I've had a song in my head a lot recently, Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." The words in the chorus keep going on over and over in my head,
It's been a long, a long time coming. But I know a change gon' come, oh yes it willWhat sort of change is coming? The change I'm thinking about is one where we stop using food as a reward for our kids. And if I believe that change can come, then I feel a responsibility to point out positives and negatives in our community. By speaking up, I'm hoping that we can realize where we need to improve and to acknowledge those who are helping us change our food environment. With that being said, I have to share an issue that I became aware of this week.
My kids started 1st grade this month. It's the first time that they are being exposed to a more structured learning environment which includes weekly tests. When they came home this week, they shared some "exciting" news with me: their teacher told them if they get 100% on their test, they'll get a free dessert from Susie Cakes, a local cake/cupcake store here in Los Angeles.
Would you like to guess my reaction? Come on, go ahead and guess? Well, I'm happy to say my head didn't quite pop-off, but I was a little shocked to hear this news. I had a lot of thoughts going on: were the teachers buying cupcakes for kids? Was the store supplying these? Were other classes receiving the same offer? So I took some deep breaths to calm down and I did some research instead of jumping to conclusions. I headed on down to the local Susie Cakes in Calabasas, CA to see what I could learn. As I walked up to the store I saw the following sign:
With that, I confirmed it was a offer from Susie Cakes that our teacher just informed our class about before the test. I walked in and asked the employee, "I see you have this offer going on. Is it popular?" She answered, "Very, we give out a lot of cookies. And the student can get as many cookies as they want, just as long as they bring in a different test each time." Oh, fabulous! Thank goodness they can get as many as they want. I was worried they'd only get one. After all, if we really want to cement a "food=reward" mentality, we need to give out more than just one, right?
I know there are some of you who are thinking, 'Come on Aaron lighten up, it's just a cupcake.' No I will not lighten up and no, I have nothing against cupcakes. Cupcakes are great and Susie Cakes makes some of the best in LA. My problem is with the promotion, not with cupcakes. By rewarding our kids with food (especially sweets), we set up an association where our kids grow up thinking, 'If I work hard, do well and succeed, the best way to reward myself is with food.' That creates an unhealthy relationship with food which does not help our kids trust their internal hunger/fullness cues. It just teaches them to seek out food when they've accomplished something or maybe even learn that food is comforting when things are difficult.
My other issue is why does our teacher need to bring this up to our class? If she had not said anything, it wouldn't even have been on my kids' radar. Luckily, as soon as my kids told me about this, I said, "Sorry guys, we are not doing that. I don't use food as a reward," and there was not one more word about it. No fight, no argument and no struggle. I'm lucky, it could have gone very differently. Why? Maybe because my kids understand that food is not reward or maybe it was because they know that it's not like they'll never get another cupcake. Either way, I'm fortunate that we didn't have a food fight because of this.
So, no wonder I've been hearing, "It's been a long, a long time coming. But I know a change gon' come, oh yes it will" over and over in my head. Change is coming and I'm done being silent about it. I'm going to speak out about it, because we need to change how we think about food. If my kids do well in school, if they get an "A", then I want them to develop a sense of self-satisfaction, that with hard work and effort, they are able to accomplish difficult tasks. That accomplishment leads to self-confidence.
Susie Cakes, I hope you will reconsider this promotion. I know your business is to sell cupcakes (damn good ones), but please think about how these types of promotions set our kids up for unhealthy relationships with food. Of course, it's the parents responsibility to set rules about what our kids eat but when you do this you are marketing food to kids which sets up this "fight" for some families when it comes to food. Make our jobs as parents a little easier by reconsidering this promotion.
It seems like an odd request to change such a popular promotion, but remember, change is gonna come, I'm going to try to make sure it will.
Because of social media, Susie, the founder of Susie Cakes was able to read my blog and was kind enough to respond via email. I am posting the note she wrote (with her permission) for you to read. Although we might disagree on the issue, I'm very happy that she took the time to respond to me.
I came across your blog post about our bakery’s back-to-school promotion and wanted to reach out personally. I greatly appreciate your honest feedback and hope I may share my story behind the idea.
The inspiration for SusieCakes came from my childhood memories of spending time after school with my grandmothers in Chicago, talking about my day over their freshly made baked goods. For me, that was a very special time we shared together, and I like to think it was for them as well. My hope is that parents and their children may stop in to the bakery, get a cookie and use it as a special time to talk about what’s going on in school as the year starts. Our effort is not specifically to reward a good grade, but rather to be a part of life’s little everyday celebrations and help parents celebrate the excitement of going back to school with their kids.
That said, I completely understand your surprise with the situation you were placed in as a parent when your child learned of the promotion. I realize that not every parent will wish to participate and while we do not engage in direct marketing to teachers, I do apologize for any problems that it may have caused.
I sincerely appreciate your compliments about our bakery and you taking the time to share your concerns. I hope I may have helped to shed some understanding on our intent, and that we may be able to share in your family’s celebrations sometime soon.
Many kind regards,