You couldn’t blame anyone outside our fair Commonwealth for thinking that we’ve pushed the needle high on the wacky-o-meter lately, all of it having to do with what we’re feeding ourselves.
Menino vs. Chick-fil-A
For sure, we’ve had more than enough of a certain chicken sandwich by now. Happily going without them for years, there isn’t a Chick-fil-A franchise anywhere in Boston. Yet for the past three weeks, the two have been inextricably linked.
In July, when the company’s president, Dan Cathy, publicly reiterated his longstanding anti-gay marriage stance, Mayor Thomas Menino's wrote to him. In his Chick-fil-A letter he declared, “There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.” Chick-fil-A had reportedly been considering a site near Faneuil Hall for a new restaurant. Mr. Menino acknowledged a week later that he couldn’t actually prevent any business from establishing itself here based on its distasteful philosophy, but the controversy was still heating up and spreading way beyond our own City Hall.
As Menino wrote to Mr. Cathy, “we are proud that our state and our city have led the way for our country on equal marriage rights.” Suddenly, we all had to take a stand on a fast food many hadn’t even tasted. Menino’s summer snowball grew, so much so that thousands of people flocked to Chick-fil-A restaurants across the country in support of the company on August 1, setting new sales records. Gay activists staged counter-demonstrations two days later by kissing, and not eating, at the restaurants.
Now that I can finally spell its dreadfully spelled name, we’ve passed the Chick-fil-A frenzied peak. But for all the wing-flapping, will the cause of equality be set back by further polarizing Americans on the issues?
Saving the Bake Sale
Now it’s August, and if not for a different flap about cupcakes and cookies, the school “bake sale ban” would have gone into effect statewide in Massachusetts.
Earlier in May, the state legislature was forced by public grumbling to flip-flop on nutrition standards meant to combat childhood obesity and promote health and learning. In 2010, the Massachusetts Departments of Public Health and of Elementary and Secondary Education were mandated to create guidelines to control food offered in all areas of school buildings, for most of the day. This boiled down to an elimination of the common fundraising bake sale: All foods sold at school (except federal school meal programs, which are covered by separate rules) would have to meet criteria for calories, percentage of fat and sugar, whole grains, etc. Lacing a brownie with marijuana would be easier.
National media gleefully pounced on this Massachusetts story too, as volunteer fundraising parents everywhere imagined attempting to sell carrots and apples to sugar-junkie kids, and the coffers that would end up empty. Legislators quickly amended the law, leaving it to local school districts to decide how rigorously to implement the recommendations.
Breastfeeding Pumped Up
In a much more quiet fashion, Massachusetts has moved toward New York City’s position on another food issue: breastfeeding. In July, all birthing hospitals in Massachusetts voluntarily ended the practice of giving away manufacturer-provided infant formula samples to new mothers. Public health officials attempted a ban in 2005 during the Romney administration and Rhode Island hospitals were the first to stop the gift bags statewide last fall.
In New York City, public hospitals stopped the giveaways in 2007. Now, it wants to go a step further. Media outlets began to cover New York City’s new “Latch On NYC” initiative to support breastfeeding in April, yet confusion reigns over what exactly its Health Department requires, and so the simmering indignation continues.
Some view the initiative as the wealthy-man-in-power mayor vs. postpartum women in hospital beds, limiting choices and increasing maternal guilt if they don’t breastfeed. At the extreme, it’s been reported that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is requiring hospitals to keep formula under lock and key, nurses to document its use, and to lecture formula-desiring moms on the superior benefits of breastfeeding.
That’s all a stretched version of the truth, according to information from NYC’s health department. Hospitals – which are voluntarily participating in the initiative – had already been required to provide accurate information on breastfeeding, and you can’t get as much as one Tylenol without it going on your chart. A mother can always get formula for her baby on request, but formula won’t be handy in her room, as if a hospital is endorsing a particular brand.
“Latch On NYC” seems designed as much for hospitals and nurses to resist the easier path of bottle-feeding, as it is encouragement for new moms to breastfeed. The city is touting an educational poster program on breastfeeding’s benefits, but it takes more than a poster or a brochure to teach a mom and baby what nature intended. Hospitals will have to help mothers all the way up the learning curve of breastfeeding, and make sure a culture of nonjudgmental support, no matter how a mom chooses to feed her baby, is in place.