Regulators Ban Mom’s Banana Bread

March 2, 2010

by Chidem Kurdas

Last week, New York City’s  Panel for Educational Policy approved a new rule for school bake sales. Home-made treats are no-no, but pre-approved packaged products, the ones that are also in school vending machines, are fine.

The bake sale ban is supposed to reduce childhood obesity. An education bureaucrat explained that homemade goods can’t be allowed because it’s impossible to know their portion size and content.  You may add raisins to your banana bread and slice it thin, while I add walnuts and cut it thick.

Hence banana bread, cupcakes and anything else baked at home have been banished; but kids are free to gorge on Kellogg’s Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts, which come in portion-controlled packages and have known ingredients—in fact a long list of ingredients from high fructose corn syrup to yellow dye #6.

This is a vivid little example of how regulation in general functions and the impact it has in many areas of social life.

One, regulators are almost always influenced by the industry involved and work to its advantage— the NYC schools’ chosen vending operator plans to sell “fund-raising kits” of packaged products.

Two, the cost rises—packaged products cost significantly more than home-made goods. This means you will need more capital to hold a bake sale. Factoring in the greater expense, sales can’t raise as much money and are therefore less worthwhile.

Three, the intervention weakens and often destroys some part of civil society – in this case, the venerable American institution of bake sales – by substituting government control for spontaneous activity.

Four, the regulation likely fails to achieve its stated goal. Evidence is mixed about  the effect of  portion-controlled food packages. They help limit your consumption only if you stop at one pack. In a study from Arizona State University, 100-calorie snack packs actually boosted eating by one group—people with diet issues.  More of them finished off M&M’s in little packs than the equivalent amount in a big package.

If you consider that in recent decades home cooking has become less prevalent as children have become heavier, one would not logically conclude that mom’s cookies are the culprit. Getting rid of the cookies is therefore unlikely to reverse the trend.

Five, the intrusion invariably has bad side effects, which in this case includes making students feel that being at school is like being incarcerated in a maximum-security prison where you have to eat whatever you’re given—an experience probably not conducive to warm feelings toward the school.

But bureaucrats invariably see their impositions on other people as very reasonable. The home baking prohibition is presented as a compromise, the alternative to an earlier total ban on fund-raising food sales, and an exception has been granted for a Parent-Teacher Association event, presumably to make the policy palatable.

When interventions fail and the problem worsens, the standard response is to add more regulation. Next step down the slippery slope, maybe a new rule on what children are allowed to eat at home. Banish all foods other than regulation-size packages of chemical-laced pellets and institute a refrigerator police.

38 Responses to “Regulators Ban Mom’s Banana Bread”

  1. Pietro M. Says:

    Paraphrasing Einstein, only two things are infinite: the universe and bureaucrats’ stupidity.

  2. R. Pointer Says:

    Check out Jamie Oliver’s TED talk about the lost art of home cooking and how it is causing obesity in America. It seems like NYC is going in the opposite direction.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/jamie_oliver.html

  3. Andreas Hoffmann Says:

    It would be funny, if it was not so sad.

  4. Bob Murphy Says:

    Good post Chidem.

  5. Quints Says:

    Don’t send your kids to NYC public schools. They are ineffective. They are run by out of touch morons. The teachers are not skilled. The curriculum is a joke.

    Your tax dollars at work.

  6. chidemkurdas Says:

    Nice quote, Pietro M.
    Enjoyed Jamie Oliver’s talk, R. Pointer.
    Andreas, it is sad. This hit me personally because I enjoy school bake sales–an occasional little home-made cupcake; I’m willing to take whatever health risk that poses!
    Thanks, Bob.

  7. chidemkurdas Says:

    Quints, the problem is, most parents don’t really have an alternative if they live in NYC. They’re already paying the horrendous taxes that finance the huge salaries paid to education bureaucrats and can’t afford private schools.

  8. chidemkurdas Says:

    As a public service in the spirit of NYC Schools policy, I’m thinking of adding a warning to all my messages:

    WARNING!
    Home Baking Endangers Your Child’s Health.

  9. Jim Hlavac Says:

    You write: “Banish all foods other than regulation-size packages of chemical-laced pellets and institute a refrigerator police.” Sarcasm or satire, I’d imagine. You didn’t even go to soylent green, but still, let’s channel our inner Jonathan Swifts:

    Obviously the solution is simply to ban food. Thus no more chemical fertilizers. No more corporate farming. No more Walmarts selling cheap food. No more hunger after a while. No more people, even. Hence, less global warming and mother earth degradation. No more cows belching and passing gas. And of course, the biggest benefit — a large reduction in health care cots. No more obesity, either.
    Also, more jobs for burying the dead and coffin makers immediately.
    About the only thing left for the survivors of the last moments to worry about is whether there should be a public option for funerals or not.
    So simple, so easy. The last one standing doesn’t even have to turn out the lights, for the last bulb will burn out and we, humanity itself, will no longer imperil God’s creation. The meek will indeed inherit the earth. For what is meeker than algae and pond scum?

  10. Dixie Pixie Says:

    The policy does minutely increase the profits of the junk food manufacturers. So more money goes the the trade and labor unions. Thus another example of one union (Teachers) helping another union (Food Service) at the expense of the public.

  11. Tim Says:

    Guerilla Bake Sale anyone?

