For those of you who don’t yet know about Bettina Siegel, I highly recommend checking out her blog The Lunch Tray. Informative and thought-provoking, she has her finger on the pulse of children’s food issues in the US. Her petition to ban ‘pink slime’ in schools made international headlines–and it worked! (Right on, Bettina!).
More recently, Bettina blogged about another controversial issue: feeding children junk food in school. She’s not talking cakes and treats at birthday parties. Rather, she’s (in my view, rightly) concerned about the practice of handing out promotional junk food items in school. Her son, for example, was given an 800-calorie Hershey bar one day. So I was shocked to read on Bettina’s blog that this is apparently a regular practice at her children’s school (and that the junk food is handed out without parent’s permission–or even knowledge). Check out her post on this issue. In a country where one in three kids are overweight or obese, how does this make sense?
Before I go any further, I should note that I am not an anti-junk food fanatic. Chips and chocolate bars a once-in-a-while treat at our house, and the kids can indulge all they like at Hallowe’en and birthday parties. This follows my philosophy of “moderation, not deprivation” (on the theory that forbidden fruit ends up being more tempting!). I admit it took me a while to get to this place, as my tendency as a new parent was to treat sweets like they were radioactive. I was helped by seeing how the French approach treats (they let kids indulge on special occasions like birthdays, in a kind of Carnaval-esque permissiveness that I admit I took some time getting used to). The occasional orgy of candy eating doesn’t seem to do French kids much harm. However, my kids are taught that these are ‘once in a while treats’. Handing out junk food in schools teaches kids a different lesson: it’s OK to eat junk food every day, whenever you like. That’s not the lesson I want my school to teach my children.
Bettina was inspired (and outraged) enough to write a Manifesto, and has asked people to copy it, circulate it, debate it. So here it is, below. Would love your thoughts!