Whether it’s the recent ban on trans fat in California, sugary drinks in Massachusetts, or salt in New York, one thing is for certain, the state is becoming increasingly involved in the dietary choices people make.
Until recently, these regulations only targeted what businesses and schools were allowed to provide. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, a bill signed into law by President Obama in 2010, permits the federal government to regulate the content of school lunches nationwide, but now the extent of government control has gone beyond food providers.
In Chicago’s Little Village Academy public school, students are banned from bringing homemade lunches. The one exception to this rule applies to those with food allergies.
According to Principal Elsa Carmona, the enactor of the policy, “Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school… It’s milk versus a Coke.”
To be clear, there’s no doubt about the poor state of health in America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the obesity rate at nearly 34 percent, the highest in the world. But this does not warrant the complete violation of both the right and the duty of parents to feed their own children.
There has been much debate over whether schools should even provide meals to students to begin with. Schools have one purpose, and that is to educate. In the last fifty years, however, it has become a basic requirement for public schools to provide some sort of food option for students. School lunches were only meant to supplement the nutritional needs of students, not replace the role of parents as primary provider.
Beyond the obvious violation of parental rights, this policy is absurd on many other levels.
For one, the premise of the argument is faulty at best. Proponents of the policy begin with the assumption that parents are stupid; that parents do not know how or care enough to provide a nutritional meal for their children. And to some extent, this may be true. Many parents are themselves obese and make poor health choices for themselves and their children, but for the majority this is not the case. Even if it were, you cannot put everyone into a straightjacket for the perceived poor choices of others.
That brings us to the next false assumption made by Principle Carmona and her supporters, that district bureaucrats know what’s best for kid’s health. All-too-often, busybodies in government who feel they have a solution to a problem in society go on a crusade to ram through their policies without thinking too much of the consequences.
A recent example of this is the disaster of implementing low-flow toilets in San Francisco. A few years ago, the city spent millions of dollars installing toilets with the intention of reducing the amount of water used, with both economical and environmental concerns in mind. The result has been a multi-million dollar plumbing job. These low-flow toilets don’t contain enough water to thoroughly flush down all the waste in one go, forcing users to flush multiple times, which defeats the entire purpose of low-flow toilets to begin with. On top of that, not enough water flows through the plumbing to clean it out, so the city has used bleach to help cleanse the system. Unfortunately, many environmental activists are now concerned that using bleach is polluting the bay. More often than not, government solutions lead to unintended consequences even worse than the problems they were attempting to fix.
Assuming for a moment that government workers really do know what’s best for each child’s dietary needs, banning homemade lunches makes very little economic sense. In a time when state governments are debating over where to make cuts in expenditures, why would a school ever consider forcing students to purchase lunches? The district has to pay food providers to meet the demand of students. The more students bring lunches from home, the less the district has to pay for the cost of running a school.
Some parents have also found ways to provide relatively healthy lunches for their children, who would otherwise have their costs increased by being forced to pay the $2.25 for school lunches. Northwestern education policy professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach told The Chicago Tribune, “We don’t spend anywhere close to that on my son’s daily intake of a sandwich (lovingly cut into the shape of a Star Wars ship), Goldfish crackers and milk.”
This policy is unlikely to remain in place do to its immense unpopularity with nearly everyone involved, but it should illuminate the negative aspect of the Nanny State, which small-government advocates have been warning about for so long. It seems people only realize the harm it does when it directly affects them, but in reality, the entire system of “soft despotism” is a danger to our freedom and should be fought everywhere, even if the issue at stake only affects the few.
In Democracy in America Tocqueville expounded the conflict we find ourselves in today, when he wrote that “Our contemporaries are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led, and they wish to remain free. As they cannot destroy either the one or the other of these contrary propensities, they strive to satisfy them both at once.” We cannot exist in this un-free state, allowing government officials to make every decision for us, while at the same time claiming to be free. Either we are a free people or wards of the state, but we cannot be both.