Slimmer kids, fatter government
May 23, 2011
by Ivan Raconteur

A recent story out of Chicago has signaled one more nail in the coffin for common sense, and another step toward extinction for personal responsibility.

A Chicago school has banned home-packed lunches.

Unless students have a medical excuse (such as food allergies) they are required to eat the food served in the cafeteria – or go hungry – it’s their choice.

This is not some exclusive private institution. It is a public school, funded by tax dollars.

The reason given for this bizarre policy is simple. The principal, Elsa Carmona, wants to protect the students from their own poor food choices.

“Nutrition-wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” Carmona said. “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.”

Any time the government, or an official in a public institution, starts making statements indicating that they know more about what is good for people than the people do, I get as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

If a school bans home-prepared lunches, and requires students to get their lunches in the cafeteria, the revenue for the food service provider increases. Cynics might say this introduces the potential for corruption.

It is not that I doubt the sincerity of the principal. I am sure that this is a well-intentioned attempt (however misguided) to deal with a serious issue.

However, just as it is true that leading a horse to water does not guarantee that one can make him imbibe, so is it true that setting a tray of healthful food down in front of a kid will not guarantee that he will tuck in.

And, if the students take the school-prepared lunches, but chuck most of them into the bin, what has been accomplished, apart from creating some very expensive compost?

A Chicago Tribune story reported that at the school in question, most students, lacking medical exemptions, must take the meals served in the cafeteria. During a recent visit to the school, “Dozens of students took the lunch, but threw most of it in the garbage uneaten.”

Although the contractor has improved the nutritional quality of its meals this year, it also has seen a drop-off in meal participation among students, many of whom say the food tastes bad. This news will no doubt come as a shock to anyone who has ever been around kids (or been a kid).

My favorite quote in the story was from one of the parents, who said he thinks the “no home lunch policy” is a good one. “The school food is very healthy,” he said, “and when they bring the food from home, there is no control over the food.”

How about if the parents took control over the food they provide for their own kids? Is that such a radical idea?

At another elementary school in Chicago, officials allow packed lunches, but confiscate any snacks that they determine contain too much sugar or salt. The contraband is returned to the students after school.

The students might scarf the goodies down on the way home, but at least they aren’t doing so on school property.

One can’t help wonder how paying school officials to act as snack police is helping student achievement.

“The kids may have money or earn money and (buy junk food) without their parents’ knowledge,” another principal said, adding that most parents expect that the school will look out for their children.

This is another example of people expecting the school to take over responsibilities of the family.

Discussions about school lunches and healthy eating are part of a larger national debate about the role government should play in individual food choices.

If it is truly the role of government to decide what students eat, we could save a lot of dough by eliminating school cafeterias and staff, and distributing the same Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) rations that Uncle Sam issues to members of the military.

Think of the savings we could achieve by standardizing everything.

If MREs are good enough for our fighting men and women, they are good enough for the kids.

If the little beggars get hungry enough, they will eat what is given them.

Some might say this impinges upon the little darlings’ civil liberties, but if we are going to make the argument that the government and the schools (rather than the parents) are responsible for raising children, we might as well go all the way, and make it as efficient as possible.

We could probably eliminate some of that pesky bullying while we are at it.

If we issue some nice olive drab uniforms to all the students, there would be no fashion distinction, and the kids would have no need to pester their parents about buying designer clothes that they don’t need and can’t afford.

We could also impose mandatory drill periods of calisthenics in schools, just like in the military. There would be almost no cost, and it would dramatically reduce the childhood obesity problem.

There are all sorts of ways we can become more efficient if we give up personal responsibility and let the government take over everything.

It is just possible, however, that this would create a lot more problems than it would solve.

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