An enemy of freedom?

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to ban the sale of junk food in California’s schools. Naturally, the Center for Consumer Freedom is outraged. When former governor Gray Davis tried to do the same thing Consumer Freedom accused him of confusing the roles of government and family. "Choices about children’s diets are best made by parents" the Center said.

Presumably, parents who don’t want their kids sipping sugary soft drinks and munching on fatty snacks should tell them not to use school vending machines. If the kids don’t listen then it’s the parents’ fault – they have a discipline problem. Many conservatives would agree. Moral responsibility is for individuals not corporations.

In a 1956 essay for Encounter Daniel Bell argued that political moralism in America:

…had a peculiar schizoid character: it would be imposed with vehemence in areas of culture and conduct – in the censorship of books, the attacks on "immoral art," etc., and in the realm of private habits; yet it rarely was heard regarding the depredations of business or the corruption of politics.

In almost half a century not much has changed in America. And in Australia, culture warriors like Kevin Donnelly want to clamp down on teachers who tell children that it’s OK to be gay but are happy to take money from tobacco companies to run workshops for teachers to "assist children to make responsible lifestyle choices with regard to a range of things that adults believe children should not do" (read Donnelly’s side of the story here). But if that’s the right approach for drugs and smoking, then why not allow teachers to talk about gay relationships and then have gay lobbyists fund classes which help children make "responsible lifestyle choices"?

The Center for Consumer Freedom is not an independent think tank, it’s an industry front group. It’s job is to protect the interests of food industry shareholders. And I’m sure the Center’s Rick Berman would be happy to assist children to make responsible food choices just so long as the vending machines, advertisements, and sponsorship deals get to stay. Like the tobacco industry, the junk food industry will do just about anything to avoid being regulated.

Donnelly complains that Play School is battling "to normalise what many parents would consider unnatural behaviour". This is why responsible parents seek out "schools whose values better reflect what happens in the home." No doubt many parents would like schools to help them teach children sensible eating habits by not stocking junk food in school canteens. Parents who want their kids to eat chips and chocolate for lunch could remain free to pack them in their kids’ lunch boxes. Is it irresponsible of parents to want to curb the freedom of junk food producers?

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SantamariaSocialist
2022 years ago

As a smoker, I’m tired of paying taxes that go towards the care of sufferers of coroneries, obesity and a hundred other junk diet-related illnesses. Nicotine addicts are the only ones paying their own medical way.

I suggest images of really fat people – Rosie O’Donnell, Michael Moore, Robert Ray – be placed on all McDonald’s wrappers and containers (same for other companies’ products), that various slogans such as ‘Eating Fast Food Kills’ be festooned atop all wrappers, that the standard cost of a McWhatever burger go up to 15 dollars each, that industry advertising and sponsorships be banned and that eating junk food in public be outlawed (the smell, the wrappers, the mess, the visual ugliness!).

Big Food should be forced to appear before a Senate committee and be made to admit that they deliberately target children and teenagers, that they foster ‘food addiction’ and that the nutritional value of their meals is worse than negligible.

Why not?

Nic White
2022 years ago

Oh come on C.L, that doesnt even warrant a response, youre just sniping.

Interesting question Don. Id be on the side of letting the kids make their own decision, just on principle. But obviously they need to be educated in what healthy eating entails and what junk food will actually do to you if you eat too much of it, and to the exclusion of other foods. But the vending machines and junk food in canteens should remain, as its not the government’s job to force people the eat healthy – remember Gallop’s compulsory community service, I oppose that for the same reason.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

On junk food and its alternatives I think the thing is to let the market sort it out without any kind of intervention from the government. Seems to be working in shopping malls here and in the US.

SantamariaSocialist
2022 years ago

Nicely dodged Nic. The analogy is perfect. We’re told obesity is an ‘epidemic.’ I say bring in the $15 burger.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

And $8 slurpees!

yobbo
2022 years ago

If any other governor was backing this plan, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m a little sad that it’s Schwarzenneger – he once shaped as a true liberal.

I assume CL’s being facetious, if he really wants to bring in warning labels on burgers than he’s more of a socialist than Corr. Forcing cigarette companies to print warning labels is no different, and the cigarette tax rate is an absolute disgrace.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

What’s socialist about enforcing warning labels? The corporation is still able to sell what it likes, and consumers to buy what they like? People are simply given important product information to allow then to make an informed choice. Do libertarians believe in the divine right of corporations to enforce consumer ignorance?

