Fat city

MeMe Roth’s crusade against cupcakes is driving P.S. 9 to the brink, reports the New York Times. The Upper West side mother, who runs National Action Against Obesity, is furious about “the cupcakes that come out for every birthday, the doughnuts her children were once given in gym, the sugary Fun-Dip packets that some parent provided the whole class on Valentine’s Day.”

The Roth kids are supposed to put “junk food” in a plastic container, but this went wrong when a teacher handed out juice pops.  Roth sent one of her vituperative e-mails. It all culminated with a suggestion the family request a “health and safety transfer.”

. . . Both parents left feeling they were being pushed out of P.S. 9, which they perceive as exhausted by Ms. Roth’s intense lobbying for, among other things, permission slips for any food not on the official lunch menu. It would not be the first time: The Roths previously lived in Millburn, N.J., where, after Ms. Roth waged war on the bagels and Pringles meal served to kids at lunch, received e-mail from one member of the P.T.A. that said, “Please, consider moving.”

. . . The police were called to a Y.M.C.A. in 2007 when she absconded with the sprinkles and syrups on a table where members were being served ice cream. That was Ms. Roth who called Santa Claus fat on television that Christmas, and she has a continuing campaign against the humble Girl Scout cookies, on the premise that no community activity should promote unhealthy eating.

The Roths had better not move to Chicago: Nachos rule Chicago public schools, reports a Tribune blog (via This Week in Education).

In today’s Tribune we look at the No. 2 most served entree to Chicago Public School students: nachos. When did nachos become an entree, much less an acceptable entree to serve daily to some of the most obese kids in the nation?

Nachos are a choice on high school menus every day, often served with tater tots and chocolate milk.

I’m a Type 2 diabetic from an all-diabetic family, so I know the challenges of living in a world of unhealthy goodies. But the key to good nutrition is a balanced diet. Going nuts over an occasional cupcake or the need to say, “No thanks” to a juice pop is just nuts.

I wonder how old “MeMe” was when she decided to spell her name that way?

About Joanne


  1. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Yikes! A text book example of the wrong way to go about making a change.

  2. Her cute name and vigilante action notwithstanding, I empathize with MeMe. My kids are homeschooled now but my oldest went through Kindergarten and first grade in a private school that inundated the kids with junk food, to the extent that this became one of the major issues we dealt with; and we dealt with a lot of academic issues too, hence the homeschool. Private schools (and some public schools, I hear) have fundraisers. The kids were given candy each day based on how much raised-funds they brought in that day. Plus in Kindergarten parents took turns bringing snacks and these were often sucrose in IV form. Or something close. My son at that age did not handle sugar well. Blood sugar spike followed by a big drop and everything shot to hell.

    I took this issue to the school board and gave my best homespun persuasive speech outlining the problem and suggesting a solution (no candy and sweets during school?). The reaction was very interesting. From the moms on the board I got nods and comments that they had heard some similar complaints. From the dads I got stony blank stares and a quick dismissal. “You have to incentivize the kids somehow,” one of them told me.

    People make the obvious suggestion that someone in my situation should just set limits for my kids and not involve the rest of the class, and yet the action-at-a-distance principle simply did not work. To tell my kids not to eat the candy given them (bring it home for later rationing, maybe) lead directly to disobedience, sneaking of contraband, and so on. In a school you rely on a sense of shared values (refer to your local headlines for sundry examples if you still have a newspaper). We did not have that.

  3. MeMe Roth, if she had her way, would ship every woman heavier than 130 pounds, and every man over 180 pounds, off to an island so she wouldn’t have to see them. It’s not about keeping her kids healthy; it’s about controlling everyone else and shaming people who don’t adhere to her rigorous lifestyle – or, as I understand, even people that DO if they aren’t lucky enough to be as thin as her.

  4. BKY, you’re so right. It’s not about the occasional treat; it’s about the absolute truckloads of junk food that are passed out in schools. My children were skinny all along, not in any danger of health issues from the food. What bothered me was the message that was being sent: school is a bitter pill, we have to give you some sugar so you’ll accept it. Sad.

  5. I agree with riki – “It’s not about keeping her kids healthy; it’s about controlling everyone else and shaming people who don’t adhere to her rigorous lifestyle – or, as I understand, even people that DO if they aren’t lucky enough to be as thin as her.”

    From what I’ve seen of her web site and read about her, she’s a bully…a food thug, who is creating a whole culture of food thugs. The lady swiped candy sprinkles and ice cream condiments from the tables at the YMCA for Pete’s sake! Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with having a cupcake every once in a while for a birthday or getting candy on Valentine’s Day.

    But if you have a problem with it, let the teacher know and YOU provide YOUR child with a substitute treat – an apple or banana. If enough people declined treats OF THEIR OWN FREE WILL, and YOU provided the class with a piece of fresh fruit for a treat on your child’s birthday, then great – you’ve affected change without tyranny.

    We homeschool, so I don’t know what they serve in cafeterias these days, but the same thing applies – if enough people stopped buying lunches, they would try to find out what the kids (and parents) want to eat. Either that, or they would stop serving lunch at school, which would save the school a LOT of money.

