The sun shone brightly yesterday afternoon on an assembled crowd of parents and children who gathered in City Hall Park to protest A812, the Department of Education’s recently instituted regulation banning school bake sales. Holding signs with slogans like “Food From Our Kitchens Not a Factory” and “Our Schools Are Not Supermarkets,” a large group of protesters chanted “NYC DOE, read our lips, no more chips,” amid a swarm of reporters, who attempted not to trip over the demonstration’s smaller members.
Elizabeth Puccini, one of the protest’s chief organizers, seemed pleased with the turnout. “It’s going well so far,” she said. “There’s something about this story that has interested the media. It’s the first time that mothers have come out and taken a stand against obesity.” She hoped that the protest and it accompanying exposure would lead “[Chancellor] Joel Klein or Mike Bloomberg to repeal the ban — the decision of these policies should be left with wellness committees and parents.” Puccini, whose children attend the Children’s Workshop School in the East Village, was inspired to take action after attending the Panel for Educational Policy’s vote in favor of the ban in late February. “The DOE wants to come down so hard on bake sales,” she said. “Why count calories on bake sales when we make junk food available to kids every day? It’s an issue of common sense.”
Standing near the two tables the protesters had set up — one holding “banned” items such as homemade (and rather delicious looking) brownies, cupcakes, and cookies, and one bearing a somewhat pathetic pile of DOE-approved snacks like Pop Tarts and Doritos — Jean Lee echoed Puccini’s sentiments. Lee, whose child attends kindergarten at the Children’s Workshop School, sits on the school’s nutrition committee, and helped to organize the demonstration.
“We’re outraged,” she said, noting that so far, “at least” 5,000 people have signed an online petition opposing the ban, and that they’ve gotten support from parents as far away as San Francisco. “We’re hoping we can have a conversation with Joel Klein,” Lee said. “We trust they’ll meet us on this — we’re not irrational.” Bake sales, she added, had become even more crucial to school fundraising efforts thanks to “drastic” funding cuts, and profit margins from sales of processed goods wouldn’t be the same. And something less tangible was also at stake: “the community aspect of teaching kids to bake.”
“This is our constitutional right,” Lee said. “We don’t feel Big Brother should be telling us what we should be feeding our kids.”
Lee stressed that the committee that she and other parents formed is an ad hoc committee. “I don’t want principals being jeopardized,” she said. “Our own principal is worried right now.” Principals throughout the school system, Lee said, received a letter from the city government advising them to adhere to the new regulation. Puccini had also heard about the letter, and echoed Lee’s assertion. “There’s definitely fear among principals and educators” about going against the new regulation, she said.
An hour or so into the protest, Puccini was joined by Public Advocate Bill De Blasio and City Councilmember Gail Brewer, who both spoke out against the ban. “We appeal to the DOE to remember traditions,” De Blasio said, as a little girl asked her father, “Is that Mike Bloomberg?”
Brewer announced that she was introducing a resolution in city council to oppose the bake sale policy. “Baked goods are far healthier than anything on the DOE’s list,” she said, to a round whoops and cheers.
As other people came forward to speak, parents attempted to quiet their children, some of whom looked in need of a nap and others, like a little boy waving a sign reading “Doritos and Pop Tarts Kill,” seemed to require no additional fuel from anything that might be sold at a bake sale, banned or otherwise.
Tanya Bannister stood off to the side, watching all the action with her five-year-old son, Max. “I’m not a political person, but this is just common sense,” she said. “They want us to sell merchandised crap. I’m not giving him a dollar to buy Doritos.” Max, asked what he liked to eat at bake sales, looked a little lost. “Nothing,” he said. His mother smiled sympathetically. “My son’s hungry.”