Last week, I asked my friend’s children “What do you think freedom means?” Her four-year old answered “It means eating chicken nuggets.” While her big brother found this answer hilarious, she is actually not that far off. Everywhere we look, the government is trying to tell parents what they may and may not feed their children.
The government has been consistently crossing the line in this, Michelle Obama’s pet project, her fight against obesity. The first major step over this boundary happened in November of last year, when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors banned McDonald’s Happy Meals. The measure created nutritional requirements, and any meal which did not meet these requirements could not provide a toy with the meal. In addition, restaurants would haveto provide fruits and vegetables with any meal that came with a toy.
Supervisor Eric Mar, sponsor of the issue, said “We’re part of a movement that is moving forward an agenda of food justice,” Food justice? How about justice for parents who want to make decisions for their children?
Now they’re looking at a similar ban in New York City. New York City Councilman Leroy Comrie’s bill would have similar nutritional guidelines, and would include a fine for restaurants that continue to provide toys without meeting these standards. Mason Smoot, VP and GM of McDonald’s in the NY metro area said “We provide options for our customers and trust them to make the decisions that are right for their families. Politicians should too.” I can’t help but agree.
One of the big problems with this kind of state interference is that it begins to tiptoe further and further into our daily lives. First, we had the government telling parents what they could not feed their children: Aside from the fast food issue, schools banned sugary drinks, then any drinks at all (they would provide water), and desserts. Now we a have the government telling parents what they may feed their children. Little Village Academy, a public school in Chicago, we are seeing parents loose all options at all. Students at LVA are no longer allowed to bring a lunch from home, unless they have a medical excuse.
How do they justify this? Principal Elsa Carmona said that “Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school. It’s about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It’s milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception.” It’s up to the parent to make an exception, not the principal. This is not a Chicago Public Schools mandate, it is up to each individual school’s principal.
CPS Spokeswoman Monique Bond wrote in an email “In this case, this principal is encouraging the healthier choices and attempting to make an impact that extends beyond the classroom.” Honestly, nobody finds this alarming? If that were the case, why not offer optional nutrition classes for parents, or send recommendations home with students who bring a packed lunch? This doesn’t provide the students or parents with the information to make good choices, it takes away the choice all together.
This policy requires all children who do not qualify for free meals to pay for lunch, which is yet another public intrusion into private wallets. “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,” education policy professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach wrote in an email. “Not only would mandatory school lunches worsen the dietary quality of most kids’ lunches at Nettelhorst, but it would also cost more out of pocket to most parents! There is no chance the parents would stand for that.”
Some parents, of course, are happy to hand over responsibility to the government. Miguel Medina likes the policy. “The school food is very healthy,” he said, “and when they bring the food from home, there is no control over the food.” Why in the world should the government have “control” over the food your child eats? If you want to abdicate that responsiblity, sign them up for school lunches.
However, in this case, there may be additional forces at play. The federal government pays the school district for each free or reduced-price lunch served, and the caterer gets a fee for each lunch they provide. It makes me wonder if Rahm Emmanuel owns the school’s catering service.