retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The Wall Street Journal has a story about how "a federal law that aims to curb childhood obesity means that, in dozens of states, bake sales must adhere to nutrition requirements that could replace cupcakes and brownies with fruit cups and granola bars … the restrictions that took effect in July stem from the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act championed by first lady Michelle Obama and her 'Let's Move!' campaign. The law overhauled nutrition standards affecting more than 30 million children. Among the changes: fatty french fries were out, while baked sweet potato fries were deemed to be fine."

The story goes on to say that the law requires the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) "to set standards for all food and beverages sold during the school day, which includes vending machines, snack carts and daytime fundraisers. It allowed for 'infrequent' fundraisers, and states were allowed to decide how many bake sales they would have that didn't meet nutrition standards. Without state-approved exemptions, any treats sold would have to meet calorie, sodium, fat and other requirements. The law permits states to fine schools that don't comply."

The Obama administration says that states have flexibility, and are being encouraged to make appropriate decisions related to bake sales and other fund raisers.

While I respect the goals and aspirations of the "Let's Move" effort, and think that anything that can be done to improve the slop that is served in many school cafeterias is a good one, I also think that these kinds of absolutes actually work against the entire notion of education and making intelligent choices.

I have no problem with the idea that school lunches - which are, after all, funded by taxpayer dollars - ought to be healthy and nutritious, designed to help educate kids about how to eat intelligently. There are people a lot smarter than I who think that childhood obesity is a national security issue, and so it strikes me as sensible to address this in the cafeteria as well as in the classroom.

But totally outlawing things like cupcakes from in-class birthday parties, and sweets from school fundraisers, assumes that such things have no role in kids' lives, and that there is no such thing as appropriate indulgence. Which, of course, is inaccurate.

There is room in kids' lives for both fresh fruit and cupcakes. Part of the schools' role ought to be to help them understand that and to help them make smart and informed decisions. Retailers, if they are smart, ought to be able to carve out a piece of the debate for themselves.

At least IMHO.
KC's View: