My friend and fellow food writer Baylen Linnekin (who runs the organization Keep Food Legal) sent me this charming piece by young writer Bridget Dowd, the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper at Wenatchee High School in Washington State. I'm so glad he did. Dowd's piece gave me a much needed infusion of hope for our future (and in the current era of Britney, Lindsay, Rihanna, and Miley…not to mention government shutdowns and general political gridlock, that's saying a lot!). Of the recent efforts by her school's administrators to make kids eat healthier, Dowd offers some much healthier perspective, saying:
Well-meaning politicians are coming up with all kinds of new laws lately trying to counteract obesity, and frankly, I don’t like them. While I realize I may be coming off as the fat kid who won’t let go of her candy bar, I do have some legitimate points to make about these so-called “health food regulations.”
At the end of last year, the lunch ladies started telling us we had to have fruit with our lunch before we could even type in our ID number.
Now I don’t know about other people, but to me, this just seems like an open invitation for kids to waste food. There is an obvious reason they didn’t take fruit in the first place — they didn’t want to eat it.
Dowd's absolutely right. Food waste has become a major problem at schools, as has hunger as kids refuse to eat the food being served. But Dowd is wise to point out the bigger problem with these "good for you" policies: by making kids take the apple/orange/banana, what are school officials doing to encourage good choices? After all, the kids aren't given a choice at all. Rather they're forced to take the offending item. How is this helping kids develop good nutrition habits? As for efforts to strip schools of anything approaching snack foods, Dowd points out that kids don't only use the vending machine food to gorge themselves on unhealthy food:
…a law has now been passed that requires schools to take junk food out of vending machines and replace it with “healthier choices.” Do you know what that means? It means saying goodbye to your beloved Cheetos and Snickers and hello to Nature Valley granola bars and whole wheat crackers.
Did anyone else notice the vending machine, which used to contain a glorious variety of sugary treats, is no longer across from the ASB office? This is just like when they took away our cartons of chocolate milk.
The bottom line is that sometimes, with the stress of homework, tests, and the never-ending to-do lists that weigh us down every day, it’s nice to have a little comfort food. I’m not telling you not to eat healthy food or to load up on Funions, but that the complete removal of junk food is unnecessary and the attempts to help kids eat healthier are getting out of hand.
I ask you, dear reader: What kind of world do we live in when a girl can’t put a dollar in a vending machine and have her fix of mini chocolate-chip cookies pop out? The short answer: it’s not a happy one.
Bridget's point is important. We need to remember that the food nannies and their many efforts to make us healthy have impacted more than our waistlines (and the studies clearly show these public policy initiatives really do nothing to improve the health of Americans). For years, the food nannies have been chipping away at some pretty basic freedoms and working to take away things that make us genuinely happy. I wrote about the this several years ago over at National Affairs:
What people seem to forget is that unhealthy eating tastes good; potato chips are far more appealing than carrot sticks. As celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain once said while debating the safety of ground beef, "Let's not forget the pleasure aspect of this argument. People eat meat because they like it. It tastes good. It smells good when it's cooking." It is this component of the obesity debate that the activists most frequently overlook. For all of the excuses they offer, they lose sight of the fact that eating unhealthy food is simply more gratifying – a truth that no amount of legislation or education will change. The situation facing America is not that many millions of citizens are incapable of feeding themselves well; rather, it is that people do not choose to make healthy eating a priority. And it is this exercise of personal freedom that is a sticking point with many food activists. Their failure to grasp and respect individual agency is perfectly in keeping with an agenda that would take away from citizens ever more authority over the sphere of private life – everything up to and including how one feeds one's own children – and place it instead in the hands of government.
IWF salutes Bridget Dowd and her outstanding piece for the school newspaper. We're happy to see a new generation of talented writers out there who understand the importance of food freedom.