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The Advancement of the Toxic Totalitarian Nanny State

A 4-year old girl's home-brought lunch is confiscated for being "unhealthy."

by
Rand Simberg

Bio

February 16, 2012 - 12:00 am

So it has come to this. A pre-schooler’s school lunch, lovingly prepared by a grandparent, was replaced with a cafeteria meal because it didn’t meet the exacting bureaucratic standards laid out by the bought-and-paid-for-by-industry Food and Drug Administration:

The Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services requires all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs – including in-home day care centers – to meet USDA guidelines. That means lunches must consist of one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables, even if the lunches are brought from home.

When home-packed lunches do not include all of the required items, child care providers must supplement them with the missing ones.

The girl’s mother — who said she wishes to remain anonymous to protect her daughter from retaliation – said she received a note from the school stating that students who did not bring a “healthy lunch” would be offered the missing portions, which could result in a fee from the cafeteria, in her case $1.25.

This is appalling in several ways.

First, for years now, Jonah Goldberg (and others) have been pointing out the totalitarian nature of the “progressive” movement, which seeks to expand the government sphere into every aspect of our lives (with the apparent singular exception of whether or not we can kill unborn children). It was on full display during confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan when, in a response to a question from Senator (and medical doctor) Tom Coburn, she revealed her own totalitarian mindset:

On Tuesday evening, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) posed a hypothetical question to Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan: If Congress passed a law that said Americans “have to eat three vegetables and three fruits, every day … does that violate the Commerce Clause?”

“Sounds like a dumb law,” Kagan replied.

…I think that the question about whether it is a dumb law is different from the question of whether it’s constitutional. And I think the courts would be wrong to strike down laws that they think are senseless just because they’re senseless.

COBURN: Well, I guess the question I’m asking you is: Do we have the power to tell people what they have to eat every day?

KAGAN: Senator Coburn, um…

If you missed it at the time, watch the video. In saying that such a law was dumb, but constitutional, she got it exactly backwards (one of the many reasons that she should not have been confirmed). Such a law would actually be a smart law, in that it would make for a healthier populace. But it would be tyrannical. And as tyranny goes, the school-lunch incident is relatively petty, but it is tyranny nonetheless.

But in this case, unlike Senator Coburn’s hypothetical, it was both tyrannical and dumb. It was dumb for two reasons. First, whoever assessed the lunch to be inadequate was an apparent idiot, because it did in fact conform with the guidelines — bread constitutes a grain, turkey is meat, and she had a banana and apple juice, which looks like at least two portions of fruit (the guideline says fruit or vegetable, not fruit and vegetable). All it lacked was the milk (though arguably, the cheese could have substituted, depending on what you think the purpose of the milk is), which could have been supplied without giving her a whole cafeteria meal, as a result of which she ate nothing but chicken nuggets, because she doesn’t like vegetables, or apparently anything else on the tray.

But the second reason it was dumb is because the guidelines themselves are based on junk science:

When the Food Pyramid was released to the public, the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture had made drastic changes to it. These changes had nothing to do with improving nutrition — and everything to do with improving the profits of the food industry!

Crackers, baked goods and low-nutrient processed foods were taken from the top of the pyramid and moved to the base, where they were to make up the bulk of the American diet. The team’s recommendation of 2 to 4 servings of whole-grain breads and cereals was nixed. The “new” Pyramid called for 6-11 servings of bread, cereals and pasta. No doubt, these changes pleased the corn, wheat and packaged food industries.

And in fact, the evidence continues to accumulate that grains, whether whole or not, and especially wheat are bad for us, but that saturated fats are just fine, exactly the opposite of the government recommendations that drove the food nanny to ignorantly nix the kid’s lunch.

So, let’s recap. A child takes a relatively healthy lunch to school. A bureaucrat decides that it is his or her job to inspect said lunch, and on the basis of flawed federal guidelines, driven by agricultural industry profits rather than actual nutritional science, compels her to eat a lunch supplied by the state, resulting in her actual malnourishment and shame for being the offspring of such irresponsible people. And as with the grand tradition of totalitarian states like Iran, in which the family of the executed is charged for the firing-squads’ bullets, the family of the malnourished child is to be charged a buck and a quarter for the privilege.

As James Lileks notes:

I guarantee you this: when this program – whatever the devil it is – was first proposed, someone said it will lead to inspectors demanding to see what’s in kid’s lunches, and insisting they eat something else instead of what mom sent. And the critic got a cold, withering look from the good people in charge. Really. I think that’s a little overboard.

You could say: yank the kid! Private schools! But they’ll be next; there’s no possible argument left for letting some private institution wreak their havoc on juvenile constitutions, particularly if they partake of some governmental benefit, like “Streets” or “water” or perhaps clean air.

Yes, I know. Really. I think that’s a little overboard.

As the Instapundit says, there used to be a solution for this sort of thing. It involved a hot thick hydrocarbon solution, bird coverings, and a rail. But sadly, it’s gone out of fashion.

We’ll have to make do with the ballot box this coming fall. If it’s not too late.

Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his weblog, Transterrestrial Musings.
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