Save the cupcake!
That's what one New York state assemblyman intends to do with proposed legislation aimed at reversing several school districts' bans on the sweet treat at classroom parties, fundraising bake sales and other events.
Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, a Democrat from the Bronx, N.Y., is introducing a bill Friday that would make the cupcake the official New York state snack — and thus protect it from the bans that are becoming increasingly widespread as a way to combat childhood obesity and diabetes.
"Making the cupcake the official state children’s snack is my way of saying, 'Let’s put some brakes on what’s happening to the cupcake,'" Benjamin said in a phone interview. "The way the American eagle is the official national bird and it’s illegal to harm one — my thought is, you make the cupcake something similar, and leave the cupcake alone."'
A number of schools in Long Island, N.Y., elsewhere in New York and across the country in states including Texas, New Jersey and California have put the kibosh on the mini-cakes for classroom birthday and other parties, claiming they're key offenders in the growing child obesity and diabetes problems. The new rules are also a way to comply with state nutrition guidelines, like the one passed in New York last spring.
Huntington School District in Long Island explains its ban on the sweet snacks — and any other food — for classroom parties, fundraising activities like bake sales and other at-school events on its Web site.
"It is the policy of the district that food shall not be used in the classroom, except as a part of a snack brought from home for the individual consumption of students," the district says. "The policy forbids food from being used as an incentive or reward or for instructional purposes (except in home and career skills classes), birthday celebrations or holiday or seasonable celebrations. Instead, alternatives are suggested that include singing and dancing, special privileges or even games."
Huntington nutritionist Georgia McCarthy wasn't immediately available for comment Friday on Benjamin's proposed law. But a PTA representative told New York Newsday that good nutrition should begin in the classroom.
"We all grew up having cupcakes for birthday, and it's a shame it came down to this," Nancy Shivers told the newspaper. "On the other side, if we're going to be responsible (about nutrition), we really need to start in the schools."
Still, the assemblyman — who was involved in passing the New York nutrition legislation promoting healthier eating and fitness for kids — said it's wrong to target the cupcake, because the problem's roots are much deeper.
"I recognize the need to do something, but I don’t think banning the cupcake is the way to go. It extends outside of school," Benjamin said, pointing to the more serious issue of kids "eating at fast-food restaurants or sitting at home watching TV or playing video games and stuffing their faces with potato chips and Cheez Whiz." He said parents need to teach kids about healthy overall eating habits and encourage them to go outside and play to get exercise.
Additionally, cupcake bans cut into fundraising abilities for school teams, clubs and other activities, since the little frosted desserts are a staple of many bake sales, according to the assemblyman.
At least 10 districts in New York state have imposed the anti-cupcake rules, Benjamin said. Elsewhere in the country, schools in Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, California and several other states have adopted similar birthday-party food bans.
Parents' reactions to the cupcake prohibition have been mixed, with some angry about the no-cupcake policies and others in favor of them. Few, if any, seem to be aware of Benjamin's proposed bill, but he hopes that media coverage will help alert his constituents so that he can hear their reactions.
The icing-on-top favorite has no idea that an assemblyman from the Bronx has become one of its greatest allies. But Benjamin seems tireless in his cupcake crusade.
"It’s not the cupcake that’s the problem," he said. "The cupcake represents Americana. … It's part of the American psyche."