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In a commentary about nutrition concerns last week, we made the comment that “two cupcakes a month” won’t kill you – it’s eating two cupcakes a day that tends to create obesity problems. (The comment came in response to a story about parents fighting about the foods available in schools.)

Yesterday, we ran a response to our comment from MNB user Jem Welsh that was, to put it mildly, critical of our reasoning. It read, in part:

Since when did you become an expert on nutrition? "Two cupcakes a month isn't bad for you"??? Ask a child with Ankylosing Spondylitus if it hurts them? Or a child with Celiac Disease? Or a child with Psoriatic Arthritis? Or a child with Type 1 diabetes? And, Kevin, how do you know that 2 cupcakes a month aren't bad for you? Are you sure it isn't three? Or four? At what number would it be bad for you? You are qualified to state this because you got expertise in nutrition somewhere, did you? Maybe you took a night course in Nutrition 101 at the last FMI conference, sponsored by Interstate Bakery? Or maybe asked the Mrs. Content Guy, since teachers are even more educated about health than retail pundits?

You also wrote, "Teaching smart eating habits isn’t about denial. It is about common sense and a little self-discipline." So, let me understand this. The MNB approach to solving health and obesity problems is to teach elementary school-age kids common sense and self-discipline. Then we can blame their problems on them! Hmm. I challenge you, this inept school district, the insensitive parents and all your readers to look into the eyes of a child that can't have cupcakes because THEY CAUSE THEM PAIN and ask them if it is fair that these foods are brought into their realm of learning and set as a test of their "self-discipline."

Not surprisingly, this email begat even more emails…

One MNB user wrote:

The reader who had the adverse reaction to your cupcake comment struck a nerve or two with me. Following this person's logic, I suppose milk is the next thing to go...because we would not want some kids to be able to drink milk in front of others who are lactose intolerant. Books with big words are out, because it would be cruel to make the kids with reading difficulty enter a library (excuse me, media center) where they are present. This notion that the world must share everyone's pain by enduring it is ridiculous. I can't swim, because I have a fear of water, but I don't want the pool closed. And the idea that kids should not learn self-discipline and responsibility at this early age is dangerous. If not as a child, then when?

My wife is an elementary school teacher, and let me assure you that by the time parents have finished with all the paperwork she is required to process, she knows about every ailment, malady and preference each child has, as well as how to respond to them. Where allowed, she works it into the curriculum. For example, I remember a diabetic child a few years ago. The class learned to recognize symptoms in the child that would prompt attention. They learned about her special diet and it was they, not the school system that helped plan activities such as parties that would be more inclusive of her needs.

Before that, there was the child with asthma. Every child in her class knew about his needs, how to spot an attack at the onset and who to contact if he did. It did not limit his, nor their activity.

I will defend my son with my life, but I am tired of this notion that our children are weak feeble creatures that need to be sheltered and shielded from the cruel world. This is a Baby Boomer phenomenon and one that has made us a fat, lazy, albeit caring society. At what age would the reader assign responsibility to children? And yes, responsibility is about blame. It is about being able to stand up and say, "yes, I am responsible. I am to blame for my mistakes."

These comments are not likely fit for consumption, and this tantrum that I am throwing after reading "Your Views" will likely make my psoriasis flare up. It will all be your fault, because I, of course, am not responsible for my actions. I am a victim here, he said, tongue firmly planted in cheek.

MNB user Lisa Everitt wrote:

I agree with you. Obese kids don't get obese because of birthday cupcakes or Valentine's chocolates at school. They get obese because of wall-to-wall bad food choices, mostly at home. (I'm with you that the Whole Foods lunch program at that New Jersey should have been continued despite the kids'= objections. Of course they're going to vote for corn dogs and fries, given the choice. As I say when my own kids grumble at mealtime, in my role as the World's Meanest Mom, "That's what's for dinner.")

Why not preach the gospel of Mick Jagger: You can't always get what you want. So if you're a kid with celiac, you can't have a cupcake with the other kids, because it makes you sick, and the younger you learn to say, "Oh well, guess I can't have a cupcake," the better off you will be.

A happy medium for that kid's parent might be giving the teacher a supply of alternate snacks, so when the birthday kid comes in with cupcakes, your kid's not sitting there salivating. You have to teach them to manage their disease: "Oh well, if I can't have a cupcake, at least I can have some applesauce." The universe will not change to suit them.

Development of the "Oh well" muscle is an important skill to teach our kids. It takes practice and sometimes a tantrum or two before they get it.

When our kids complain about certain things, we have a standard response: “Life isn’t fair. Get used to it.”

Whining is always an unacceptable option.

Another MNB user wrote:

You were definitely "smacked around" by Jen Welsh, but I think it was a little too much smacking. From where I sit, your comments were innocuous and sensible (generally speaking). Certainly, there are exceptions to almost every rule, but the berating you took was way over the top. The same "expert" opinions could have been provided in a manner that was much less confrontive, combative and belittling. It would certainly have made the information much more palatable. As it were, the presentation was basically a turn-off.

And still another MNB user chimed in:

I am astonished by Jem Welsh's idea of manners. Unless of course she was being deliberately rude and hysterical. But as a counterbalance, I have celiac disease, and am old enough that as a child, I was regularly "looked in the eye" and told I couldn't share in my classmates' birthday treats, and it didn't traumatize me in the least. It wasn't exactly news. Sometimes a teacher would feel bad and get me a candy bar from the staff lounge vending machine, but that was certainly beyond the call of duty.

I appreciate your opinions. And they're even more useful when I disagree with them. Food for thought is always nutritious.

Let us come to Jem Welsh’s defense here. She was being neither rude nor out of line – she was being passionate about a subject about which she cared deeply.

We love passion. The industry needs more of it.

Jem Welsh made us think about a side to the issue that we hadn’t considered. We don’t agree with her…but at the very least, it is important to understand that side of the issue and to appreciate other people’s sensitivities (both emotional and physical).

And that’s a great line, that we’re going to adopt as a mantra:

Food for thought is always nutritious.
KC's View: