I’m a political junkie, but politicians make me crazy! This is the second time on this blog that I’ve been stirred to words in response to an article on cupcakes I’ve read in The New York Times. The first incidence of my incendiary defense of the cupcake came back in September 2007 when I read this line from Sarah Kershaw’s provocative article, “…it has led some to wonder whether emotional value, on occasion, might legitimately outweigh nutritional value.”
“Really? Is anyone really wondering about this? Hasn’t the jury arrived at a verdict that’s been ringing from the bell tower for as long as there’s been a bell tower, and perhaps even predates that architectural monument? Since when are nutrition and joy opponents? Aside from an anorexic or a dietitian with a Nazi’s zeal for discipline, is there anyone out there who never-ever eats for emotional fulfillment…never-ever? And have we become so far removed from the joy of eating and preparing a meal, that there might exist a seemingly well-informed scholar who’d dare to argue against the value of happiness when considering human health? I choose to have more faith in humanity than to believe that! But as someone who likes to look and feel good, I also choose when to eat for my stomach and when to eat for my mouth. Cupcakes are pure mouth.”
Now Sarah’s got a new article that has me all riled up. A few weeks ago Ms. Kershaw returned to the sweet subject at hand, reporting on recent restrictions to student bake sales in New York City’s public schools. New rules would limit bake sales to pre-packaged food products with clearly labeled nutritional analysis, a.k.a. junk food. Perhaps the most egregious consequence of the bake sale “sell out” is the processed food products it leaves behind in its wake. Without hand-baked cupcakes, muffins and cookies to hawk in the hallways, Kershaw reports that Reduced Fat Cool Ranch Doritos, Linden’s Chocolate Chip Minis and Stacy’s Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips will take their place. Approved by the city’s Health Department to meet designated nutritional guidelines, these food products are replacing the homemade real foods that are being kicked to curb in favor of anything wrapped in plastic, touting a pie chart and “nutrition” label. The politicians argue that banning bake sales is a public wellness act in support of preventing childhood obesity, and in that, I find myself in utter agreement with Jamie Oliver when he calls such government-sanctioned public poisoning “a load of rubbish.”
I’m with food historian Laura Shapiro and the parents who have joined her in accusing school officials of promoting processed food. Banning bake sales from schools is a backward step that teaches children an empty lesson about a homogenized, industrial diet devoid of the sort of documented health benefits, good taste, and cooking experience baking up a batch up muffins might provide. And I’m equally horrified by the thought that men and women in positions of educational influence actually believe that PTA cupcakes are causing obesity, while they go about sanctioning daily rations of frozen pizza made from refined flour, flavored milk filled with enough sugar to put the Easter Bunny to shame, and deep fried chicken nuggets containing little more than salt, preservatives and gnarly bits of “chicken products.” America’s kids are getting sick and fat, I’m sick and tired of school officials claiming it’s because well- intentioned parents are trying to raise funds for a field trip, or to buy uniforms, or books, by baking a batch of brownies.
But what’s really heartbreaking is how banning bake sales prevents poorer families from participating in fund-raising efforts for their kids’ schools. Moms and dads without much money can contribute cupcakes to raise funds well beyond that which they could ever donate, and in so doing, they get the added bonus of making a contribution to their child’s community, engaging with other parents at the school, perhaps even cooking with their kids. Which is all to say nothing of the simple joy that a house that smells of vanilla brings. Baking in and of itself is meditative and soul nourishing, and if made with real foods, body nourishing as well. And let us not forget the delicious fruit of baking’s labor and the special occasions made tastier and more memorable in a single bite!
Fellow FOOD Mavens, I’m asking you to rise up and claim your right to real foods. I know I’ve been hankering on about Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (did you watch the premier last week? I thought it was must-see TV!), the Child Nutrition Act (that just had its budget cut in the Senate from President Obama’s proposed 10 billion to a less impressive 4.5, but still, it’s something), and the moral obligation each of us who can afford real foods does have to spend our consumer vote on real foods (in an effort to help build their demand, increase their supply, and make them more accessible and affordable). I’ve written before about the revolutionary power of the simple act of eating good food. You don’t have to take to the streets, write a blog, host a TV show or go on book tour to be a progressive eater, but you might just have to break a few eggs…and if you can get out to the farmers’ market this weekend you can pick up some araucana eggs in the rainbow shades of spring.
They don’t come cheap at $7 per half dozen, but nothing this good ever does. Araucana eggs boast bright orange yolks rich in naturally occurring nutrients; their chickens enjoy a free-range, grain-fed diet that ensures they’re living the good life, and their pretty pastels hues were the inspiration for Martha Stewart’s paint collection. Trust me, these eggs are so gorgeous you could save yourself from dying them this weekend and serve up a striking centerpiece or deviled eggs on Easter.
Better yet, why not exercise your political power and bake a batch of cupcakes! The Dinner Belle has had an inordinate request for cupcakes of late, so I’ve been experimenting with a few original recipes I’ll share on my blog next week. While everyone else settles in to celebrate the holiday weekend, starting at noon on Friday-Sunday, Erin and I will be at Topshop serving up hundreds of bite-size fluffer-nutter, red velvet and brown-butter strawberry shortcakes. Come on down to say hello and Eat it Up!