by EVA HERSHAW
AUSTIN — Newly elected Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is going for the gut. In his first official act as commissioner, Miller granted full amnesty to cupcakes. Cakes, pies, and brownies made the list, too.
Miller was seeking to reassure Texas parents that it’s legal to bring cupcakes and other treats to school — and that he’ll protect that right.
“This is not about force-feeding cupcakes to our children,” the commissioner said, standing next to a table of cupcakes. “It is about local control.”
At a press conference Monday at the Texas Department of Agriculture, with a Hey Cupcake! food truck parked behind him, Miller reminded Texans that the statewide rules that once banned cupcakes and other junk food from classrooms were repealed last July. And the Miller administration, he said, will “do less when it comes to mandates for our local schools.”
The policy, which was more restrictive than federal guidelines, banned foods with high levels of sugar and fats from public schools and prohibited parents from handing out such foods to children other than their own. It was put in place in 2004 by then-Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, and the agency repealed the policy last year, when Todd Staples was commissioner. Miller said he was concerned many Texans may not know the policy was withdrawn.
“If you ask me, that sounds like something from the Obama administration,” Miller said of the 2004 policy. “I can’t believe we would be doing that here in Texas.”
But not everyone is celebrating cupcake amnesty.
“We are talking about the sickest generation of children that we’ve ever had in the United States,” said Christine Pollei, executive director of Marathon Kids, a national organization working to improve the quality of food in public schools.
In 2013, 16 percent of high school students in Texas were obese, up from 14 percent in 2005. Only Arkansas, Kentucky and Alabama reported higher rates. Nationwide, child obesity rates have jumped from 7 percent in 1980 to 18 percent in 2012. Among minorities, the rates for children and adolescents were significantly higher, with Hispanics at 22 percent and non-Hispanic black youth at 20 percent.
“Unlike adults, children don’t have a choice,” Pollei said. “It is our responsibility to work with kids on their internal volition when they do have a choice. Cupcakes are a normal part of life, but so are carrots, milk and water.”
The debate on sweets in the classroom is far from resolved. It hinges on so-called competitive foods, which are those that compete with the school’s lunch and breakfast programs. The definition includes food sold in the lunch line, in vending machines or as part of fundraisers – see: bake sales.
Under the current federal policy, competitive foods cannot be sold on school property from the midnight before a school day until 30 minutes after classes end. However, parents can provide such foods to their own children — in the case of lunch or snacks — and to other children during special events or birthday parties. In short, selling cupcakes is in direct violation of federal policy, but giving out cupcakes to children is not.
On Monday, the day before the 2015 legislative session began, the commissioner delivered 181 cupcakes to the Capitol — enough for each member of the House and Senate. A donor paid for the cupcakes, a spokesman for Miller said.
Before he went to the Capitol, Miller walked to the microphone with a cupcake in hand.
“There was once a famous line, and it went like this: Let them eat cake,” he said, taking a big bite of his cupcake.
EVA HERSHAW reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is made available here through a news partnership between the Texas Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.
COVER: Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller declares cupcake amnesty at a press conference on Jan. 12. PHOTOS via TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTUREEmail | Print