Taking candy from a baby?

Following up on an earlier post, Dr. Helen links to a startling article discussing the banning of french fries, sodas, and other "junk foods" from school cafeterias:

We've already seen action at the individual school level to ban unhealthy foods from school campuses. However, a bi-partisan group is now taking it to a nation-wide level by introducing legislation that would prohibit the sale of fatty, sugary foods like French fries and sodas in schools, not just in the cafeterias, but anywhere on the school grounds, which includes, vending machines, school stores, and even fund raising events.
Wow. This is more than a food fight. It's threatening to become the next front on the Culture War.

Dr. Helen also links to William Saletan's article in Slate titled "Should we regulate French fries like cigarettes?"

Targeting kids is a familiar way to impose morals without threatening liberties. You can have a beer or an abortion, but your daughter can't. The conservative aspect of this argument is that you're entitled, as a parent, to decide what your kids can do or buy. That's the pitch Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, made last week in a bill to crack down on junk food in schools. The liberal half of the argument is that kids are too young to make informed choices. In this case, it's true. Studies show that little kids ask for products they see on television; fail to distinguish ads from programs; and are heavily targeted by companies peddling candy, fast food, and sugared cereal.

This stage of the fat war will be a rout. In schools, the audience is young and captive, and the facts are appalling. According to a government report, 75 percent of high schools, 65 percent of middle schools, and 30 percent of elementary schools have contracts with "beverage"—i.e., soda—companies. The sodas are commonly sold through vending machines. The contracts stipulate how many thousands of cases each district has to buy, and they offer schools a bigger cut of the profits from soda than from juice or water. Soda companies, realizing they're going to lose this fight, are fleeing elementary schools and arguing that high-schoolers are old enough to choose. But health advocates refuse to draw such a line. They're not going to stop with kids.

To which I'd add that they're not going to stop with schools. Before the activists even get around to the adults, an entire industry awaits regulation -- for their unconscionable crimes of preying upon "the children."

I'll start with an analogy to the history of regulating child smoking, (because I think junk food regulation is likely to follow a similar pattern). When I was a kid, it was a given -- a no-brainer -- that the parents were responsible for preventing their kids from smoking. Cigarettes were sold everywhere -- not only in stores, but in vending machines. I am old enough to remember when vending machines first sported new stickers which stated the following:

Sale of cigarettes to minors are forbidden by law. We support this law. Parents are urged to help prevent violations.
Now there are very few cigarette vending machines, and only in places where children are not allowed to be. In some states, they are illegal. Cigarette sales are still allowed in stores, but the cigarettes have to be locked up or behind the counter.

I know I am old fashioned, but I still think that it is the parents' responsibility, and not that of the store clerk, the vending machine manufacturer, or Big Tobacco. Yet I think many parents today who caught their kid smoking would demand to know where he got the cigarettes, and if he named a store as his source, the store would be blamed and that type of parent would see the child as a victim. That's no way to teach responsibility, but it's the way people have become. Someone has to raise the kids, so why not the government?

The rationale for prohibiting junk food in schools is that the parents have no control over their children, and thus they cannot be expected to supervise their diets. I'm not sure why, but apparently it is no longer possible for concerned parents to send their kids to school with a bag lunch.

Well, what about religious dietary restrictions?? Can Jewish parents who insist their kids keep kosher diets send them to schools where non-kosher food is served? Can Muslim parents send their kids to schools with non-halal cafeterias? The answer is that of course they can. But it is their responsibility to tell their kids what not to eat, and their kids' responsibility not to eat it.

This form of prohibition will not end in the schools, and that's because there are too many other sources of candy and junk food. Countless schools are within easy walking distance of stores. Stores sell candy, soda, and junk food. If the moral rationale is to protect children, what's the difference between banning junk food in schools, and banning it in stores? Once the junk food industry loses this first battle, attention will be turned to the stores.

