Thursday, February 16, 2012

You Are What (The Government Lets) You Eat

The dream police
They live inside of my head
The dream police
They come to me in my bed
The dream police
They’re coming to arrest me, oh no!
—Cheap Trick, Dream Police

Government is out of control.

You already knew that, but wait till you get a load of this.  At a preschool in North Carolina, a four year old was on her way to lunch, toting the lunchbox dutifully packed for her by her mother.  A state inspector—following guidelines established by the USDA, and enforced through the federal Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services—took the child’s lunch away from her, concluding in the inspector's infinite wisdom that under the guidelines it wasn’t satisfactorily nutritious. 

Here’s what the derelict mom put on the menu:

Turkey and cheese sandwich
Apple juice
Potato chips

Good Lord, it’s a wonder the child hasn’t already turned into Mr. Creosote.  How about just one wafer-thin mint?

But wait, it gets worse.

Having stripped the child of the lunch provided for her by her own mother, the genius bureaucrat forced her—no doubt to the added profit of the purveyor with the government contract—instead to eat the school-provided menu, the entrée of which was chicken nuggets.  So, in the interest of ensuring the child’s nutrition, we traded a turkey sandwich and a banana for freaking chicken nuggets!!!!  Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, anyone?

Only government could get it this spectacularly wrong.

I know most kids love chicken nuggets, and my own kids eat them frequently.  But the truth is they’re gross.  Let’s think about this.  With few exceptions, chicken nuggets aren’t even made from chicken meat in the traditional sense (ever wonder why they don’t bear any resemblance to any recognizable part of a chicken?).  They are processed from a substance known as  "mechanically separated meat," that involves taking the scraps and bits left on the bones after a chicken is butchered, running them through a sieve to create a kind of pink primordial paste—not unlike what OCP fed to Robocop.  To that paste the manufacturers add thickeners, artificial flavorings, and undoubtedly huge amounts of salt and chemical preservatives.  The resulting goo is then molded into the nugget shape of choice, and the thing is breaded and deep-fried.

I’m all for deep-frying, but you won’t catch me claiming it’s the height of lean, healthy eating.

In this particular instance, the ruckus stems from the State of North Carolina’s Division of Child Development and Early Education Program, which includes a requirement that sites “provide breakfast and/or snacks and lunch meeting USDA requirements.”  I suppose that’s fine to set some kind of government-established nutritional criteria if what you’re talking about are government-funded meals, particularly under a state program.  Where we run into trouble is the second part of the requirement: “When children bring their own food for meals and snacks . . . if the food does not meet the specified nutritional requirements, the center must provide additional food necessary to meet those requirements.”  As apparently applied in practice, this doesn’t mean that the school is to supplement whatever may be lacking in the child’s meal, but that the school must actually forcibly replace the meal provided by the child’s parents in its entirety.  In other words, at least in North Carolina, the USDA is now regulating what you can feed your kids.

Over my dead body.

Never mind the obvious and complete incompetence that substitutes chicken nuggets for a turkey sandwich and a banana in the name of better nutrition—either the bureaucrat is hopelessly stupid in their understanding of the federal standard, or the standard itself is indefensibly moronic.  My problem here is what the hell business is it of the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, or some state agency what I feed my kids?  As long as I’m not putting a gun or illegal drugs in that lunchbox they take to school, what I feed my kids is between me and my kids.

This is an extremely dangerous development.  If the federal government, through a state agency, can regulate—read:  dictate—what a parent can put in their child’s lunchbox to take to school, it can regulate what that parent can/must feed the child at home.  And if it can dictate what I feed my kids at home, it’s only a tiny extension for it to regulate what I feed myself, and then where does it stop?  Rusty, nobody’s trying to regulate what you eat.  Oh, no?  We already see the food Nazis cracking down in the restaurant industry:  compulsory nutritional labeling on menus and reduced salt in New York City restaurants, bans on the use of foie gras in California and Chicago (the latter subsequently repealed).  And now we have Big Brother’s agents snooping in preschoolers’ lunchboxes.

I get it.  We’re too fat.  But government-imposed dietary restrictions aren’t the answer.  We have to break out of this growing culture of trading personal choice in order to be free from personal responsibility and the consequences of those choices.  If I want to eat french fries until I puke, that’s my business; and if I do it every day and I get fat as a result, that’s my problem. 

Our Constitution was designed with limited government in mind, the idea being that most decision making is best left as close to the people it most directly affects as possible.  The smallest decision-making units, and the core around which the Framers intended our lives to be structured, were the family and the individual.  There is no more fundamental personal liberty than the daily choice of what we’re going to eat—decisions that for the entire history of the Republic people and families have made for themselves.  Once that goes, there’s really no limit left to what the government can regulate in your personal life; what you can wear, where you can live, what color your car—er, electric golf cart—can be.  Even how many times a day you may exhale that dangerous pollutant CO2.  Everything’s fair game for the powers that be.

If we can’t reverse this trend and get government back in its pen, it’s not going to matter what we feed our kids, because there won’t be any America left to hand down to them.

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