Never mind the health problem; do bake sales pay?

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In my typically reasoned and reasonable fashion, I argued yesterday that we should choose not to schedule bake sales in schools to raise money for programs. I conceded that such sales are a hometown institution that embraces fond memory and other positive content.

But I ended with the suggestion, raised some time ago by clever San Francisco writer Dana Woldow, that even if we’re unwilling to stop pushing goodies to students, or to moms and dads of students, for health reasons, maybe we should stop for financial reasons.

I can hear the critics now: “If they didn’t raise money, then people wouldn’t employ them as fundraisers!” But as Woldow lays out: The money that bake sales bring in results from money and time donated by the bakers, and financially, they only break even. So, she says:

Here’s a modest proposal — the ‘no-bake’ sale. Instead of asking families to shop, bake, and sell, doesn’t it make more sense to ask them to add up how much they would spend on bake sale participation (including the value of their time, and the money they would give their kids to shop at the sale) and instead just donate that amount to the school? [Read the whole piece.]

I concede the idea carries a fuddy-duddy whiff — where’s the fun, the romance? Nobody ever developed a warm and cuddly feeling, or garnered the folksy admiration of neighbors, from a well-turned signature on a check, even though any act of charity is cause for acclaim.

The reasons to contribute to a bake sale only begin with wanting to fund programs. Many bakers would say that any labor is of love. They might also say that baking isn’t so much work as an evocation of simpler times spent in warm kitchens with Grandma. This is in addition to the esteem befitting any queen of the apple-honey square. Meanwhile, it can be easy to overlook the financial cost, since they “had that stuff in the house anyway,” or they were “going to the market anyway and needed only to pick up a few extra items.”

There’s so much more to a bake sale, these folks would say, than just the proceeds. But even they would have to concede that without the financial motive, bakes sales would not exist.

Without countervailing conditions, these conversions of time and money into tickled taste buds and glad tidings could be justified. But there *are* such conditions — the globesity pandemic is robbing so many of life’s full vitality and everyone’s purse for the $147 billion (or is it $190 billion?) that we collectively pay in extra health-care costs.

The expanding problem of inflating waistlines is not going to ebb if we don’t examine our actions in the light of their effects. No, the school bake sale isn’t solely responsible, or even close. But halting the lesson to our kids that exploiting the national sweet tooth is an acceptable way to raise money is a low-hanging fruit tart in the fight.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
make investments in employee wellbeing that pay off in corporate success.
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