On December 31, 1933, the 21st amendment to the US Constitution was adopted. It repealed the 18th amendment ending the period of American history known as prohibition. The 18th amendment, known as the Volstead Act, was a nationwide Constitutional ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages. It came about because one segment of American society was successful in imposing its ideas of what was acceptable to drink on the whole of society. The Anti Saloon League, made up of protestant religious groups, social progressive politicians, and labor unions was an extremely powerful political force in the early part of the 20th century. Morals were part of the argument against the consumption of alcohol, but health was also a key factor. Today there is a politically powerful minority that is pushing for the prohibition of certain food products.
“Thanks but no thanks” is the message Illinois’ second largest school district has for Michelle Obama’s school lunch program. School District 214 decided in May to walk away from nearly $1 million in federal funding just to get a little more freedom back when it comes to the food it serves its students. This is just the latest school in the nation that is rejecting the restrictions Mrs. Obama and the USDA are placing on schools who participate in the federal school lunch program. Under the guidelines, students would not have been able to buy hard-boiled eggs or certain types of yogurt. In addition, the new guidelines consider hummus to be too high in fat and pretzels to be too high in salt; non-fat milk containers larger than 12 ounces could not be sold either.
A Dayton Ohio school district has also dumped Mrs. Obama’s program. School officials were concerned that students were hungry by mid-afternoon after eating the federally mandated meals of only 750-850 calories. The school now buys vegetables from a local farm to keep the menu fresh. In November, the district plans to add locally raised beef to the program. Legislation has been proposed in Congress asking for more flexibility in how school districts must implement the program, but the USDA, the White House, and Democratic leadership have remained adamant in their opposition to any changes in the program.
The program was designed to address the problem of childhood obesity, a pet project of Mrs. Obama. She personally lobbied for the standards and has been an outspoken defender of the program. The top down mandate approach, a hallmark of this administration, lacks flexibility and common sense. School districts report that many students simply refuse to eat some of the “healthy choices” and take to smuggling in contraband food items. Some teachers have reported keeping food in their classrooms to feed students that are obviously hungry.
Like the crafters of the 18th amendment, Mrs. Obama labors under the false assumption that, if you take away access to certain items, people will no longer want it. They believe they can change people’s behavior by simply passing a law. This did not work in the 1920s, and it is not going to work today. Simply taking French fries and cheeseburgers off the school lunch menu will not solve childhood obesity. The cause is not just the food, but the lack of physical activity, health and nutrition education, and good eating habits modeled by parents.
While the health of our children is an important issue, there is an issue far more important here. Prohibition was a failed social experiment that cost thousands of lives in the crime spree that resulted. The same kind of elitist, self-righteous thinking that fueled the temperance movement is at work today in the healthy food movement. Unlike prohibition, which was a grass roots movement, the food police movement being pushed by Mrs. Obama and a host of radical nutrition, public health, and special interest food groups, is top down dictatorial control, which is far more dangerous.
By Gary Truitt