What we eat, where we live, and how we raise children is up to THEM!

This sort of thing is getting as outrageous as it is predictable. 

At his public school, Little Village Academy on Chicago's West Side, students are not allowed to pack lunches from home. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.

Principal Elsa Carmona said her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.

So the rule is no more bag lunches!

Not that it makes any difference because I don't have kids, but if I had kids I honestly know what I would do. I certainly agree with Glenn's assessment:

More and more, it seems like parental malpractice to let your kids go to public schools, where they seem to be viewed as state property, and guinea pigs for social experimentation.

While it is very easy for libertarians like me to proclaim that busybody bureaucrats like Ms. Carmona have no right to tell parents what to feed their kids, the whole thing touches on a larger unresolved problem.

Carmona arguably believes, passionately, that she is right. Children should eat those foods she considers correct, and they must be made to -- any parental concerns to the contrary notwithstanding. Of course, I said "arguably" because I couldn't help notice a hint that there might just be something other than morality involved:

Any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district's food provider, Chartwells-Thompson. The federal government pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch taken, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch.

But let's be nice and assume for the sake of argument that Carmona is not only a morally virtuous person uncontaminated by any personal motives, but that she is right. That making sure children eat the right foods is the right thing to do, but that some parents are not up to the task.

Well, even if we assume "rightness," who, then, has the right to tell these parents how to raise their children? In short, who has the right to tell other people what to do? As it is impossible for all people to agree on what is the right thing to do in every situation, the question of "what is the right thing to do?" is subordinate to who has the power to command that people do what is right.

Might makes right.

But we live in a democratic republic where power is supposed to be limited, and where people in theory cannot tell us what to eat, what to buy, where to live, or how to raise our children. These are not questions for government. Yet clearly, some people think they should be, and some government officials (or fat-salaried administrators like Ms. Carmona and her staff) are going ahead and using their power to enforce them -- especially in urban areas where people are concentrated together, making control of the masses an easier task.

Those who don't like it vote with their feet by moving if they can afford to. Suburbs offer a form of escape for a variety of reasons. Governments are weaker, smaller, and less expensive. The fact that they are newer means they are not as likely to be saddled with legacy debt like the devastating public pensions that contractual obligations require even totally broke cities like Detroit to pay their former city employees who are happily retired in Florida. 

That the people who can afford to flee can still do so legally is very upsetting to the people who want to keep them concentrated in urban areas where they can be controlled. So they have tried to sell everyone on this idea that "sprawl" is not right. That it is evil, as it threatens the environment. At the core of a recent anti-sprawl screed from the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy is the idea that it is inherently wrong for people to move away from cities to the countryside.

Battleground of the New Millennium

Back in the 1960s, when everyone seemed to be blaming everyone else for our environmental problems, the comic strip character Pogo was created with an astute observation. He said simply, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Pogo's statement certainly applies very well to urban sprawl, that phenomenon characterized by massive subdivisions, strip malls, industrial parks, and snarled traffic where farms, woods, and wildlife used to be. Suburban overgrowth has become a national headache not because of the work of evil-doers, but rather as a direct result of American Culture. All of us had a hand in causing it, and it will take all of us to fight effectively.

The stakes are high for wildlife. While there are laws that generally keep urban sprawl out of important wetlands and floodplains, the habitat that remains in the wake of "leap-frog" development is becoming too fragmented to support certain species. Indeed, biologists now consider habitat fragmentation one of southern Michigan's most serious wildlife management concerns.

The battle over urban sprawl is heating up. In the minds of many Americans, it appears to be taking precedence over other environmental issues like global warming, endangered species protection, and even air and water pollution. Across the nation, politicians are rallying against the problems of urban sprawl and 12 states have already enacted growth management laws. Vice President Al Gore has promised to make urban sprawl an important part of his "livability agenda" during the upcoming presidential campaign because he feels it is something voters can really relate to. Recent polls seem to support this, but they also indicted that the public may be reluctant to accept some of the potential remedies.

Note carefully the parental tone. "The public" is being discussed in language suggesting people are like children who don't want to eat what's good for them.

While it is easy to attribute such thinking to government bureaucrats, it is important to note that the people who wrote this anti-sprawl piece also hold governments to blame -- especially local governments -- and scold them with a similar parental tone:

Intensive local representation warms the hearts of most Michiganders, but it makes serious consideration of urban sprawl - a regional problem - extremely difficult. We don't like to admit it, but our local governments don't always cooperate very well and some of our local officials have, at best, a limited understanding of land use issues. They know land use is important but have a difficult time formulating long-range plans while dealing with one crisis after another. There are elected officials that -despite a huge body of evidence to the contrary - think requiring large lot residential development helps fight urban sprawl and makes good economic sense for their area, whereas, in reality it exacerbates the problem (see above article for further explanation). Informing these decision makers is made more difficult by a high turnover among appointed as well as elected officials. Terms of less than six years are the norm, and newly-elected officials often come in with little background in land use control.

