soda in the fridge. We have baby carrots in the vegetable drawer, and fruit on the counter. There's always juice and 2% milk available (usually the 100% kind) and a 5 gallon jar of bottled water on our water dispenser. Granted, if given the choice between fries and soda or fruit juice and apples, our kids would be like everyone else and take the fries and soda. A would probably make it for a week on soda and fries and then switch. B would probably pick fruit after 3 days. Our kids make good choices - I'm not saying they're the only ones, but from what I've seen in various lunch boxes over time I can say that we are increasingly rare parents.

Schools cannot, and SHOULD NOT, be responsible for attempting to teach every single part of life to a child. Some things are what parents are for - common sense, relationships, moral values, making good choices. Yes, teachers can help supplement that by being good examples (and all the teachers I know, save one or two, are great examples of how people should be), but the biggest influence can be a parent especially when it comes to how one should make a choice about something. The school shouldn't be policing what kids can and cannot have for classroom parties, what attendees to sports events should and should not eat, or restricting what could be a very profitable fundraiser because it might involve a food with too much sugar. They *should* be teaching good health lessons about making good choices, and the biological effects of what lack of exercise and bad eating habits can do to you. I think they can do that without hurting the bottom line of many programs that depend on fundraising...

...after all, there's only so much gift wrap that one can buy in a year, right?