Junkfood Science: Baking cookies is now an act of civil disobedience

October 10, 2007

Baking cookies is now an act of civil disobedience

Cookies, brownies and other homemade treats are the latest victims under the guise of state officials protecting us from ourselves. Bake sales have been banned from campus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, citing food safety concerns.

As the Journal Star reports:

Student groups upset about UNO ban on baked goods

Some students groups are upset that the University of Nebraska at Omaha has banned the sale of homemade baked goods on campus. The cookies, brownies and other treats were typically sold by student organizations as part of their fundraising efforts. Students have complained that the new policy cuts off that funding source. UNO officials said the ban was put in place due to concerns about food allergies and contaminated food, although there had been no reports of contamination.

Katie Dowd, president of the campus’ Public Relations Student Society of America, said her group raised about $1,500 a year by selling monthly bake sales. That money was used for conferences and other activities....

Astute students, however, got right to the heart of the issue in a great editorial in the student newspaper:

Cookies have rights, too

...Most of that frustration stems from the fact that the policy itself is ridiculous.... Previously, this was the policy at UNO. Our official food policy, available online as of Sunday night, still reads:

“All food on campus must be furnished by the University Food Services due to health safety concerns…. Bringing in food and beverages, from any outside source, for meetings (including potlucks) is prohibited. It is not the intent of such a policy to prohibit anyone from 'brown bagging' for personal consumption. This policy prohibits the sale or giveaway of food items on campus unless it is for an approved bake sale."

Some students had problems with this policy, even before the bake sale ban, because of the extremely high costs associated with University Food Services. Organizations have flaunted the policy on occasion, and a few have had food confiscated or lost rights because they were caught. Those concerns aside, though, the bake sale prohibition takes the absurdity of these rules to new, dizzying heights.

Why are bake sales a liability for the university in the first place? Bake sales are everywhere, and food is often transferred between people. We're all consenting adults here: If we want to take a gamble with an undercooked brownie, then let us.

Is the university afraid of being sued? Then do what Youngstown State University does. They have simple instructions, which they enforce via inspections, and has the following sentence on their request form to hold sales: “Recognized student organizations are solely responsible for any claims and liability for personal injuries, property damages, or other damages arising from their bake sale." The buck is passed; problem solved. So what is the problem?

Remember, the university’s actions were despite the fact there had been no reports of any problems, contaminations, or illnesses. In fact, as food scientists across the country note: “The high temperatures required to cook cakes, cookies and candy containing raw eggs are sufficient to kill bacteria.” So what is the problem?

The students had a very astute answer: the precautionary principle. As they explained:

Would UNO's new policy, draconian or not, really save a student's life someday? Are there examples of incidents nationally that illustrate the pressing need to change our policy in such a restrictive way? ...

Or, alternatively, is this just the product of a fearful society, an example of our nation's post-Sept. 11 psychosis about safety?

...[T]here really is no good reason to ban bake sales completely. Moreover, there are many good reasons to not do so, not the least of which is the impact the ban will have on student organizations.

There’s that risk-benefit analysis, again, sacrificed when safety at all costs takes precedence. Young people get it and let’s hope they carry this lesson to other health policies based on the precautionary principle, rather than on actual risks weighed against the benefits.

They are fighting back and standing up to officials, organizing “Cookies for a Cause.” Students are bringing cookies, brownies, cupcakes and other safe baked goods to distribute to their friends and classmates. “It is a sad day at UNO when bringing a plate of cookies to share is an act of civil disobedience, but that is the situation the university has created,” they wrote.

What’s next as officials attempt to eliminate anything that might be unhealthy: banning homemade cookies sent to troops overseas? Is Operation MOM next? Operation Men and Women of Military Service sends Christmas boxes filled with home-baked cookies and memories of home to more than 10,000 soldiers.

For young adults away to college or troops even farther away, homemade cookies are a connection to home and a source of comfort and happiness. Nothing unhealthy about that.

Bookmark and Share