So they need to be "educated" about land use lest they continue to do things like allow that evil thing called development (aka "sprawl"). ("Elected officials need continual training and encouragement so they can make the best possible land use decisions." Hear hear!)

Likewise, ignorant voters like yours truly (I live in Washtenaw County) need to be better educated so we stop voting against tax increases to subsidize "purchase of development rights for agricultural land preservation":

...any meaningful attempt to curb urban sprawl will have to come at the local level and be weighted toward creating economic incentives rather than controlling growth to be politically viable. Taxpayers are not willing to fun a big bureaucracy at the state level, but would support land use planning at the local level. Most of the areas of Michigan that already suffer from the problems of sprawl are in the metropolitan Detroit, Grand Rapids and Traverse City areas. The sentiment of tax payers in more rural areas is that they should not be asked to help pay for problems that they don't believe affect them.

State leadership will be important if we are to channel growth wisely, but the real thrust of our efforts should be at the local level. Elected officials need continual training and encouragement so they can make the best possible land use decisions. The public must be educated about the wisdom of investing in open space preservation today, to save money in the future.

This is underscored by the current difficulties in obtaining support for local efforts to raise money for such programs. Washtenaw County voters recently rejected a tax increase, which would raise money for purchase of development rights for agricultural land preservation. It would have paid farmers for those rights while allowing them to continue farming the land. And a similar state program (paying farmers up to $5,000 per acre) has moved at a snail's pace, owing in part to lack of public support and funding from the legislature. Unfortunately, land prices have skyrocketed to the point where programs to purchase development rights might not be able to offer land owners enough where the programs are most needed. The longer we wait to invest, the more costly such programs will be.

Well, doh to that! The more valuable the land gets, the more it costs to acquire it. (And maintain and insure it.)

The so-called "conservancy easements" that are purchased at the taxpayers' expense generally involve the purchase of a farmer's development rights, and the creation of a "no development" easement running with the land (often with the land being declared off limits to the public). Yet they can always later be extinguished via the government's right of eminent domain at a later date, so it is deceptive to claim the land has been truly "conserved." If in ten years the county wanted sell the land so a Wal-Mart could be built there, it could just terminate the easement. Nice investment opportunity in growing areas I guess.

What I have noticed in driving around the countryside is that in many places, no sooner do you pass the county line than you see developments on former farmland. So Washtenaw County's tough approach to "sprawl" (probably along with their higher property taxes) appears to have created opportunities in nearby, but less "enlightened" counties. Governments want money, and the more valuable the land becomes, the more they tend to see it as a valuable revenue source of one kind or another. This is unlikely to change anytime soon, especially in a cash-strapped state like Michigan. 

As to what the anti-sprawl people would consider ideal, the piece cites the Portland model:

The most successful "smart growth" programs in the nation have all come at a price. Perhaps the most famous is in and around Portland, Oregon. There, the local metro council imposes a "growth boundary" outside of which undeveloped land is strictly protected. Although seemingly "un-American," this radical concept has been surprisingly popular with Portland voters, even as debate about its merit continues.

Portland is wealthy. I'd like to see them try the same thing with Detroit. The once booming city is already half evacuated and in ruins in many places, because those who could afford to flee fled. Which is why I'm not entirely sure the term "sprawl" (which implies growth outward) applies to Detroit.

But no doubt they want to fight it anyway. Keeping those bad people in the cities where they belong has a strong appeal to those already living in the suburbs.

Hmmm.... I wonder what percentage of the sprawl opponents are guilty of living the lifestyle they condemn.

Imagine being controlled by people who cannot control themselves!

I mean, if people who live in the countryside are telling people it is evil to live in the couhtryside, the next thing you know, fat teachers will be telling children what to eat. Racists will be calling people racists. Failed parents will be telling people how to raise children. Energy hogs will be telling people conserve energy. And so on.

I'm sure glad we don't live in a world like that!

posted by Eric on 04.12.11 at 01:57 PM


"I'd like to see them try the same thing with Detroit. The once booming city is already half evacuated and in ruins in many places, because those who could afford to flee fled."

Maybe it would be cheaper for them to restore portions of Detroit to "undeveloped land". It's been my observation, having seen a number of ruins, that animals and plants move in where people move out.

Kathy Kinsley   ·  April 12, 2011 6:14 PM

Oh, and one thing I've been trying to tell the Tea Party is: run for local office! Especially school boards and city councils. Local is as important - if not more so - than national. (No, I'm not TP - though I generally agree with them fiscally - in my area too many are SoCons for me to be comfortable with them. Or them with me.)

Kathy Kinsley   ·  April 12, 2011 6:19 PM

As for moving with your feet, if you can afford to...lol.

EVERYONE can afford to move with their feet. And maybe haul a bit of stuff as well.. [/sarc off]

Kathy Kinsley   ·  April 12, 2011 6:37 PM

As often and egregiously as the government has been wrong on nutrition, you'd think they'd have a little more humility.

Or not.


Mark Alger   ·  April 13, 2011 9:57 AM

Sorry, Mark, the government is not capable of humility, only hubris.

John S.   ·  April 13, 2011 10:09 AM

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