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Given painful budget cuts in the New York school system, parents say their homemade confections are a more wholesome way to help fund school programs.
Given painful budget cuts in the New York school system, parents say their homemade confections are a more wholesome way to help fund school programs. Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
Psssst. Hey, kid. You want some of the sweet stuff? You know, sugar, the Granulated Monkey?
Anisa Romero, mom to a pre-kindergarten student in New York City, would definitely hook you up. She and her PTA crew recently brought a slew of pastries and goodies to City Hall for a bake sale — and protest.
New York City parents are demanding the right to bake their cake and sell it, too, after the city's schools began enforcing a once-a-month limit on PTA bake sales during the school day. Student groups are prohibited altogether from selling home-baked items as fundraisers. Education officials say they want only approved, packaged snacks sold in the hallways because of health concerns. But parents argue that their homemade goodies are a more wholesome way to help fund school programs in the wake of painful budget cuts in the New York school system.
Romero refers to her PTA posse as "Renegade Mommas" as she offers up a slice of vegan chocolate cake — just the kind of caloric temptation that gets New York school officials really frosted.
What's particularly galling to parents is that city schools are permitted to sell junk food as long as it has a package and a label and meets certain guidelines.
So parents and students can fundraise anytime they want with Cool Ranch Doritos or whole-grain Pop-Tarts or Quaker Oats granola bars. The packaged food just has to have fewer than 200 calories and not more than 35 percent fat.
PTA parent Leanne O'Conner held up one of her banned chocolate chip cookies, which she says is made with "organic butter, brown sugar, eggs, flour, cinnamon and chocolate chips." By contrast, the label on a Linden's chocolate chip cookie — Department of Education-approved — lists flour, soybean oil, chocolate chips, maltodextrin and partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil.
"I didn't put any [maltodextrin] in mine," she says. "There's no partially hydrogenated anything in mine."
It's easy to make fun of the rules. Even the man who has to defend them seems reluctant to take on the Renegade Mommas. David Cantor, press secretary for the New York City Department of Education, stood quietly at the edge of the City Hall bake sale.
"We have no way of knowing what nutritional content food brought from home has," Cantor says, noting that he recently saw a picture of a school bake sale featuring chocolate chip cookies with bacon.
"We're trying to balance two things: the need to deal with the major child obesity epidemic — 40 percent of our kids [in New York schools] are obese or overweight — with the need to allow parents and kids to fundraise for their schools and extracurricular activities," he says.
And as organic as some treats might be, they're still desserts. Romero admits that even though her chocolate cake is vegan, it isn't particularly healthful.
"Yeah, yeah — it's full of calories," she says. "But I am all about my sweets. But I want them to be real sweets. Good, nutritious, homemade sweets."
So in New York City, it has come down to this: industrial junk food vs. homemade junk food. But what are schools going to do? Pay for art supplies with broccoli and Brussels sprouts?