Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A lot of folks have been talking about this story in which Fred Thompson says that the US federal government should not be "tell[ing] you what to eat." This claim becomes more pointed when read in the context of Sen. Harkin (D-IA)'s proposal for the federal government to regulate what can--or cannot--be served in public school cafeterias: "a national ban on selling candy, sugary soda and salty, fatty food in school snack bars, vending machines and à la carte cafeteria lines." More details about the legislation:

The nutrition standards would allow only plain bottled water and eight-ounce servings of fruit juice or plain or flavored low-fat milk with up to 170 calories to be sold in elementary and middle schools. High school students could also buy diet soda or, in places like school gyms, sports drinks. Other drinks with as many as 66 calories per eight ounces could be sold in high schools, but that threshold would drop to 25 calories per eight-ounce serving in five years.

Food for sale would have to be limited in saturated and trans fat and have less than 35 percent sugar. Sodium would be limited, and snacks must have no more than 180 calories per serving for middle and elementary schools and 200 calories for high schools.

Coming back to Thompson:

Thompson, ever a fan of small government, said healthy living should be the responsibilities of families first.

"We shouldn’t be looking at the federal government in Washington first and working our way down, it ought to be just the other way around. With that, or whether you're talking about education, there's some things the federal government can't do," said Thompson.

However, it seems to me that this question is not only about the size of government but also how government should be organized. Should there be a top-down federal bureaucracy that decides what foods are healthy and that tells schools which foods they cannot sell, or should school districts be able decide what foods to serve? How much power should a federal regulatory body have, and how much detail should it go into? Thompson, in his approach to federalism, seems more skeptical about the value of this top-down approach and seems to have much more of an interest in allowing for a diversity of approaches to various problems/issues.