I noticed with some interest the radio and news coverage of a school’s decision, made in consultation with the school association, to take a stronger stand on nutrition by banning the practice of giving candy canes with Christmas cards at school, and to also stop students bringing birthday cakes to school from next year.
Now I have a bit of a sweet tooth myself and I’m certainly no preacher or exemplar of healthy eating, but I do recognise that sugar is a ‘sometimes food.’ While I thought this was an unusually brave step for a school to take- and one that would no doubt ruffle a few feathers- what really surprised me was the reaction from the media and its consumers, with even the Education Minister showing some ridiculous overreach by his expressing public disapproval.
Some may also say an outright ban is a pretty draconian method for a school to employ, but without knowing the specifics of the situation, this could actually be the natural extension of several years of attempts to tackle poor nutrition in the school. Sometimes suggestions, requests and education campaigns don’t work- that’s why we have rules and laws too. Now we don’t know what efforts the school in question has already been to, because none of the reporters bothered to find out or report on it.
The negativity started with the reporting of the decision which was overwhelmingly critical, using words like ‘extraordinary,’ to describe the decision and choosing to focus much of the report on the inevitable group of parents who are unhappy with the decision (try to get 100% of people happy with any change). And out of some kind of morbid curiosity, I even looked in the online comments section (a mistake I didn’t think I would repeat from a month ago). Sure enough, the rhetoric and hysteria was cranked up another notch.
I didn’t hear a single person from the school given the opportunity to explain. Neither was there any focus on the very real problems of our shocking statistics around obesity and obesity-related deaths. Of course a Christmas candy cane is not going to cause instant obesity and illness, but the danger is subtle and pernicious. The development of bad eating habits and the impact one’s lifestyle and health is a gradual process that often only begins to show drastic consequences when reversing the process is much harder.
If we remove our own experiential biases and consider what we know about the effects of poor nutrition, the concept of a school trying to protect its students from the long term health issues connected it might seem quite reasonable. The puzzling thing for many people would be why the restrictions were limited to candy canes (and in 2017 birthday cakes), when there are plenty of other junk foods consumed by students. But the subject of this policy is well-chosen, because it aims squarely for one of the false premises of our gluttonous culture.
There is an almost ubiquitous pairing of junk food with celebrations. Weddings, Birthdays, Christmas and so on. This is actually completely arbitrary and a result of habit and tradition more than any need. If the candy cane ban is part of an effort to sever this unspoken link then it could be very positive for some of its students.
I commented last week that the quality and balance of the Mercury’s reporting left a lot to be desired, but this poor reporting was not restricted to that publication, with even ABC radio feeling this was worthy of public discussion. And it isn’t. There are enough challenges to running a school without the media providing a forum and impetus to being publically second-guessed by armchair experts. I am not sure whether I agree with the school’s ambitious initiative, but whether I agree or not, it isn’t really my business (nor anyone else not connected to the school). Banning candy canes is certainly not going to hurt anyone or cause any great misery so maybe we should cut the school some slack and trust them in their efforts to provide the best learning and development environment for their students.
The default answer for societal problems, whether they be health, employment or crime-related, is usually better education on the subject, making our education system increasingly responsible (at least implicitly) for picking up any number of tabs in behalf of a dysfunctional society. Yet when a school seeks to take a decisive action to combat an acknowledged problem within the community, many seem very quick to criticise.
If people are looking for something to get outraged about, perhaps they could turn their attention to the abuse of refugees in offshore detention or the government loaning Adani a billion dollars to build a coal mine whilst telling us that renewable energy is cost prohibitive.