Is Twinkie-Snatching Really Happening?

meowser-48.jpg posted by meowser

There’s a post on Pandagon today by Amanda Marcotte about how it’s not so bad that schools are banning the sale of “junk food,” because after all, kids can simply bring their own from home if they want to have Twinkies so badly and their parents agree. 

In response, I linked to Harriet Brown’s post from last week about “Syrupgate,” in which a fourth grader had a tiny amount of maple syrup he she brought from home to put on his her school-sanctioned French Toast Stix (!) confiscated in the name of Halting Obesity Once and For All.  What response I got to this amounted to, “Well, that was an isolated incident.”

Is it?  Not being a parent I have never experienced it personally.  And I know, thanks to Junkfood Science, that this is beginning to happen in countries like Scotland, children having their lunches brought from home examined and “offending” items confiscated, and that birthday cupcakes and other goodies brought for classmates are now widely banned in the name of Getting and Keeping the Children Slim, which is now evidently more important for schools to concern themselves with than, oh, reading ‘n’ math.

But are children’s own personal lunches brought to school really being raided by school officials in America on a regular basis?  Do you have a personal story about this?  If you do, please share, either here or over at Pandagon.

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30 Responses to “Is Twinkie-Snatching Really Happening?”

  1. JoGeek Says:

    When I went to school, admittedly ten years ago, it was illegal to search a child or their posessions (backpack, etc.) unless there was a clear suspicion that they were carrying something dangerous. As in direct physical danger to self or others. Like a gun. Mountain Dew wouldn’t count. Some schools wouldn’t even search then, but call the parents and/or cops to conduct the search. Going through their lunches, I hope, would fall under the same privacy rules. That aside, I think it’s ridiculous that many schools in the U.S. have to spend so much money to keep actual guns, drugs, knives and pedophiles from coming into the building that they can’t afford books, yet some districts could actually waste time checking 2,000 lunches for twinkies every day.

  2. attrice Says:

    I know it’s not happening around here. Lots of selling candy for fundraising, but no piles of junkfood and soda for the kids during the day and certainly no restrictions on junkfood being brought into the school.

    Honestly, I think both “sides” of this issue tend to take extreme and/or isolated cases and use them to support big conclusions.

  3. kateharding Says:

    I’d imagine actual twinkie/syrup snatching is rare, but what I hear from mom friends is that it’s the peer pressure that’s a bitch. You can’t send peanut butter because of one kid’s peanut allergies, sugar because of one kid’s diabetes, and then it’s totally frowned upon (if not forbidden outright) to send cupcakes for a kid’s birthday, potato chips for a snack, whatev. Unless you send organic apples and baby carrots, you’re the BAD MOM.

    My mom sent a piece of fruit in my lunch every day, and quite frankly, I threw it out half the time, and frequently walked to a candy store after school. And once, in a moment of stupidity I nearly got my ass beaten for (because my mom was diabetic and I should have known better), I traded a diabetic kid real candy for his sugar-free stuff, ’cause I actually liked the sugar free stuff, and he really wanted mine.

    Once again, the fantasy of control is just that.

  4. fashionablenerd Says:

    Here in Texas, vending machines in the schools don’t have soda and such in them. They have water, juice, and Slim-Fast. And not in the teacher’s lounge, either. Out there with the students.
    Sigh. Big Brother is indeed watching.

  5. Jae Says:

    Here in Texas, vending machines in the schools don’t have soda and such in them. They have water, juice, and Slim-Fast.

    SLIM FAST?! Wow…

    My mom works in a school, so all my experience with this kind of thing comes through her. Up until recently, she was with the youngest kids and they eat lunch in the room; typically lunch consists of an entree, a veggie, a fruit, a bread item, a carton of milk, and a dessert item, and extra food is always sent so kids can have more if they want. What is the number one food requested for seconds (and even thirds)? Broccoli. Often before they’ve really touched other parts of the meal, kids are asking for more broccoli. And this is in a situation where all kinds of foods are provided, and no one is forced to eat anything they don’t like.

    I think if food is just food and not made out to be glorious or evil, everything will be alright.

    As far as food being taken away from kids, that is wrong. If I send my hypothetical child to school with some potato chips in their lunch that means it is okay for them to eat it. I am not the type to feel any government program is an intrusion in my life, but there does come a point where things go too far, and that is one of them. If the school doesn’t want to provide these foods that’s fine with me, though I believe it may create other problems (the aforementioned demonization/deification of foods), but if decide a food is okay for my child, what right does a stranger have to decide it isn’t?

  6. attrice Says:

    Here, the elementary schools allow (and encourage) parents to bring cookies/cupcakes for kids’ birthdays so long as there is enough for everyone.

