Politics Everywhere: Cupcakes in School

MeMe Roth, a publicist and an Upper West Side mother of two, is getting really, really mad — “and I do not mean angry,” she clarified. “I mean mad, like crazy.” Ms. Roth is being driven mad by Public School 9, where her children are in second and fourth grades, and it seems that P.S. 9, in turn, is being driven mad by Ms. Roth.
Ms. Roth, who runs a group called National Action Against Obesity, has no problem with the school lunches provided at the highly regarded elementary school on Columbus Avenue and 84th Street. What sets her off is the junk food served on special occasions: the cupcakes that come out for every birthday, the doughnuts her children were once given in gym, the sugary “Fun-Dip” packets that some parent provided the whole class on Valentine’s Day.

Doughnuts in gym! I never had that. Can anything be more potent than combining the politics of food with the politics of education? The article is here. (See also this.) More on MeMe Roth is here and here. Here is some political science research on obesity, courtesy of Eric Oliver.

And, of course, see Lee’s posts on cake (there are several!), cupcakes, cookies, and bagels —all targets of Ms. Roth. I just hope she doesn’t see this.

[Inaugural post in this ongoing series.]

8 Responses to Politics Everywhere: Cupcakes in School

  1. suoidiu June 17, 2009 at 12:04 pm #

    Sounds like she’s gone cuckoo for cocoa puffs. Someone should give out candy cigarettes to her classmates so we can watch her head explode.

  2. stefan June 17, 2009 at 12:07 pm #

    Yes, with three young kids I was able to observe that some teachers do — very surprisingly — allow a culture with cupcakes brought in for ‘special occasions’, which very rapidly gets you to some junk food every week (or worse). I was completely taken aback, since we live a northeastern liberal suburb. Luckily the school did finally crack down on it, and we moved on to a new homeroom.

    The bottom line: yes, there are teachers and parents out there who think two or more cupcakes a week is fine. And a slight ‘nudge’ (or more) doesn’t make them change what they do.

  3. Joel June 17, 2009 at 1:07 pm #

    you’re worried about two cupcakes a week?

    you must not have gone to those “parties” they throw in daycare. i’ve watched my older kid go for two cupcakes in an hour. i can only imagine what he does when i’m not there.

    fortunately, i strap him to the bicycle generator from the minute we get home until “bed”time.

  4. Dan Tarrant June 17, 2009 at 4:31 pm #

    In my ideal world, students would receive vouchers for their gym cupcakes that they could redeem at the bakery of their choice.

  5. Thomas June 17, 2009 at 7:49 pm #

    If this to be a continuing feature, perhaps you could make the link to politics explicit, because I don’t see it in this one. She runs an public-interest group? Is that it? Because it’s about schools?

  6. Andrew June 17, 2009 at 8:24 pm #

    John: I don’t see why you call this “politics everywhere,” as if there is some surprise that there is politics in schools. Conflict, limited resources, different people with different goals, . . . schools are notoriously political places.

  7. Doug Hess June 17, 2009 at 9:17 pm #

    Andrew/Thomas: I take the title as meaning that he’s investigating politics in “micro” situations. I.e., how politics/power/policy events influence things very close to home through/among small groups.

    Regarding the article: the politics of soda pop and candy machines in schools is very complicated. The machines mean money for the schools, yet are bad for the kids…so you get the school nurse, nutritionist and gym teacher squaring off against the principal, super and board. Lots of localities (states?) are now banning or resricting the machines, or replacing the soda with water and milk.

  8. John Sides June 17, 2009 at 9:28 pm #

    Doug’s comment nicely addresses Thomas’s and Andy’s questions. The purpose of this series is to identify how the basic characteristics of politics are visible in non-obvious or unusual or interesting places. Thomas, in the inaugural post (see link above), I supply a definition of politics that applies to cupcakes at PS 9.

    Andy: “Politics Everywhere” doesn’t necessarily imply a “surprise.” And the post explicitly notes that the politics of education is a fixture (as is the politics of food). What I found interesting is that this debate went beyond the usual debates in education — even the debates about candy and soda that Doug notes. In this case, Roth has no issue with PS 9’s lunch program (which, I presume, includes no soda or candy). Her issue is with the apparently not-so-innocuous appearance of sugary treats at class parties and the like. This strikes me as a whole new level of political conflict about kids and food — one noteworthy enough to warrant media coverage in the New York Times and “Good Morning America.”