"What good is it to prevent schools from poisoning our children when my child can walk across the street and buy exactly the same things in a store?"

Parents themselves will demand the new laws. And they'll reassure themselves that no one is taking away the "right of people to choose" because adults will still be permitted to buy all the coke and candy they want.

Under the theory that children must be protected, and the state must do the parenting, there is no reason on earth why stores couldn't be required to keep all candy behind the counter -- and require ID for candy, soda, snacks.

Once you concede the insane idea that it the state's job to raise children, it's as easy an argument as taking candy from a baby.

What I can't figure out is whether parental failure caused state parenting, or vice versa. (I've noticed that the more people are regulated, the more regulations they seem to demand, and the less self-discipline they have. I guess that's another topic.)

posted by Eric on 05.09.06 at 03:08 PM










Comments

I have to disagree with you on this one. When I was in K-5 school you could not buy sodas or other sugary drinks on campus because there were no vending machines. You drank what you brought from home, or from a water fountain, or had milk at lunch. Same goes for my middle school. There was no need to regulate this type of thing because there was no problem.

The problem may just be that people have so much more disposable income. Giving a child a couple bucks every day for non-lunch items is standard now. So there's a market for kids in schools. When I was a kid I don't remember ANY children walking around with more than was necessary to buy lunch every day.

The whole thing is just weird, to me. OF COURSE children shouldn't be given access to soda machines at school- any more than the ice cream man should be allowed to have a kiosk in the cafeteria.


Harkonnendog   ·  May 9, 2006 5:24 PM

When I was in school there weren't any soda machines, but there was plenty of sugar (which is the same thing) in Lemonade and iced tea. There were hamburgers, fries and ice cream.

Schools can do what they want, but I don't think the feds should be regulating any of it. Once the precedent is set for telling children what they're are allowed to eat, where does it end?

Eric Scheie   ·  May 10, 2006 12:03 AM

If you don't trust your kid to buy the right food, send them with a bag lunch, and don't give them any money.

Some of us don't care if our kid has a soda every now and again, as long as they aren't drinking 12 a day.

This is not difficult. It is the parent's job, not the store owner's, or the school's.

By creating a new kind of prohibition you are only encouraging these items to become black market items, and creating an interest for them by making them contraband.

It's just Coke and Pepsi, for heaven's sakes, not heroin.

Grand Stand   ·  May 10, 2006 3:18 PM

Dang Eric I wish I went to your school. Or wait, I mean when I was a kid I would have been wishing I did. You have a point about the feds- except the feds are funding the schools.

Anyway, I hear you guys, but I don't think this type of thinking should apply to children. I don't think it is a matter of rights or freedom because these are little kids. There is no compelling reason to have foods that are bad for children in schools. Absent one, why make them available at all?

And individual schools profit from selling kids this junk food, so there is a conflict of interest there. So I don't trust the schools to do the right thing.

Harkonnendog   ·  May 10, 2006 4:25 PM

I don't want the schools of government thinking they're my kids' parents.

Gah. And people wonder why I'm trying to set my life up so I can homeschool.

Maybe they'll make it illegal to have sodas in houses where people homeschool. :P

silvermine   ·  May 10, 2006 6:00 PM

They tried it with guns, Silvermine--trying to impose "School Zone" gun restrictions on homeschoolers. It failed, of course, but don't think they didn't try it or won't try it again.

Send your kid to public school with a chocolate chip cookie in their snack bag and see what happens, even if it is fake chocolate (such as a carob derivative) as an otherwise "healthy" snack. (Hint: They will confiscate the contraband.)

They are already acting as if they are the parents.

Grand Stand   ·  May 12, 2006 8:39 AM

It's true; what are they going to do next if they ban junk food in schools? Are the feds going to say that we need a nose job if our noses are too big? Are they going to tax us more because we have hairy feet? What's coming to this world, honestly?

Anonymous   ·  May 30, 2006 8:21 PM

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