  12. Gene Callahan Says:

    Sorry, Quints, but as someone who actually has children in the New York City schools I must say my actual experience bears no relation to your claims: my kids schools are very good, the teachers skilled, and the curriculum much improved since I was in school. And I note that I thought much like you did, and was homeschooling my kids, until they met friends in the neighborhood from the local elementary school and begged me to give it a try. Well, it was very hard to maintain my theoretical prejudices in the face of a pile of contrary evidence.

    That is not to say these schools are perfect, or that the policy Chidem mentions is not stupid. But working for the destruction of an institution is incompatible with working for its improvement.

  13. chidemkurdas Says:

    Jim,your inner Jonathan Swift is pretty good. I do try my hand at spoofs on http://manhattancapital.blogspot.com/2010/02/goldman-link-to-tattoo-murder.html

  14. chidemkurdas Says:

    Gene, you’re right that there are some very good schools in the system. It is known to be uneven. Having parents like you involved no doubt helps maintain the quality of a school. But it would be a better system – for the same money – if there were more more alternative schools and parents had greater flexibility in school choice.

  15. gcallah Says:

    Interesting theory, Dixie Pixie, except that not a single member of the Panel is a public school teacher, and that the teachers at my kids schools oppose the measure. If only it weren’t for those durned facts!

  16. gcallah Says:

    You are right, Chidem there are much worse schools, and much improvement that could occur.

  17. chidemkurdas Says:

    It’s always good to be reminded of the facts, gcallah. Individual teachers of course have various opinions. Dixie Pixie made the point about the union – a large organization – which makes complicated deals. Whatever role it plays in the bake ban is likely part of a back-room bargain.

  18. Dixie Pixie Says:

    Bureaucrats love liberals because liberals are so gullible.

    Gcallah, Of course there is no proof. A whisper here, a hint there and the School Board is reminded the bake sale goods do not conform with the “Truth In Labeling Laws”. As a result the School Board will avoid a potential lawsuit despite the fact there is no chance the State AG will bring such a nonsensical lawsuit.

    As night follows day a list of approved vendors for bake sales will published. The junk food distributor will have guarantied sales and a new sales force free of charge. The major part of profits from the bake sales will be moved to the junk food industry thus freeing up “sales incentives” to be handed out. As day follows night the “sales incentives” will fall into union hands.

    Thus a quaint american tradition is ruined. Of course there will be no evidence of the death of a tradition. It just died by the side effects of bureaucrat decrees.

  19. chidemkurdas Says:

    I have to admit that the union angle had not occurred to me, Dixie Pixie. The vendor and packaged snacks producer profit opportunity is obvious. The connection you’re describing is indirect– junk food industry unions would have to extract the revenue from the companies. Possible, but not certain. Interesting argument.

  20. gcallah Says:

    Yes, Dixie Pixie, you make up a theory off the top of your head and believe it without the least bit of research or fact-checking. And I’m gullible. OK.


  21. It’s the most ridiculous ban I ever heard of. Then what’s the point of holding a bake sale at school if it is to buy prepackaged goods and sell it at a higher price to parents.

  22. chidemkurdas Says:

    Though, gcallah, Dixie Pixie’s point is in the realm of the plausible, right? It’s probably impossible to prove, but as a hypothesis it is worth keeping in mind?

  23. chidemkurdas Says:

    Cooking Ninja, yes, there won’t be a point to bake sales under this restriction. So, there will be fewer bake sales and eventually they may disappear in NY schools. Despite the fact that for decades bake sales raised money for all kinds of needs for which otherwise there’s no money, from books to class trips.

  24. Gene Callahan Says:

    “So, there will be fewer bake sales and eventually they may disappear in NY schools.”

    That’s correct. Now, I agree this is a dumb law — but how are the food service unions going to make money off of non-existent bake sales? And what kind of a back-room deal could the teachers union make with a panel that is not elected and all volunteer? I think we’re just seeing the consequences of Bloomberg’s health fanaticism (about other people’s health — he eats lots of junk food).

  25. chidemkurdas Says:

    If bake sales disappear,then obviously nobody will make money off of them. The idea at present, however, is to substitute packaged snacks for home baked. To the extent that succeeds, it would create extra revenue that food service unions can get dibs on. True, the connection is indirect and uncertain.

  26. chidemkurdas Says:

    No question this is a Bloomberg administration policy. The Panel for Educational Policy “is controlled by mayoral appointees and has never voted down a city decision,” according to the NYT. In past years Bloomberg was very good to the teachers union and they to him. What deals they’re now making is anybody’s guess.

  27. Mitch Says:

    This ban is yet another example of the self-serving Neo-Progressive agenda that Michael Bloomberg is spearheading in NYC. Neo-Progressive in that “when it comes to what your children should eat, we know better,” and self-serving in that, contrary to the above statements, the Mayor and his cronies cut the deal with the vendors, not the unions.

  28. agus Says:

    cook it.. and earn

  29. Jan Says:

    Tim: Guerilla Bake Sales … Love the idea!

  30. Carol Says:

    How sad. Can they really think loading kids up with chemicals is better than giving them home baked goods?

  31. cindy Says:

    So this is what has become of our plastic, artificial seeking society…school officials demanding kids eat artificial food instead of home cooked food!

  32. Egg Donor : Says:

    there are lots of cheap foods on the market that taste like crap but there are good quality ones too *


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