Magazine | August 25, 2014, Issue

The Cupcake Cops

What is the correct number of federal regulations concerning school bake sales? Let’s ask all the political strains in the country:

Libertarian: You lost me at “federal regulations,” but I’m going to say one, and it shall say, “There shall be no regulations.”

Establishment liberals: If Ted Cruz wants to defend levels of salt that science has found to be “too salty,” to use the technical term, he can go right ahead and be a sodium denier while kids die. Those of us who are serious about the cumulative caloric impact of bake sales realize that there’s no perfect number of regulations, because in a dynamic society there are always new challenges that require new safeguards in response to perils discovered by new studies. This isn’t just about ensuring diversity in the candy colors of an M&M cookie. It’s about securing a healthy future for all our kids while the Republicans just want to talk about Benghazi. Oh, the correct number? I don’t know. Forty-seven. Hundred and twelve.

Establishment conservatives: It’s a matter for the states to decide. Too long has an overreaching, out-of-control, out-of-touch, out-of-body, out-of-warranty, out-of (clang! the speaker is struck on the head and temporarily returned to the issue at hand). What? Oh. For too long, Washington has dictated preposterous rules to the states, which are the Labradors of democracy. Forcing small, distant, powerless towns to follow a law from on high is a job for the states.

Progressives: The mere existence of school bake sales shows how underfunded our public schools are, and in a just world Wall Street profits and money parked offshore to avoid taxes would be sent directly to the Drama Club. Remember that old slogan “It’ll be a great day when the Pentagon has a bake sale to buy a bomber and the schools get all the money they need”? How many school lunches could be bought with what we gave Israel so its Iron Dome could knock down rockets and let the shrapnel fall onto innocent neighborhoods in Gaza? When there’s a comprehensive peace in the Middle East that takes into account the ravages of colonialism, we can talk about relaxing the maximum allowable caloric intake on a choco ration, but not until. No Justice, no Pieces! Reese’s, I mean.

Let’s ask another question: Is there anything more illustrative of our current predicament than the idea of federal regulations on school bake sales in the first place? The Wall Street Journal reported that nutrition regs designed to keep kids from becoming waddling mini-blimps are crimping the traditional options for extracurricular fundraising, such as The Candy Bar the Length of an NBA Player’s Femur and various baked goods glazed with Demon Sugar. Schools that used to sell non-approved items will switch to wrapping paper or fruit or bales of kale or whatever the state deems appropriate.

Those who fume about overweening government will earn eye rolls from the credentialed puritans who want to dictate the nation’s meals and from the lickspittle transcription service we call the media. The end result — thin kids — is a good thing, and the means by which it is accomplished matter little.

The culprit, of course, is Big Lard. Ask the FLOTUS. An NPR story quoted the first lady and discussed the troubles faced by the new healthy-school-lunch initiative, noting that schools are losing money and kids don’t want to eat the stuff:

“We are currently spending $10 billion a year — did you hear that, $10 billion a year — on our school lunch programs,” she said last month at a White House lunch with schoolchildren who won a healthy recipe contest. “So it’s not surprising that there are certain interests that are resisting change and trying to take us back to the old ways of doing business, because for them there’s a lot of money on the line.”

Fight those big evil grease-pushers, kids! Help your peers develop “healthy eating habits,” because an eighth-grader has no idea that a burger and French fries has more calories than a plate of radishes and celery. Well, it’s rather simple. It works like this:

Salad: a naturally occurring substance that grows and then gets harvested, washed — especially if it’s an organically fertilized product that spent its existence steeped in night soil — and eaten, usually with “dressing,” which has the nutritional value of bacon-flavored motor oil. If you eat a lot you get vitamins and roughage and the sense that this somehow makes you virtuous.

Salty snacks: a fictitious substance that begins as corn, which is pulverized into malleable mush, formed into geometric shapes, soaked in a scary-sounding chemical that has at least one “X” in its name — which ensures that the snack will have the crunchiness of a chitinous bug shell well into its second decade — and, for awesomeness, dusted with stuff that is Technically Cheese. If you eat a lot you become an ambulatory bolus of junk.

If you eat everything in moderation, then (a) you’ll be okay, and (b) you can ignore the scolds and food prigs. No regulations needed. Terrifying as that sounds.

Here’s another reason healthy school lunches might not be catching on: Never underestimate the ability of a school-lunch program to make a crisp, healthy salad into something that looks like a truck ran over a head of lettuce and dragged it through a sandbox. My child rejected everything at the school-lunch line because it was always limp, moist, gluey, and salty enough to parch a perch.

And that was the plastic cutlery. The food was even worse.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

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