Basic economics and the school cafeteria.
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Last weekend, the Los Angeles Times ran a story about school lunches in the Los Angeles Unified School District. It seems that first lady Michelle Obama’s much-ballyhooed introduction of “trailblazing healthful school lunches” has been an unmitigated disaster.
In response to the first lady’s campaign against childhood obesity, and with the heavy hand of federal funding driving local decision-making, the Los Angeles school district has done away with the food that you and I ate in the school cafeteria. Gone are the selections that Ms. Obama believes are making our kids fat. In place of those bad choices stand healthy, low-fat and highly nutritious items that will end the scourge of childhood obesity and diabetes.
Isn’t that great?
Well hard as it is to believe, vegetable curry, lentil and brown rice cutlets and black-eyed pea salads aren’t big hits with the kiddos.
According to the LA Times story, school district officials say that more than 21,000 untouched school lunches are being discarded every day. Meanwhile a thriving black market in corn dogs and chicken nuggets has popped up in schools all over the district.
This black market has led some campus principals to prohibit students from bringing sack lunches to school. This leads, of course, to the enterprising kid that sets up a contraband food operation out his backpack or locker. Why not? Kids sell drugs on campus. Doritos, Twinkies and KFC Popcorn Chicken will sell in higher volume, probably at comparable margins and if caught, there’s no risk of going to juvie jail.
There’s no doubt that kids are getting fat and need to eat better and exercise more. But this story also makes clear that there is no doubt that top-down, big-government federal programs, no matter how well-intentioned, seldom work.
Some delusional bureaucrat somewhere in some office in Washington actually believed, and made others believe, that school kids will mindlessly eat whatever food is offered because some faceless someone, somewhere says it’s good for them.
Anybody with kids knows better.
My parents couldn’t make me eat asparagus and they were right there at the dinner table and had proven on countless occasions that they were perfectly willing to bust me on the tail.
Aside from a few outliers, school kids are not going to eat lentil and brown rice cutlets, no matter their low-fat, high-nutrition virtues. You know it. I know it.
Such is the problem with virtually all federal programs. They are concocted in the parallel universe of Washington, D.C. a universe in which it is virtually impossible for the occupants thereof to understand that millions and millions of discreet decisions made by millions and millions of free individuals will reduce lofty theory to hard reality in a matter of seconds.
If kids are to eat healthier, it will start at home and eventually work its way into school cafeterias or it won’t happen at all.
Similarly, if the economy is to ever improve, it won’t be because of some jobs bill or some federal boondoggle that is euphemistically called “investment.” The improvement will start in some garage or auto repair shop or small manufacturing plant when a free individual decides to stick a neck out, invest some money and hire some workers because that individual believes there’s a buck to be made.
The school cafeteria and the U.S. economy are both part of the real world – the world in which people know that school kids are never going to eat black-eyed pea salad.