    I mean, how much “trouble” is it to pack your child a lunch? Is it that exhausting?

    Besides, I ate chips and drank Cokes all the time when I was a kid – much more than my kids do – and I was skinny as a rail into my 20’s (I weighed 113 pounds at age 23.) I didn’t gain weight until I took a sedentary job. THAT’s the problem, if you ask me. Lack of exercise. Maybe Ms. Roth could be an advocate for exercise instead of policing everyone’s diet?

  6. Margo/Mom says:

    Sounds like Meme is a hoot. I cannot endorse her specifics, but I would also fault the school for not stepping back at some point and engaging in some honest dialogue. “Right” is probably on her side, in health terms–but it’s a long row to hoe to bring about change in this arena. I worked once at a child care center. We did not provide lunches as we were too small for this to be feasible. We were still required, however, to ensure that the lunches that kids ate (parent-provided) met the minimum standards. It was tough. I had a workshop to give suggestions of “fast” foods that fit the guidelines (understanding the convenience of grabbing a bag of chips)–and the difference (from a food group perspective) between potato chips and pretzels. But–change was very slow to come. There’s a whole lot bound up in eating habits. There are probably some middle grounds that might have been identified that could give credence to Meme’s message, offer her kids some insulation from constant dietary challenges, and still found ways to motivate and celebrate.

    When my daughter entered middle school she was the first sixth grade class in what was transitioning to a K-8 building. We learned a lot about the federal dietary guidelines that year, and the next. First, even though all of the other district schools provided the middle school menu for sixth graders–the feds consider them to be elementary students–so the elementary lunches were all that these kids got. We thought that there would be some change by seventh grade. It turns out that the only required difference is in the calorie count–not portion size or number of servings. The district food service couldn’t figure out how to get the regular middle school lunch to this cadre of kids in an elementary building (middle school lunches are prepared onsite, elementaries are delivered “hot packs”). The principal really went to bat for them, suggesting things like a salad bar, anything that could be prepared onsite without the regular kitchen facilities, or trucking lunches from the nearest middle school with a kitchen. What the dietary (!!) department decided to do, was to supplement the hot packs with packaged dessert cakes. This means that the lunches met the increased calorie count and were in compliance with the federal school lunch requirements.

    Certainly there are ways to move in a “more healthy” direction with regard to school snacks (sugar free popsicles, for instance, fancy little fruits dipped in yogurt). It’s not all rocks and twigs vs cotton candy. It is too easy to set up polarizing conditions by refusing to listen to a parent who is quirky.

  7. <<< I would also fault the school for not stepping back at some point and engaging in some honest dialogue.

    Just a hunch, but I have a feeling that honest dialogue is not what MeMe (Me! Me!) was after, but capitulation. Even by the standards of the Upper West Side, a virtual beehive of activism and causes, she sounds a tad extreme. Is there a futures market for psychiatry bills? I want to buy a few shares for her kids.

  8. Margaret says:

    My kids are homeschooled, so this is not a huge problem for us, but they still find themselves in situations where they are offered food and drink that I’d rather they didn’t have. Sometimes it’s just a matter of quantity or timing: a small glass of pop is OK; a whole can or bottle is not. A piece of candy after lunch, sure; a candy bar right after breakfast, no. They have learned when it’s OK to say yes and when to say no to the offerings.

    To tell my kids not to eat the candy given them (bring it home for later rationing, maybe) lead directly to disobedience, sneaking of contraband, and so on.

    But that’s our job as parents – to teach the kids how to respond properly and according to the family’s values when in difficult situations. Bringing the candy home or saying “no thanks” to it in the first place, refusing to watch the R-rated movie, not playing the violent video game – kids have to learn to do this with grace and strength. I’m sure it’s hard in a classroom when it’s a constant thing. But it can still be done.

    Teaching individual responsibility is hard, but in the long run it’s probably easier than trying to make everyone else live by my rules.

  9. Tracy W says:

    But that’s our job as parents – to teach the kids how to respond properly and according to the family’s values when in difficult situations.

    Parents can teach their kids how to respond properly and according to their parents’ values, but that doesn’t mean that kids will chose to respond properly and according to their parents’ values. Kids might have their own values, which is why I changed from your wording of “family’s values” to “parents’ values”.

  10. We may be in the midst of the “Information Age”, but we are also in the “Age of Stupidity”. Common sense, wisdom, a sense of propriety, and a sense of proportion clearly don’t come naturally to “MeMe”. Her name is apt: what a narcissist!! Thank goodness she isn’t a parent in my class! If I want Alice Waters, I’ll eat at Chez Panisse.

  11. This woman may be nuts. However, I’m a teacher–and I have to say that the amount of sweets that were handed to kids in my district prior to a recent policy change were completely appalling. As a parent, I found it quite upsetting.

