Saturday, December 24, 2011

Psssst......wanna buy some potato chips?

What does the leviathan state do best? That list would be very short. Certainly one of the most proficient if dubious examples of efficacy, is the ability of the state to create criminals, inadvertently, of course.
In Ontario, Premier 'Dad' Dalton McGuinty, uses his government's legislative powers to socially engineer the lives of it's citizens. McGuinty means well, he is a gentle paternalistic bully, but a bully nonetheless. What's he done? Since taking power almost nine years ago, Ontario now has laws that dictate what breed of dog is allowed as a pet, how homeowners must care for their lawns, what must NOT be done while driving, what methods of electricity production are acceptable and encouraged, how to dress while riding a bike, and lately in the government run public schools, what foods may and may not be served or sold at lunch.
Since the 2011-12 school year began, the Ontario Ministry of Education is "committed to making schools healthier places for students" after instituting Policy Memorandum 150. Parents are no longer fully responsible for what their children may or may not eat, the McGuinty Liberals have prescribed some fairly stringent rules about nutrition. How stringent? Well, in-school fundraisers like a weekly "pizza day" or the ubiquitous chocolate bar sales are now verboten.
The Ministry has divided up foods sold or served in schools into three categories:
1. Foods that can be sold or served at least 80% of the time or more.
2. Foods that can be sold or served 20% of the time or less.
3. Foods that must never be sold or served in school. 

The 80% or more category contains things like salad, vegetables, fruits, bread, pasta, cereal, meat, and fish as long as they all have low salt, low sugar, and  low fat content. So, pizza does not qualify because it has too much salt, and likely too much fat. Here is the multiple page appendix that stipulates the new nutrition standards in Ontario schools.

Of course proper nutrition makes sense. French fries and gravy, common lunchtime fare when I was a student, are not healthy foods to be eaten regularly. But is it the job of the school to teach this or should parents have final say? Why don't schools just concentrate on what they are supposed to be doing (and often not that well) and let parents make personal and societal decisions?

The problem whenever government uses legislation to engineer habits, is that the legislation always limits choices and often creates conflict that would not have occurred without the bad legislation. Government run public schools, where most students in Ontario are educated, already come with numerous limitations on parental freedom. Many wealthy parents vote with their feet to keep their children out of the government school system, but even that is undermined, because the Ministry prescribes the curriculum taught in ALL schools.

My cartoon, suggestive of a black market in illicit junk food, may seem a bit over-the-top, but is it really? In many school districts in the American states and elsewhere, the intrusive regulations we have adopted in Ontario, have already been field tested. A recent posting at (below) shows how black markets have sprung up in Public School cafeterias:

Though the Los Angeles Unified School District has received accolades for its new, healthful lunches, the appearance of quinoa and whole wheat bread has created “an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare.”
At Van Nuys High, a Junior ROTC officer and an art teacher have been caught selling candy, chips, and instant noodles to students. And, as Hank Cardello, the author of Stuffed: An Insider's Look at Who's (Really) Making America Fat, and a former food executive with Coca-Cola, General Mills, and Cadbury-Schweppes, pointed out in the Atlantic, candy dealers have sprouted up wherever fresh food is sold:

  • Last week, Van Nuys High School juniors, Iraides Renteria and Mayra Gutierrez told the LA Times, they considered the new school fare "nasty, rotty stuff," as they pulled three bags of Flamin' Hot Cheetos and soda from their backpacks – which they very well may have purchased from one of the junk food “dealers” on campus.
  • Following the passage of the Texas Public School Nutrition Policy, which banned candy, enterprising students at Austin High began selling bags full of candy at premium prices, with some reportedly making up to $200 per week.
  • Similarly, young entrepreneurs at one Boca Raton (Florida) middle school make runs to the local Costco and buy candy bars, doughnuts, and other high-calorie snacks in bulk. They then offer these goodies for sale in an environment that has supposedly eradicated such goodies.
  • An eighth-grade student body vice president in Connecticut was forced to resign after buying Skittles from an underground "dealer."
  • The U.K. has also seen its share of black market trade in banned foods, snacks, and beverages, with schools in Oxford, Dorset, and Essex reporting healthy underground markets trading in food contraband. The plots ranged from kids selling McDonald's hamburgers in playgrounds to bicycle-riding entrepreneurs hauling bags of soft drinks and milk chocolate for sale.
New on the curriculum at the schools mentioned above and coming to Ontario schools is: "flouting the rules" and getting away with it. The children will learn early that dumb rules create a criminal class of entrepreneurs that operate in the shadows, a black market in junk food. Again the leviathan state does what it does best.
"The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws." Tacitus

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