RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And now from toxic assets to fattening ones. In New York City, parents are demanding the right to put on bake sales. In the interest of encouraging kids to eat better, New York schools have clamped down on cupcake-pushing PTAs, allowing only approved package snacks to be sold in the hallways. And that has parents insisting that they be allowed to bake their cake and sell it, too. NPR's Robert Smith reports.
ROBERT SMITH: Psst. Hey, kid. You looking for some of the sweet stuff? You know, sugar, glucose, big white, sweet cane, the granulated monkey? I got a connection.
Ms. ANISA ROMERO(ph): My name's Anisa Romero. My daughter's in pre-k in East Village Community School.
SMITH: And this mom will definitely hook you up.
Ms. ROMERO: I brought a vegan chocolate cake.
SMITH: But Romero and her PTA crew are no longer lurking in the school yard to pedal these treats. Theyve brought their elicit pastries and their kids down to City Hall for a protest bake sale.
Ms. ROMERO: Renegade mommas, I guess. Want a piece of chocolate cake?
SMITH: Ah, thats how they get you. Next thing you know it's all Rice Krispie Treats and lemon bars. It's that caloric temptation thats worrying school officials her. They're now enforcing a once a month limit on PTA bake sales during the day.
The problem, Romero says, is that the crackdown is coming, just as the PTA is trying to make up for painful budget cuts in the New York City school system.
Ms. ROMERO: Our schools raise money for most of the programs like music and art, and that sort of thing.
SMITH: But what is particularly galling to these parents, the thing that inspired dozens of them to haul their cupcakes down to City Hall, is that in New York City you are allowed to sell junk food in the schools - it just has to have a package and a label and meet certain guidelines. So parents of students can fundraise anytime they want with Cool Ranch Doritos. They can sell whole grain Pop Tarts and Quaker Oats granola bars.
The package food just has to have less than 200 calories and have only 35 percent fat. So let's compare. PTA parent Leigh Anne O'Connor holds up one of her banned chocolate chip cookies.
Ms. LEIGH ANNE O'CONNOR (PTA Member, East Village Community School): Organic butter, brown sugar, eggs, flour, cinnamon and chocolate chips.
SMITH: Im holding in my hand a Department of Education approved product.
Ms. O'CONNOR: Mm-hmm.
SMITH: Here its Linden's chocolate chip cookies and look at this: flour, soy bean oil, chocolate chips - yeah, yeah, yeah - maltodextrin. And you dont have enough maltodextrin in yours.
Ms. O'CONNOR: I didnt put any in mine. No, maltodextrin.
SMITH: Partially hydrogenated cotton seed oil, you got in there?
Ms. O'CONNOR: There's no partially hydrogenated anything in mine.
SMITH: Okay, it is way too easy to make fun of these regulations. Even the man who has to defend the rules seems reluctant to take on all these moms and cute kids. David Cantor just stands back quietly, at the edge of the bake sale. He's the press secretary for the New York Department of Education.
Mr. DAVID CANTOR (Press Secretary, New York Department of Education): We have no way of knowing what kind of nutritional content food brought from home has.
SMITH: Cantor says he recently saw a picture of a school bake sale featuring chocolate chip cookies made with bacon.
Mr. CANTOR: We're trying to balance two things: The need to deal with the major child obesity epidemic - 40 percent of our kids are obese or overweight - with the need to allow parents and kids to fundraise for their schools and their extracurricular activity.
SMITH: It may be a hard balance for these particular PTA members to appreciate. I didnt see an overweight parent or child in the bunch. Their bake sale products are locally sourced, they're reasonably sized. This, of course, is not the situation at most New York City public schools.
And as organic as these bake sales may be, we're still talking about desserts here. Anisa Romero, she of the vegan chocolate cake, admits that it isnt particularly good for you.
Ms. ROMERO: It, yeah, is full calories, but I am all about my sweets. But I want them to be real sweets. Good, nutritious homemade sweets.
SMITH: So in New York it comes down to this choice: industrial junk food or homemade junk food. Ah, what you going to do? You dont pay for art supplies by selling broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
SMITH: Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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