    When we were kids, it wasn’t the norm for parents to bring cupcakes to school and expect them to be served for their child’s birthday in the classroom. Nowadays, just like the ridiculous over-the-top gajillion dollar birthday parties, the treats at school have become a competition. Parents were constantly bringing huge cupcakes to school for their kid’s birthday and every other conceivable celebration. Not only was it an obscene, several-times-a-week amount of sugar, it was also a major infringement on classroom time. I’m also a parent. My elementary-aged kid would OFTEN (not occasionally) eat two large, heavily frosted cupcakes (full of transfats because they’re from commercial bakeries) at school, then go to the district-run childcare and be given a full-sized candy bar. In addition, there were honeybuns, cookies, chips, and slushies available for purchase at the school cafeteria.

    Once again, there is nothing “occasional” about what is happening in many schools today. And re. “parenting”: come on, people. Is it reasonable to expect a six-year-old to turn down sugary snacks on a regular basis when they are offered by an authority figure and eaten by everyone else?

    Birthdays should be recognized in school, but not with a 20-minute party (disruptive of classtime) and goodies brought in by competitive parents. Birthday parties should happen at home, not during school time–that’s NOT what school is for.

  12. Margo/Mom says:


    I honestly don’t know what Meme is after–other than what is stated upfront with regard to improved health and eating. But when the school suggests that the family make a “health and safety transfer?” C’mon, that’s inappropriate–particularly when it would make so much more sense to dilute the extremism by giving in a little on the issue of handing out candy and sweets in school. Pull together a committee of concerned parents. Include the school nurse and phys ed teacher. These are valid concerns and should be taken seriously. The fact that they come from a parent–and indeed a quirky parent–seems to weigh far more heavily than any consideration of the real issues.

  13. Bill Leonard says:

    Margo/Mom, it’s all well and good to “give in a little” on the issue, but that’s not what MeMe is all about. She wants to control others, period. And from the evidence presented, she obviously won’t stop until she gets exactly what she wants.

  14. “A meme (pronounced /mi?m/, rhyming with “cream”[1]), is a postulated unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, and is transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena.”


    Her name seems apropos.

    The teachers at our school requested that parents bring party favors instead of food for birthday celebrations. It eliminates the diet concerns and in general seems to have made less mess to clean up.

  15. pm–

    Party favors at school instead of food is our new district policy, and it is a good one. However, it had to become a DISTRICT-level policy and had to be strictly enforced by administration before it worked. Too many teachers were against it (which drives me nuts), and too many parents showed up with food anyway. It took a year of those parents being sent back to cars with their cupcakes before the policy was taken seriously.

  16. Ragnarok says:

    “Pull together a committee of concerned parents. Include the school nurse and phys ed teacher.”

    Ain’t nothin’ so stupid that a committee cain’t make it worse, specially if you make sure they have PowerPoint.

  17. The article in the Guardian makes clear that this mother has issues about control and food (read to the end):http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/may/24/meme-roth-obesity-nutrition.

    There are parents who try to control their children’s environment even in the classroom. There are limits to what it is reasonable to expect.

    To balance that, I will admit that without a firm school policy about sweets, modern children are given far too many sweets in school. Meme seems to be an extremist, who will take sensible ideas too far. The trouble is, when proponents are rude and aggravating, and strike others as potentially unbalanced, their efforts can discredit even sensible ideas.

  18. > I wonder how old “MeMe” was when she decided to spell her name that way?

    I think that style of capitalization became common after the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984. She would have been around 15 at the time.

  19. Margo,

    How much of the school’s time should this one mom consume before it really makes sense for her to go elsewhere?

    Certainly she’s welcome to bring her educational concerns forward, but at some point, especially related to a non-academic issue, she seems to have become a never-ending time suck.

    She doesn’t get to forcibly enlist the school in her campaign by pressuring and haranguing staff at the school level. She seems unwilling to accept that. It makes sense to me to terminate this bad relationship. If she honestly believes what she’s asserted about the foods offered to her children, the health and safety transfer makes sense. If she doesn’t, she needs to consider different methods.

  20. John Drake says:

    Oh, for God’s sake. Lighten up, those of you who think this is the cause of obesity and health problems in the United States.

    These sorts of parties were common when I was a kid, and all of my cohort grew up to be happy and healthy.

    Goddamned social engineering crap.

  21. Sadly, she’s probably doing more to harm harm her kids with her extremism about food than the food would have done in the first place.

  22. thaprof says:

    NoMo KooKee MeMe

  23. It’s clear from the article that this woman is anorexic and is trying to get the world to be anorexic too. Anorexics have panic attacks when they even think about eating. She wants everybody to panic about food.

    Just reduce portions sizes, everybody. Keep your Cheetos but don’t eat the whole bag at once. 1-2 ounces will do with TV. And don’t wipe those orange fingers on your shirt!

  24. I agree with Ohio that this woman clearly has some sort of eating disorder. I worry about the effect on her daughter growing up in that type of environment 🙁

  25. Mom of Four says:

    Has it escaped you how many parents already outlived their adult children, (or visit them in nursing homes after they stroked, lost limbs to diabetes, developed kidney failure as a consequence of it, or can’t breath under their own weight)? Get a clue, the incidence of juvenile diabetes has exploded along with overweight children whom statistics say as many as 33% in the United States are overweight.