The increasingly regulated world we eat in keeps twisting in new and unusual ways, the headline-occupying trans fat ban by the New York City Board of Health--a move the Restaurant Association calls an example of "well-intentioned, misguided social engineering"--being only the most recent kink. New York's trans fat debates mirror our city's struggles over foie gras, in that overriding health concerns, whether for humans or ducks or--below--for children, have pushed the issue past the area of personal responsibility into (for lack of a better term) states' rights. The RA--which has been working to get rid of trans fats--still has concerns over a "municipal health agency banning a product or ingredient the Food and Drug Administration has already approved."
(Getting less attention than the trans fat ban was the NY board's simultaneous vote to institute mandatory restaurant menu labeling, which is scary news for fans of good design everywhere, not to mention a stupid, Sisyphisian information-architecture nightmare of the most dead end, absurdist order. Picture the back of a can of creamed corn. Now picture it cross-bred hundreds of times onto your dinner menu. Not to mention, the possibility of being misled actually becomes greater in this context: those seemingly rock-solid nutrional numbers are actually verrrry slippery. Who's going to be responsible for keeping track? Can you imagine how bad this could be for waitstaff?)
Anyhow, the newest development in this strange new world? More activity on the cupcake front. Our constitutionally-protected right to pursue small desserts is under assault.
In 2004, new wellness guidelines were passed by the Department of Agriculture to be implemented by every school district that participates in the federal school meals program by the first day of this school year. They mandated the creation of local policies by schools, parents, and nutritionists based on federal nutritional guidelines (which were updated this year in the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act, eliminating foods not meeting "minimal nutritional requirements" from school cafeterias and vending machines). And in implementing these guidelines on a local level cupcakes started to disappear from classrooms, not to mention candy fundraisers and bakesales, as school districts everywhere decided that bringing in sweet treats for birthdays was no longer OK.
In 2005 the issue reached such a pitch in Texas that out of frustration the state legislature passed a "Safe Cupcake Amendment" to ensure that whatever 'healthy eating' procedures were in place, parents could still bring in cupcakes. Most locations, however, have started school birthday traditions like passing out stickers. Or pencils. Or reading from a favorite book. A school in Alexandria, Virginia, is the latest to ban cupcakes. Adding a whole other psychological layer to this issue? According to the Washington Post, this school does not outright ban cupcakes for their sugar content; their policy "bans only the use of food as a reward or punishment." As the article also points out, all this heated cupcake debate comes at a time when adults are awash in cupcakes--a high-end specialty cupcake bakery opened up in Alexandria this week. We are up to our nipples in delicious designer cupcakes. Lining up to buy them. Dancing down the streets nibbling them, serving them at weddings, building houses out of them, using them like currency. I dunno--at a casual Freudian squint, it sounds like we're busy creating an entire generation of kids more obsessed with cupcakes than even we grownups could be.