June 29 2011

This July 4th Celebrate Food Independence Day

Julie Gunlock

This Independence Day, Americans everywhere will fire up their grills, pack a picnic basket, or head out to a friends' house for a day of celebration. Most will end the night huddled together outside, watching a fireworks display, eating ice cream and apple pie, and sipping a drink. Some will take the time to reflect on the greatness of this country and explain to their children why we mark this important day. July 4th is about independence, and remembering those who fought for a government with limited powers over its citizens. Yet, increasingly Americans seem willing to give up some of their freedoms and are letting government control their choices. Consider government's growing involvement in Americans' food choices. City governments are outlawing trans-fats and proposing taxes on sodas and snack foods. San Francisco famously banned toys in happy meals and in New York certain city workers must abide by strict workplace policies on what food can be consumed at work (tap water is required for office parties and bagels must be mini-sized!).

School districts are getting in on the action too-several schools ban chocolate milk on the lunch line despite this being the only source of calcium for many kids. North Carolina actually bans medium-rare hamburgers in an effort to protect consumers from food poison. Last month in Pennsylvania, an Amish farmer was arrested by FDA agents for selling unpasteurized milk (also known as raw milk; it is illegal in most states). In Missouri, a family was recently fined nearly $100,000 for selling rabbit meat by the pound to neighbors and friends.

The First Lady's Let's Move Campaign, celebrated by many politicians on both sides of the aisle, is emblematic of how Americans are increasingly willing to relinquish personal responsibility to a paternalistic government. The First Lady has been meddling in how food manufacturers do business-telling them how they should market their products and pushing them to change their nutrition labels so that they appear on the front of the package. Ms. Obama has also "suggested" restaurants serve smaller portions and food companies change their products entirely so that they contain less salt and calories.

The First Lady was also instrumental in the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a bill that increased the funding level for the USDA-run federal school feeding program. In addition to using more taxpayer dollars to fund this massive feeding bureaucracy, this new law creates a mechanism for automatic enrollment of students. That means, instead of a parent requesting their child participate in their local school feeding program, a student is automatically enrolled. And because the bill requires states to show that they are actively working to increase enrollment rates, there's little question that the goal is to make people more, not less, reliant on government to feed their kids.

It wasn't always this way. The school lunch program began modestly in 1946 when it served only 7 million kids one simple and nutritious meal a day. Today, over 30 million students are fed break, lunch, and dinner courtesy of the federal government. That's right-three square meals a day are now served at most of our nation's schools. Some schools have even initiated summer feeding programs making food available to school-aged children even when school's out for the summer.

The growth of these federal feeding programs is in direct contrast to the poverty levels in America. While Americans have become wealthier and children are more healthy and well-fed, programs designed to help poor and undernourished children have experienced rapid growth. What accounts for this discrepancy? If not need, what can be driving the expansion of these programs?

A growing number of parents use the school lunch program not out of need but out of convenience. It's easier to rely on the government to take care of your kids than to pack a lunch yourself. So we turn over more of our tax dollars and more of our decisions to government. This is a dangerous trend: both for children who are learning to depend on government bureaucrats and will take this lesson with them into adulthood, and for parents who are slowly ceding their freedom in exchange for a cushy government safety net.

It is not government job to feed our kids or to tell adults what they can or cannot eat.

So, on this Independence Day, declare independence from the government nannies and the school lunch program. Regain your food freedom. Disappoint the federal government, the USDA, the First Lady and her foodie minions at the Let's Move Campaign and send your kids to school with a home-packed lunch. Get them involved in the process. Ask them what they want to eat and what they enjoy. Teach them to pack their own lunch.

We are a nation founded on the basic concept that government should have a limited role and protect the freedom of individuals. Surely monitoring citizens' trans-fat intake and bagel circumference is outside of government's proper bounds.

Declaring your own food freedom and taking a stand against onerous food regulations is a good first step to restore government to its proper limits.

Julie Gunlock is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women's Forum

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