    My highschool had several vending machines in the late 90s. We had soda, candy and fruitopia, but the machines were only on during lunch.

    And while I’m not for wigging out over soda or candy, I don’t have a problem with schools offering healthy options in the machines (although slimfast? gross) and I would rather there not be any vending machines at all. I’m all for increasing funding and switching around some farm subsidies so kids in schools have access to better quality fruit and more nutritious lunches.

    Maybe it’s because I’m a sorta-socialist liberal, but there is a lot of talk of “nanny state” and such when it comes to nutrition that I think is both a bit class-blind and vaguely libertarianesque.

  7. meowser Says:

    For the record, I don’t necessarily have a problem with schools not offering “junk food” for sale, as long as the “healthy” food that replaces it is actually edible (e.g. NOT overripe or underripe fruit) and as affordable as the items being replaced. And I think the whole business of schools having to have “pouring contracts” with soda companies in order to afford new books and such is a pretty crappy deal. What I specifically find objectionable, though, is the idea of kids’ personal lunches being searched for “fattening” items, and the demonizing of certain kinds of food. Certainly my experience bears out that forbidding kids certain kinds of food makes them more likely to crave such things, not less.

  8. attrice Says:

    Oh, my last post was just sort of my rambling thoughts. I didn’t get from your post that you were all rah rah for vending machines.

    And you’re absolutely right in that many many people who are ready to swoon at the idea of kids eating junk food either aren’t aware or aren’t interested in the quality of school lunches, and that taking away a kids ability to get a bag of chips or a candy bar doesn’t mean much if the only option they’re left with is sandy old apples, meat product and tater tots.

    And schools looking through and taking away food from kids lunches is ridiculous in the extreme.

  9. Fat Gal Says:

    I am on several moms lists with US moms and they all say that this sort of thing is happening at their kids schools. And it happens here in Australia too.

    One story from a US friend that stunned me was that her daughter (10yrs) isnt allowed to take an APPLE to school with her unless it is peeled and cut. Everything has to be “hand held”. Now I always thought an apple (in its original state) WAS hand held…seems I was misinformed!

  10. meowser Says:

    Holy crap, Fat Gal, for real? Like JoGeek says, where do they get the resources to do all this lunch-searching? Or is it yet another thing teachers are now expected to provide as an “extra service,” like reporting kids whose parents might be illegal aliens to the INS?

  11. OTM Says:

    First they came for the syrup, and I did not speak out because I always packed lunch on French toast stix day…

  12. meowser Says:

    I’m LOL at that, OTM. But maybe I shouldn’t be.

  13. Carrie Says:

    It wasn’t happening three years ago when I worked as an aide and had to help kids open their milk and do other such fun tasks. The very idea of an authority figure taking away a child’s lunch would have probably given the principal a heart attack and we all would have been sued up one side and down the other. It was really sad when we had one little boy who bringing in lunches that consisted solely of a bag of cheetos and a bag of skittles.

  14. ShannonCC Says:

    My kids don’t go to school so I don’t have any stories to share, but that doesn’t sound legal. You know, I have no problem not bringing peanuts or another allergen to a playdate if I know a kid there is allergic. Aside from that though, it’s no one else’s business what I feed my kids. (ok, actually I don’t think they’ve ever had Twinkies now that I think of it, LOL! They’re both Slim Jim fiends though 😉 )

  15. Harriet Says:

    Around here, not only is bringing maple syrup to school frowned upon but you are NOT ALLOWED to send birthday cupcakes to school. With your kindergartner. And on days when pizza is served in the school lunchroom, no child is allowed to have a second piece. Ever. This is not an issue of there not being enough to go around–it’s become school policy because, you know, pizza is Bad For You and Will Make You Fat.

    T

  16. stefanie Says:

    If a school had tried to tell me what my child could or couldn’t eat at lunch (i.e. no 2nd slice of pizza), I’d have marched up to that cafeteria and handed the food to the child personally. It might have embarrassed her to pieces, but she would have gotten what she wanted to eat. There is no way a school was going to tell me what to feed or not feed to my child.

  17. Christine Says:

    As of last year (4th grade), my daughter’s school has enacted a ban on “unhealthy treats” sent in for birthdays and class parties. No cupcakes, no doughnuts, no cookies, etc. When I asked a teacher what I was “allowed” to send for my daughter’s birthday, I was given some arbitrary, bullshit calorie cutoff, like, “Nothing over 100 calories per serving,” or some such nonsense. I think I might have been given a limit on sugar grams, too, but I’m not sure. I ended up bringing popsicles.

    So far, the only limit on what can be brought from home for lunch/snacks is candy. As in, “Absolutely no candy is to be brought from home, ever. No exceptions.” The principal reminded us of this rule the day before Halloween. But this new rule coincides with a new principal this year, so I think it might be her own personal thing.

