Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Won't someone think of the children!

In the latest episode of 1984-The Reality TV Show, a four-year-old in North Carolina was told by a jackbooted stormtrooper, I mean, I mean an "agent" representing the state that her home lunch wasn't nutritious as it didn't meet USDA guidelines.

Okay it's easy to blow this story way out of proportion, AND I"M QUITE WILLING TO DO SO! But I will honestly try and restrain myself.
A preschooler at West Hoke Elementary School ate three chicken nuggets for lunch Jan. 30 because a state employee told her the lunch her mother packed was not nutritious.

The girl’s turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the agent who was inspecting all lunch boxes in her More at Four classroom that day
The Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services requires all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs — including in-home day care centers — to meet USDA guidelines. That means lunches must consist of one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables, even if the lunches are brought from home.
Oh, North Carolina, how we love thee.  

If having an agent inspecting four-year-olds' lunch boxes doesn't send an Orwellian chill up your spine, you aren't doing it right. Thinking that is.

Okay, now I'm going to try and be fair. First off, this strict interpretation of Federal guidelines is not a North Carolina thing.

Secondly, they didn't take her lunch away or anything, they just told her it was unhealthy, apparently. And, honestly, it sorta is. Apple juice is verboten for my kid, except on special occasions. Milk is obviously better than unless the kid has lactose issues.

And I have to admit, the USDA guidelines aren't THAT bad, at least they include a serving of meat. Two servings of fruit and vegetables? That means fruit or nothing for most kids of that age. My kid will ask for a carrot when he's watching Bugs Bunny, that's how suggestible kids are to cartoons, but mostly he'll avoid them.

The obvious issue is whether or not the state has a right to override parents dietary choices for their kids. Of course I believe it shouldn't have this right, especially if the parent is going out of their way to pack a lunch for their kids. This is something akin to telling a kid their (and their parents) religious beliefs are wrong.

This is where things get dicey.

Richard Dawkins characterizes religious indoctrination of children as child abuse. And while I am also an atheist it's obvious to me that Dawkins takes this way too far. When it comes to adults, there's a pretty clear line to be drawn in my mind, I've a right to do what I want as long as I don't hurt anyone else. Even this line is blurred of course, as is everything in life. Do I have the right to play loud music that disturbs my neighbors? Is that causing harm?

When it comes to children, it seems obvious that parents have the right to pass their values onto their children. What happens when these values and their inherent actions are unhealthy or dangerous, like giving soy milk to babies or simply physically abusing them?

When do the authorities have the right to intervene? In a libertarian paradise (libertopia) these things would be handled at the community level. This is a very sticky subject and I certainly don't have any easy answers.

What this really leads me to is that fact that ethics and the societal constructs they are based upon simply aren't absolute. So, when it comes to things like politics and ethics I'm actually a consequentialist at heart. This is why I find arguing about the ethics of veganism boring. There is simply no way to "prove" that eating meat is ethically bad or not, it simply is a food we were evolved to eat.

Via Reason

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