If the old adage, “You are what you eat,” is true; the government of North Carolina appears to have given itself the authority to define every North Carolina public school student.  This past winter, a 4-year-old pre-kindergarten student in Raeford, North Carolina, had her packed lunch taken away from her, and was given a school-provided lunch that was deemed more nutritiously appropriate.  While this incident occurred a few months ago, it is representative of the left’s view on the proper role of government.

On January 31st of this year, a pre-K student at West Hoke Elementary brought a lunch to school consisting of “a turkey and cheese sandwich on white bread, potato chips, a banana and apple juice.”  Because her parents did not give her milk for lunch, a teacher at the school seized her entire lunch, threw it out, and forced her to eat chicken nuggets sold by the school.  So in the name of providing a healthy lunch to all school children, West Hoke Elementary threw away a healthier lunch than the one it provided simply because the little girl’s parents gave her apple juice instead of milk. Also, according to Channel 5 News, “The student also brought home a bill for the cost of the school lunch she had to eat instead.”

Hoke County Schools Assistant Superintendent Bob Barnes referred to the event as a teacher’s misjudgment; after all, she was just trying to follow the rules. Why do these guidelines exist in the first place?  If schools want to encourage their students to make healthier dietary decisions, the answer is to offer healthier food in the cafeteria, not to impose blanket standards that take decisions and authority away from parents and students.

Whoever decided these nutrition requirements clearly has no experience in nutrition whatsoever.  If the government believes chicken nuggets and milk to be more nutritious than a turkey sandwich, a banana, and apple juice, then as a taxpayer, I want a refund for every dollar that has ever been spent on government-funded “health education.”

The problem with government health and nutrition standards is that everyone has different health requirements.  Should lactose-intolerant students be forced to bring milk to school for lunch?  What if an unsuspecting four-year-old drinks milk for breakfast and her parents want her to have the Vitamin C found in apple juice or orange juice that is absent from milk?   And should the government force children to purchase their lunches?

The idea that government has any right to mandate what anyone has to eat or drink is absurd. The government does not know better than parents what is good for their children, and the government can’t possess the ability to dictate to parents how to raise their kids.  Furthermore, taxpayers should never be forced to subsidize government programs to “supplement” what are deemed inadequately healthy school lunches.

Does the government have the right to compel anyone to purchase anything?  When the requirement concerns public safety, such as the requirement that all car drivers must purchase auto insurance, the government retains the ability to say what citizens must possess. I applaud the government for finally recognizing the bad health epidemic in America.  However, the right solution is for schools to offer healthier options in the cafeteria, schedule more physical activity into the school day, and improve health education classes, not to subject every school child in America and their parents to capricious food mandates.

What is upsetting is not this lone event, but that it is emblematic of a fundamentally flawed view of the role and power of state and national governments.  Few things are more personal than family decisions and what we chose to do with our own bodies, and these mandates intrude on both.  Whether it is food or insurance, the government has every right to give citizens lifestyle suggestions, but North Carolinians should be wary when the state begins imposing mandates that specific products must be purchased or consumed by everyone.

Garrett Jacobs | @GarrettMJacobs | University of North Carolina