  18. Godless Heathen Says:

    I think it might be helpful, Harriet, if you could share some of your personal frustrations with the Pandagon people. Although there are people there who have lived personally with an eating disorder, I think there aren’t that many parents of children who have (or have had) eating disorders. I think your post “Mom, I’m too fat” could be a real eye opener for a lot of people who think there’s absolutely no problem in ham fistedly hammering “healthy eating” into the minds of impressionable kids.

  19. Fat Gal Says:

    Hey Meowser,
    For real! I know here in Australia (well at our local schools where I live) the children have to eat their lunch either in the class room or in a specific area outside. Both are always under the supervision of a teacher who is there to basically make sure they eat their lunch. If there is something in the lunch that isnt allowed (ie candy, soft drink, cake etc) the teacher will send a note home to the parents and if it happens again it gets confiscated. Also with lunch orders and school canteen (we dont have school lunches like in England or cafeterias like in the US) there is a list of what you can get and there is no candy, chips/crisps, cake, cookies/biscuits, soda/soft drink allowed.

    Oh and my friend in the US said her kids arent allowed to take juice to school either, it is water or it is nothing.

  20. Harriet Says:

    Good idea, Godless. I’ve jumped into the fray over there.

  21. Rachel Says:

    Slim-Fast? Oh, wow. I knew schools got kickbacks from soda companies for having their products in schools, but seeing as how adolescence is the age in which many an eating disorder fester (or when basic food habits and behaviors are formed, period) I am awed and amazed a school would sink that low.

    I cover schools in about 16 communities on the east side of Cincinnati. In one school district, teachers aren’t allowed to pass out candy as treats, but the school still offers junk food options for lunch. Another school, a private school whose yearly tuition is equal to two years of my college tuition, offers organic salad bars and gourmet, low-fat dishes for lunch. So, it’s quite the range of rules I see here.

  22. Eve Says:

    I’m reeling over the No Second Slice of Pizza thing. Do these schools realize that some kids don’t get enough to eat at home? Maybe it’s only in really wealthy areas that this happens.

  23. DivaJean Says:

    Yes. It is happening big time in one of Syracuse’s suburban school districts- East Syracuse/Minoa. The decision was: no cupcakes or “bad snacks” for birthdays and no candy ever. Not even as lunch box treat for a special day that the parent feels appropriate. One of our newspaper columnists hit upon the discussion here:
    http://www.syracuse.com/articles/kirst/index.ssf?/base/news-0/1193821590306720.xml&coll=1

    and you can see local blog reaction here:
    http://blog.syracuse.com/news/2007/10/join_the_great_cupcake_debate.html

    Most people are fed up with the “OMGtehfat” reaction over snacks at school and loss of parents right to choose what their own kids have for lunch or snack.

    Other local districts have similar “No candy ever” policies but are a bit softer on snacks- one birthday celebration/month in each classroom with healthy snacks every other day- or similar equitable plans.

    One thing to notice- high schools don’t end up in the mix much because of different “pouring rights” contracts they make for soda machines. There is too much money to be made for the school and for the soda vendors. Basically, parents will wring their hands over OMGtehfat when no money is to be made- but if the school can make some money off kids buying junkfood, they seem to turn the blind eye.

  24. meowser Says:

    Thanks Divajean. But OMG, could that Sean Kirst story have been a little more lipophobic? ZOMG THESE CHILDREN TODAY ARE SO GREEDY THEY EXPECT TO EAT AND EAT ALL THE TIME NO WONDER THEY’RE SUCH PORKERS.

  25. Autumn Says:

    I’m a teacher that worked summer before last at a school-affiliated summer program for students k-6. We were instructed that if a student brought a soda with lunch, we were to take it and give the child juice. When the parent came, we should give the soda to the parent and explain that students weren’t allowed to have soda with their lunch.

    It was also expected that I as an adult would not drink soda, though it was not an on-the-books rule.

    In any event, you can bet my fat ass (and the one of my coworker) did not once take a soda from a kid. I can’t say the same for those on other shifts.

  26. Moonlight0806 Says:

    I worked as a councilor at a day camp for elementary age kids. If you have every worked at a day camp you know that the head boss is usually on a big power trip. One summer our boss outlawed soda. Even for the staff, we were not allowed to drink it because the children might see and that would make us hypocritical. Funny thing is the juices they give them often have just as many or more calories per serving, and are barely even made of actual juice. In my experience the people making the rules have very little actual understanding of how nutrition works, they just read an article and become food zealots. So a power hungry boss got to determine what I ate at work all summer, and I am an adult.