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
2022 years ago

The core problem here is that the government is running schools. Having taken on this responsibility, though, there is nothing wrong with banning things that are bad for kids. It will probably only have a marginal effect given the many other food sources available to kids, but it cannot hurt.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

Well said, CL. First they came for the people who smoked, and we watched on, many of us even approved. Next they came for our alcohol, and those of us that were left watched on, many of us even believed that too might be a good thing. Next they came for the fast food…

As an unashamedly fat bastard, my advice for all the handwringers collectively tut-tutting over obesity is to kindly fuck off.

Don’t pull the health costs line to try and rationalise the fact that you feel uncomfortable looking at fat people. That is bullshit of the first order…Let’s see – consider the argument that the (male) homosexual community is significantly more at risk from a number of life threatening health conditions…Nah, I didn’t think you’d buy that one. Nor, indeed, would I presume to, but it is analagous to the argument on offer here.

Yet again, the Good Intentions Paving Company is hard at work. What a bitterly disappointing statement from Big Arnie.

About thirty years ago, I first heard the saying:

“Anything that is fun is illegal, immoral or bad for you.”

You might say that the Kevin Donnellys of the world are working to ban the immoral. And he can probably claim a democratic mandate for actions such as preventing the normalisation of homosexuality in public schools. No? Want to put it to a referendum? Didn’t think so.

Of course, the conspicuously compassionate will rush to point out that such important decisions should never be left to the Howardian populism that would surely result from a poll.

Then you’ve got the Arthurs of the world frantically trying to ban unhealthy food in schools. And you can probably pull out health statistics showing just how much fat bastards like me are to blame for, well, everything smokers and drinkers used to be responsible for.

But guess what, puritan. You condemn Donnelly for trying to stuff the ‘immoral’ into the ‘illegal’ category, but think that it’s just fine to move the ‘bad for you’ category into the ‘illegal’.

Yeah, yeah, I know you’re not arguing for criminalisation, but neither is Donnelly. For the sake of my argument, wanting to ‘ban’ something is just as good.

Here’s a tip to all for all you leftist inclusivists who so want to embrace every sexual, racial and social minority – Go hug a fat person.

You might not get your arms all the way round, but you could find that under the sweat and double chins we have rather more depth than you might think.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Is it possible that we’ll ever get through a Troppo thread again without mentioning Kevin Donnelly and sexuality and schools? Hmmm… I’m preferring Catallaxy at the moment where scotch blends and varieties, Princess Mary, dating advice and of course Popper have been finding their way into most comments threads…

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

‘Choices about children’s diets are best made by parents’.

Good luck to anyone who supposes they can base a sound argument on this premise. When the day arrives when you have to complete a course and pass a test before you have children, then might be the time to take it seriously. In the meantime God help the children who are sent to school with a Mars bar for recess and a packet of chips for lunch.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Al

Good to see you’re still alive and reading blogs (if not writing one). What happened? I miss reading your whimsical, good-humoured blog posts.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

Will we ever get through a thread on Troppo without dropping the name of some dead philosopher 99% of the population hasn’t heard of?

And yes, James, I do send my kids to school with a bag of chips (and a piece of fruit, bottle of water, sandwich or roll etc). Here’s the thing, right, I end up cleaning out their lunch bags at the end of the day, usually with the same piece of untouched fruit and sandwich. Dunno about your kids, but if mine don’t want to eat something, they won’t. Oh, they know the difference between healthy (good for you) food, and unhealthy (make you fat and unhealthy like Daddy). They don’t give a fat rat’s. If it doesn’t amuse them, it stays untouched in their bags or thrown in the bin. They will starve all afternoon rather than eat another boring sandwich.

Maybe I’m a bad parent. Buggered if I know how to get them to eat the good stuff at school. Here’s the choice: you’ve got to work out if they’re better off hungry (hence tired and irrational) or with some ‘junk’ calories in their gut to keep up their concentration and mood during the afternoon. Tough call.

But one thing I do know, the government sure as hell doesn’t know any better than me what’s good for my kids. Sorry, I don’t believe in government as some vast omniscient benevolence.

Ken, the blogging was swallowing too much time, and the missus was just about set to walk. It’s nice to be going to bed before midnight rather than fact checking, editing, trimming and generally root-arsing about into the small hours giving birth to another post.

