Friday, December 24, 2010

Farm Subsidies and School Lunches

Mona Charen, writing in the Washington Examiner, was discussing the manner in which the commentariat on the right took a recent comment by First Lady Michelle Obama out of context when talking about school lunches and healthy eating. A fair number of people, particularly those on the right chastise the First Lady for trying to tell us how we should eat better. I for one think Mrs. Obama's message is a good one, I don't even mind the appearances the First Lady has made in psuedo-PSAs on the Disney Channel (my kids favorite channel) on thinks like eating healthy snacks or managing portion sizes. I believe her efforts come from a good place and I don't really have a problem with the fact that sometimes she and her family like french fries.

Having said that though, I am not a big fan of some of Mrs. Obama's chosen methodology, such as expanding school lunch programs. I became even less enamoured of the idea when I read this bit from Charen's piece:

Obama is correct that school meals are loaded with saturated fat, salt, and sugar. She notes that children receive half of their daily calories from school lunches. Most kids don't eat breakfast at school, which means that school lunches are larded up with calories.
 So let's follow the government's logic here a bit.  As noted by Charen, the government nutrionistas tell us that 1 in 3 American kids are overweight or obese.  That is bad, but then we read that children get half their daily caloric intake from school lunches.  That is one meal out of, presumably 3 meals and snacks probably, and kids get 1/2 of their calories from a school lunch--a government program.  So, partially to blame for the high obesity rate in this country is----that's right, the government.

So naturally, to fix the problem we are going to--expand that same government program that gives our kids half their calories a day.  There are even some people who want to expand beyond just school breakfasts and lunches and go right into dinner as well.  Can you imagine the blobs for kids we would get then?  (And don't get me started on the lack of Physical Education to burn some of those calories off).

Compounding the school lunch problem is the farm subsidies that go along with it.  The government spend $13 billion dollars a year now on the school lunch program buying those fatty, dairy-laden, fat-dripping, high caloric lunches for our ever more obese kids.   We subsidize dairy and meat farmers who then provide the basis for the high caloric school lunches and breakfasts.
How did this happen? Was it just that before the Obamas came to town, the feds were misguided about what was good for kids? Or was it something about the way government operates?
Is it an accident that school lunches are so heavy on cheese and meat?
No. The National School Lunch program, enacted in 1946, was devised with two goals in mind. The first was to subsidize farmers by purchasing huge blocs of "excess" commodities in order to keep prices up.
Only secondarily did the government intend to help feed hungry children. Subsidies are, to paraphrase President Reagan, the closest thing to immortal life in this world.
So while America's children were getting heavier and heavier, particularly low-income children, federal programs continued to heap pizza, French fries, and cheeseburgers onto their plates.
So we pay subsidies to farmers to keep the prices artificially high for their products and then the government, presumably pays those artificially inflated prices--essentially paying twice for the products.  It gets better, Mrs. Obama and the nutritionistas want to expand the the school lunch program by some 35%, adding another $4.5 billion into the program to, I hope, buy more fruits and vegetables for the school lunch program.  That expansion will include, no doubt, subsidies to fruit and vegetable farmers to keep their prices higher and then the government will pay those higher prices.  Of course, the School Lunch Program is not going to stop by the dairy and meat products that it already subsidizes.  The program is just going to add more calories to our kids plates, although it will be healthier calories.

Does anyone else see the folly in this?  Does anyone else see the billions wasted?  I think it terrific that we are looking to trim our collective waist lines and put some healthier food on our children's plates.  But we also need to think about trimming the size of our national wallet and this is not the way to do it.

Read more at the Washington Examiner:

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