  27. miep Says:

    as a teacher, I ask that parents not send lots of sugary treats with their kids because the last thing I need is a bunch of sugared up students.

    birthdays are something else. not too much sugar, cuz, like I said, who wants to teach a bunch of jacked-up fourth graders, but who cares about calories??? send some cinnamon bread and butter! lots of butter!

  28. Rebecca Says:

    Hey all –

    I am kind of alarmed. I have just returned to the US after having lived abroad for years, and I cannot believe, or maybe I’d forgotten, the grasp eating disorders (all varieties) have here. I guess when I read stuff like this, all I can think is – it figures. Gee, I wonder why kids (including myself, ca. 20 years ago) got to grow up equating “being good” and “being bad” with food intake. I thought “being good” meant not hurting people or something, not denying yourself that piece of cake you feel like eating.

    See, the parents in the comments (hi!) have all of these very, very strong feelings about what the school can and cannot do – so I wonder if this (hopefully isolated) incident highlights the fact that public school fat-stamping-out policy is hugely (misconceived and) misdirected. It’s the parents who care the most about their kids, and the parents who set the home policy and whose collaboration with the school is key towards ensuring that their kids are fed nutrients and are physically satisfied so that they can, like, learn – and maybe also have some social interaction.

    I think that the people who insist that no school is going to determine what their kids eat may have the resources (and I’m not just talking about money) to make sure that this is the case, but that’s not everyone. I suppose that, in a sense, I believe in a collective – not that schools should grab what they determine to be garbage (whose definition, by the way? I agree with all of you that SlimFast is not a vegetable or whatever, and in my world I’d confiscate anything that came in a FAT-FREE GREEN package as being deprivational), but that perhaps they should invest these resources in educating parents as to what foods they provide, why they provide them, and what role parents can play in this collaboration.

    My sister-in-law, for example, had no idea what to serve her kids (or herself, for that matter). I mean, I find that incredible, but she really wanted to know things like – Fanta is not fruit, or something, or that buying processed chemicals disguised as “alfredo sauce” was maybe less wise than just using a stick of butter. The thing is – she asked for, and got, help, so now she has the tools to offer what she feels is nutritious food. Of course, that presupposes that we’re all on the same page as to what constitutes rich (in the varied and useful sense) food, but a few basics – nutrient-rich foods, foods that fill kids sustainably and don’t just wire them, etc. – are always useful. And that birthday cupcakes are friggin okay because they contribute to the little community. Then I think it’s fairer to say – look, I have this information. Stay away from my kid’s Slim Jims.

    Then, with the parents, incorporating school gardens into the curriculum (which is what they do in low-income countries, so what the hell is the problem with introducing it into a wealthy country), or letting, for an idea, the kids work out the school menu for a week – or the parents – well, I’ll stop, as informed, participatory decision-making isn’t really the hallmark of our public schools, and I am an idealistic fool.

    As it is, and I can confirm this through my personal experience of twenty (erm, twenty-five?) years ago (to echo something Kate Harding says above about the candy store) – I ate the healthful lunches my mom prepared and binged my ass off when I got home. As an adult, I know that I have a great need of both salt and fat to be satisfied – I am a vegetarian, physically, not for principles, and I eat POUNDS of vegetables and fruits, legumes and grains. And I need this fat and salt. I barely register a heartbeat, and my cholesterol is low. Denying it to me when I was a kid only meant that I had to find other means to fill up – along with which came those feelings of “being bad.” If spreading mayonnaise on a slice of cheese didn’t clue someone in to my body’s needs, I’m not sure what could. So I’m really sensitive to what might be construed as good or bad for me by someone else – anything that is fat-free gets my hackles up, as that’s Not. For. Everyone., but in this environment, that’s what I would be fed.

    Anyway – this is long-winded, yuk yuk, but I feel this topic very personally. And for anyone who does not understand the import of the fat-acceptance movement, here is Exhibit A of what “fat as the problem” begets. Eating choices as morality.

  29. Arwen Says:

    They’re not removing things from kids’ lunches, but they have outlawed the sale of “junk” in British Columbia’s schools. (BC is a Canadian Province, on the West Coast.) This has unfortunately made bake sales for fund-raising Parent Committees illegal. Urgh.

  30. Sun Says:

    No snatching here in Central Texas yet, but I do know for a fact that the kids lunchboxes are being opened and examined, since I was told by my son’s life skills teacher how impressed she was by the good food I packed in my son’s lunch. I found this to be rather insulting, and VERY Big Brother-ish. I have told my son that if any teacher/admin EVER takes something from his lunch, call me immediately, and I will be up at the school right away whipping asses. The schools already know if they see me coming, they are in for a Very Bad Day.


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