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December 04, 2007

Kids, Food, Junk

Not to get too nanny state on you all, but why shouldn't the "federal Congress" be able to pass laws mandating healthy foods in public school cafeterias and snack machines? When children are at school, the school is, according to the Courts, in loco parentis -- put simply, functioning in the place of the parent. Providing healthful foods, rather than utter junk, would seem an appropriate use of that power. Providing junk, particularly when deals are made with soda and candy companies, would be quite the opposite.

I realize this sort of thing gets libertarian hackles up, but I'm genuinely curious as to why. The Congress is simply deciding what can be sold at public schools, not what can be consumed on the grounds. Someone, somehow, is going to do the choosing as to what is stocked in cafeterias, and this legislation simply ensures that nutritional concerns will help govern that choice. If parents want to pack ding-dongs into their kid's lunches, they still can. But if they don't, they can rest easy knowing that their kids' purchasing choices are overwhelmingly healthy. It seems win-win, unless you've got stock in ding-dongs. Or really like this video:

December 4, 2007 in Health and Medicine | Permalink


Not to get too nanny state on you all, but why shouldn't the "federal Congress" be able to pass laws mandating healthy foods in public school cafeterias and snack machines?

Perhaps for the same reason why the federal Congress probably shouldn't be passing laws making it a federal crime to assault an on-duty dogcatcher... not because we support assaulting dogcatchers but because such laws and oversight are the responsibility of municipal and state governments.

Posted by: Tyro | Dec 3, 2007 11:35:27 PM

I'm in favor of this, and I'm usually pretty libertarian about behavior regulation. It's not clear to me what intrinsic right vending machine companies have to market their products in public schools, or why it is an overreach on the part of the federal government to take away that right even over the possible objections of local school districts (I guess you could always tie the ban into being conditional on accepting education money or whatever).

Posted by: Korha | Dec 3, 2007 11:44:01 PM

The excerpt in the Cato post doesn't say how the feds would enforce the standard; I lazily presume it's via things like the Free Lunch program (which I lazily and vaguely recall being tied into farm subsidies somehow).

So it isn't as if there will be a Nutrition Patrol empowered to red-tag vending machines with offending items in them. Schools are quite free to ignore the regulations, just don't take the subsidy.

Posted by: kth | Dec 3, 2007 11:45:56 PM

P.S. I am all in favor of nanny-stating the kids. Kids should have nannies! Then after they have grown up to be educated and healthy adults the government should leave them alone.

Posted by: Korha | Dec 3, 2007 11:56:52 PM

I realize this sort of thing gets libertarian hackles up, but I'm genuinely curious as to why.

Why do dogs bark at the moon?

Posted by: craigie | Dec 4, 2007 12:04:56 AM

It's not clear to me what intrinsic right vending machine companies have to market their products in public schools

I don't think you realize what we're dealing with here.

Remember that line in Dr. Strangelove, where the soldier tells Mandrake that he's going to have to answer to the Coca-Cola company? He wasn't kidding around.

Coca-Cola will fucking kill you. Seriously.

Posted by: Jason C. | Dec 4, 2007 12:06:41 AM

Why shouldn't the "federal Congress" be able to pass laws mandating healthy foods in public school cafeterias and snack machines?

Because that leads to:
"Condoms for Everybody!"
"Condoms for Nobody!"
"Condoms for some, tiny American flags for others!"

Or, what Tyro said.

Posted by: Kenny | Dec 4, 2007 1:02:02 AM

We also need to ask why public schools are so hard up for cash that vending machines are one of their funding sources. Articles about vending machines in schools often say that they'd love to get rid of the machines, but they need the cash.

For more on the subject, Michele Simon's "Appetite for Profit" is a good read.

Posted by: Marc | Dec 4, 2007 1:07:06 AM

It would be terribly ad hom to note that the stereotypical libertarian isn't associated with smart dining options, wouldn't it?

Anyway, Jamie's School Dinners is a good thing to look at, and Jamie Oliver had been considering, tentatively, trying to export the key points of his campaign -- empower school cooks and save money on bought-in crap -- to the US.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Dec 4, 2007 2:41:06 AM

Not that I'm not in favor of the policy in general, but isn't this an excruciatingly state issue? That is, shouldn't Congress be putting out a study, hyping the heck out of it, and convincing governors to chat it over at the Governors' Conference instead?