(Even now, I’m in the middle of writing a report for work, yet here I am arguing on a comments thread – bloody addictive stuff. Gummint ought to regulate it, I reckon.)

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

“Will we ever get through a thread on Troppo without dropping the name of some dead philosopher 99% of the population hasn’t heard of?”

Catty!

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

‘Buggered if I know how to get them to eat the good stuff at school.’

Don’t give them the chips at all. Give them a small treat like a Freddo Frog and tell them they can have that for dessert if they eat the sandwich before and the fruit after it. It works for me.

Nic White
2022 years ago

The government should have no say in what people choose to eat, it’s as simple as that. People have to be allowed to make their own choices so long as they have been educated enough that those choices are informed ones.

The “we know best” rhetoric is getting out of control. Whats next?

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

‘Whats next?’

Well, Nick, the mad social engineers at my kids’ school make the children wear hats when they play in the sun. But I’ll pass on your wise thoughts to the principal.

Nic White
2022 years ago

I have the same sentiments for that.

Michael Warby
2022 years ago

As a gay libertarian (as classical liberals seem to be forced to call themselves nowaday) teacher who rather admires the Governator I seem to be the perfect person to comment.

First, the obesity panic is way overdone. There is very little evidence that weight is a significant negative health factor at Body Mass Index reading’s under about the mid-30s and the lowest mortality/morbidity rates are in he 26-29 range, which is deemed “overweight” by the current silly benchmarks.

The obesity panic mostly about thin middle and upper-class Anglos finding a pc reason to express disgust at fat blacks, Latinos and workers plus selling useless diet plans and calory-packed but unsatisfying ‘diet’ and ‘fat-free’ products. (Americans are eating 20% less fat but 10% more calories than a generation ago.)

However, a lack of exercise, a poor diet and smoking are unhealthy at any weight.

Second, children are always a mixed case, because some of them need to be protected from their parents and they are not yet adults and fully able to decide for themselves. However, the presumption should remain that parents know best unless there is strong, specific evidence to contrary, since the state is a notoriously bad minder of chldren.

Third, if the government is going to run schools (which I submit it shouldn’t since it is the regulator and that is a blatant, and corrupting, conflict of interest) then any school has a right to have a food policy.

So I guess the guy who is responsible for California schools is entitled to have a school food policy. Now, if we separate the regulator from being a provider, then it should be up to the individual providers.

wbb
wbb
2022 years ago

Somebody has to take responsibility for the child’s diet. At home that’d be the parents. At shool that’d be the school. It’s not rocket science nor is it an attack on the foundations of Western Democracy.

If it’s ok for me to dictate my child’s diet then it’s ok for the school to do ditto.

No need to enter into spurious diatribes about fattism, neither. (Entertaining as it was!)

With my chronological peer group entering the years where skin cancer stories has become part of regular dinner party conversation, then Hat Theory is an analogy that works v well with me.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

Al I’m living up to a promise about a cyclone going past before I got to sleep. Such a vigliant mother.
I agree strongly about the food they will actually eat (or swap) versus the good stuff (fruit, wholemeal anything) that stays in the bag.
I have made a break through recently which I must crow about. After 2 1/2 years on the nutella roll, Jes (10 years old) seems to be scoffing cheese rolls with vegemite and butter inside. She’ll also eat a fruit rollup and a frozen juice, but Real fruit? – Forget it.

Polly
Polly
2022 years ago

“There is very little evidence that weight is a significant negative health factor at Body Mass Index reading’s under about the mid-30s and the lowest mortality/morbidity rates are in he 26-29 range, which is deemed “overweight” by the current silly benchmarks.”

I would be interested to know if you have ever had a weight problem.
I would also be interested in the EVIDENCE for your claim as it contradicts just about everything I have read.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

“If it’s ok for me to dictate my child’s diet then it’s ok for the school to do ditto.”

If the school is ‘in loco parentis’, wbb, that’s exactly right.

I’d prefer these things to be decided at a local school community level, rather than be mandated by the state.

Polly
Polly
2022 years ago

“I’d prefer these things to be decided at a local school community level, rather than be mandated by the state.”

Even better if they are made at parental level. I was interested to see some schools looking at smart cards where the parents can limit the amount of junk food their kids can buy at the school tuckshop.

http://www.theage.com.au/news/Breaking/Qld-schools-benefit-from-smart-cards/2004/12/06/1102182194085.html?from=moreStories

Nic White
2022 years ago

Polly thats the best solution yet.