“Let’s Fight the Man:” What Health-Conscious Schools and Parents Are Up Against

An anonymous source provided me with this excerpt from his/her elementary school’s recent PTA newsletter. I’ve redacted any identifying information but otherwise made no changes. The photo appeared in the original version:

The Food Police Raid [name of school]

Not really. But new federal guidelines now say that all snacks sold at school must be “Smart Snacks”.

What defines a Smart Snack? I have no idea exactly, but it’d be a good guess that apples are, Cheetos aren’t.

Another dumb rule is that food can’t be sold on campus, including 30 minutes before school starts or 30 minutes after school ends. Which is why the PTA no longer sells popcorn on Fridays. But here’s the real punch: [name of school] raised every cent needed to renovate the [school fixture] through popcorn sales alone! I’m being totally serious.

It also means no more snack sales on Field Day. This means [name of coach] won’t be able to raise money during that event for her PE special programs. These are good illustrations of why fundraisers involving food sales are so crucial, and why this rule is a buzzkill.

So let’s fight The Man!

The Student Health Advisory Council (SHAC) is meeting about this issue on [date of meeting] and public comments are welcome. Those who show up can pressure [name of district] to allow exemptions from these crazy rules.

Not long after this newsletter was sent out, the PTA issued a retraction of sorts and reaffirmed its belief in a “healthy campus.” Apparently the PTA was upset over a recent announcement by its district that it was adopting a “zero exemption day” policy, meaning food fundraisers in this district can now only sell Smart Snacks-compliant foods and drinks. (More about Smart Snacks and exemption days here.)

I applaud this PTA’s desire to raise money to improve children’s educational experience. Here in Houston ISD (not where the newsletter originated), we’re facing a budget shortfall of over $200 million dollars, which means PTA fundraising is going to be more crucial than ever. But precisely because the need in Houston is going to be so high, I fear that whatever (teeny tiny) inroads we’ve made in reducing school junk food fundraising are about to be obliterated. (More on HISD’s longstanding addiction to junk food fundraising in this opinion piece I recently wrote for the Houston Chronicle.)

I feel like I’ve said it a thousand times but I’ll say it again: Using junk food to raise money for schools is robbing Peter to pay Paul.  If students’ immediate needs are being met at the expense of their longterm health, the price is too high.

Meanwhile, the author of the above email is wrong on two counts. First, “fundraisers involving food sales” are actually not “crucial;” many PTA’s have successfully used non-food fundraisers like those listed here, or have just asked parents for a flat donation, whatever they feel they can pay, at the beginning of the school year. And second, while I’m not happy about it, the Smart Snacks rules are in fact loose enough that Cheetos can be sold at on-campus fundraisers, at least in their “copycat” iterations:

Yup. All of these Cheetos variations are Smart Snacks compliant.

I’m guessing many of you, when trying to improve things at your own child’s school, have come up against this same derisive attitude: that cleaning up campus junk food is a “buzzkill” imposed by meddling “food police.” Feel free to share your war stories with the rest of us in a comment below or on TLT’s Facebook page. We’re here for you!  🙂


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