The profits and losses of school bake sales

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As an advocate on issues including obesity, nutrition, and school food, I’ve had an opinion on bake sales, and especially school bake sales, for some time. But until about a week ago, they were something that people did, as opposed to something that people did in my son’s school.

What I’d heard from BS proponents is that the events really for the adults and don’t necessarily even draw the notice of the kids, and they’re a good way of raising money. But because on the day of the sale, my son was being a pill — first refusing to leave his class, then refusing to put on his coat — I happened to be in the school hallway for perhaps 15 minutes.

The sale drew the eager attention of every child I saw, and several of them were literally dragging their parent to hurry toward the goodies, even though they already, clearly, had the parent’s buy-in for a stop at the table. Kids were also staffing the table.

Meanwhile, my son, who has a very modest sweet tooth and typically barely notices the baked sweets that are ubiquitous in commercial life, made his own bid for the table, just because it was the focus of others’ attention. (Yes, this may have had something to do with his relative ill temper (he’s a model of cheer, usually), but there we were, tangling over baked goods because they were for sale in school.)

Yes, I know. I must be a Communist, practically, even to cast doubt upon bake sales, an institution as venerated as apple pie. Yes, baked good often taste good — even the bad ones. Yes, many people express love with food, and baking is a way to earn admiration. Yes, for many people, baked goods are harmless when consumed in moderation.

However. It is undeniable that too many people are consuming too many sugary, floury products in America, where two of three adults, and one of three children, are obese or overweight. Sweets are not the totality of the problem, but they’re a part, so altering our behaviors around them should be part of our solution.

I’m not saying that we should outlaw all bake sales, anywhere in America, though that’s often how foes interpret any suggestion to change — “the food police want to take away our basic freedoms!” How about we reevaluate whether *celebrating* high-fat, high-sugar confections, in the same setting in which we educate our children to fend for themselves in the world, is a good idea?

I submit, with very little hesitation, that it is not, even if baked goods also taste good, even if they also hold a dear spot in our hearts, even if they’re not totally evil. They’re not. But how are we going to move toward a solution if we don’t rethink what we’re doing.

The kicker to this discussion is provided by San Francisco writer Dana Woldow, who has done the math and questions whether bake sales even accomplish the stated goal, to produce wealth to fund school programs. I’ll return with that tomorrow.