Posted by: Punditus Maximus | Dec 4, 2007 2:52:20 AM


Dumbest people on the planet. A political philosophy for.....


Posted by: A.Citizen | Dec 4, 2007 3:59:55 AM

"isn't this an excruciatingly state issue?"

State or federal, we're giving control over to somebody. Might as well be in the best interests of LITERALLY EVERYBODY INVOLVED, don't ya think?

Posted by: Media Glutton | Dec 4, 2007 4:02:08 AM

As a libertarian I do want to see freedom of choice at the schools.

This means stopping the farm bill from pouring billions into the USDA. That means stopping farmers from making decisions about school lunch programs and health.

The coke machine at the corner is harmless compared to the subsidized saturated fats, cholesterol and sugars that the USDA is pushing into schools. Like Camel Joe they make them addicted to the worst kind of drugs before they reach their teens.

Actually - without a drastic change to the current farm bill - there ain't no real, transparent freedom to chose. If the government comes in to regulate it will be only because it IS already regulating too much.

A subsidized farmer deciding what is healthy for your children is worse than Karl Marx or Hugo Chavez campaigning for free markets or Putin for democracy.

BTW - regarding kids and health. The most famous children's MD, Dr Benjamin Spock, has recommended that children do not consume any animal products until the age of 6 or when their immune system has had a chance to get as strong as possible. I find this a good idea given that they have to wait for alcohol and cigarettes too.

Just like the American Dietetic Association he claims that placing children on an all-plant diet will reduce their risk of developing heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and certain diet-related cancers. Several studies have shown that, in general, vegetarians are leaner and at lower risk of such diseases.

When he published his recommendations - other experts were concerned that while sound advice - it might be too difficult to practice. Susan Adams, a registered dietitian and nutrition educator at the University of Washington in Seattle who has written pamphlets with vegetarian meal plans, said, "Rice and pasta can be quick to fix, but cooking beans and other vegetarian foods takes time. It's not the way most people live today."

To that I say: What? There are plenty of ready made bean dishes that take only seconds to heat and serve. Silk Chocolate Soy milk will be loved by every child. Bean burritos are a real treat and so are veggies burgers. There is an ice cream that tastes better than Haggen Dasz but has no saturated fat. There is cream cheese than matches anything that comes out of Kraft Foods (Philip Morris and cigarettes). They even have ready made frozen pizza with veggies cheese etc. Come on now... Life could be so much easier, healthier and fun.

It's not coke that is the main threat. It is the government subsidizing poor companies like Yum and Kraft (Philip Morris) with hundreds of billions of tax dollars while organic vegetable farmers get nothing.

Please - US government - introduce a bit more capitalism, free choice and equal opportunities and drop your statist agenda. It is the same with the environment. If you do not want to punish polluters - maybe you should first stop rewarding them with free lunches? That is the libertarian approach. What has been happening over the last few years, $280 billion in tax money into saturated fats and sugar, is the opposite of free markets and libertarianism.

Posted by: Hugo Pottisch | Dec 4, 2007 4:47:20 AM

You know, I was already to say something about this post that while not especially interesting would have at least required some thought, but that totally got destroyed because OMG, TOFUTTI MAKES CREAM CHEESE?

Posted by: Isabel | Dec 4, 2007 5:24:27 AM

The vending machines in schools is a red herring. The real question is, why do school lunch programs themselves have to sell junk food in order to subsidize their operations. Most smart schools turn off vending machines during lunch, not so that they can be extra healthy, but so that the cafeteria does not have to compete. That's the way the system is *designed* to work now.

Posted by: William | Dec 4, 2007 6:10:44 AM

Is there anyone who actually takes libertarians seriously any more? It's pretty clear that they have just been lying to us, and themselves, about what they believe. I' have NEVER met a libertarian who wasn't REALLY just a republicans who didn't care about social issues.

The reason this pisses them off is that they are pro-corporate hacks who use an ideology as an excuse to be pro-corporate hacks. That's why they look for excuses like this not to suppose Democrats, while ignoring the fact that the Republicans have claimed a right to lock people up indefinitely without trial or puropose.

Posted by: Soullite | Dec 4, 2007 8:01:07 AM

I realize this sort of thing gets libertarian hackles up, but I'm genuinely curious as to why.

Libertarian rule #1: Any conflict between corporate profits and public health should be decided in favor of corporate profits.

As long as you ignore the high-flying rhetoric about liberty and pay attention to their consistencies, then libertarianism is easy enough to figure out.

Posted by: Amanda Marcotte | Dec 4, 2007 8:15:33 AM

Fuck CATO. Seriously.

Posted by: Jamey | Dec 4, 2007 8:55:07 AM

Not to get too nanny state on you all, but why shouldn't the "federal Congress" be able to pass laws mandating healthy foods in public school cafeterias and snack machines?

For one reason we really do not know what foods are more healthy.

Posted by: Floccina | Dec 4, 2007 8:58:30 AM

Amanda, are you suggesting that Megan McArdle is intellectually dishonest? No, wait, I'm suggesting that ...

Posted by: Jamey | Dec 4, 2007 9:01:40 AM

Wait a minute: If we (schools) are functioning in the place of the parent, then we must feed them junk.

Posted by: gkoutnik | Dec 4, 2007 9:06:29 AM

Soullite, Amanda, Jamey - may I ask what triggered this response?

Can you please explain to me why you support the $280+ billions of taxes going into saturated fats, cholesterol and sugar? Is that a good government policy or not? Are you saying that CATO is somehow evil for pointing out that it does not make sense for rich farmers and companies to get government funding when they use that money to jeopardize the health of our children?

Are you saying that CATO is a cooperations sucker BECAUSE they do NOT want rich companies to get the tax money of the poor?

Once I understand this - maybe then I can re-engineer your logic behind your libertarian attacks ala "fxxk CATO"? Are you criticizing destinations or journeys or both? It all sounds very interesting but also dazed and...

Posted by: Hugo Pottisch | Dec 4, 2007 9:11:23 AM

Have any of you ever met a Congressman? At least you can show up at a school board meeting for them to ignore you in person. So, I agree with Tyro.

Posted by: DCPI | Dec 4, 2007 9:22:14 AM

Since I'm not feeling so lazy today, I backtracked through Cato's posted rant to find the text of what I believe is Harkin's proposed amendment - it certainly covers the bases laid out in the Cato screed:


Harkin, BTW, seems to have someone on his staff who understands how this whole "Internets" thing works. He's got a link over on the right of his main page that links to "Sponsored Legislation" that links to an embedded Thomas search to find all of the legislation that Harkin has sponsored this Congress. And a second link for his "co-sponsored" legislation. Very nice.

Anyway - this looks like an amendment to the "Child Nutrition Act of 1966" that will require the Secretary of Agriculture to update the definition of "foods of minimal nutritional value" (which were last updated in 1979) to conform to current nutrition science. This is actually a good thing, and really why isn't this the type of thing that the Secretary of Agriculture needs to update the guidelines for every 2-4 years anyway? Science marches on and all that.

School lunchrooms are already prohibited from selling "foods of minimal nutritional value" by the terms of the 1966 law - this amendment changes the definition of "lunchroom" to include any food sold on school property by the school - which in 1966 was the lunchroom. This isn't really an expansion of the "nanny state" into a new area - it's CLOSING A LOOPHOLE that schools have been using to sell junk food to their students despite the intent of the Federal law being pretty clear that schools aren't supposed to be selling junk food to their students. There's even an exception for fundraisers - so the "Pizza Fridays" or the candy bar sales for the band can continue.

There's no issue here - these are just minor tweaks to existing law to conform to the realities of modern life. If you're a libertarian and you're outraged by this you should be working to get the 1966 law repealed, not complaining that loopholes are being closed.

Posted by: NonyNony | Dec 4, 2007 9:23:01 AM

The homework thing in bad enough let the children have a little fun in the food they choose to eat. (tongue in cheek) Next thing you will be for the federal government telling us what drugs we can and cannot take! It is a slippery slope you know!(end tongue in cheek)

Why does everything today have to be so serious and competitive especially in the schools? We are going nuts with very little to gain.

I had some friends from Korea who brought there daughters here to get them out of a situation in Korea where they would leave for school in the morning and then go to tutoring and other structured activities and not get home until 10:00pm. Will we end like the Koreans? Let the kids have some fun.

Posted by: Floccina | Dec 4, 2007 9:26:39 AM

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