Various Lifestyle Stories Vaguely Related (Taking Our Treats Away)

Perhaps it’s just one of those days, with the mind so wandering that unrelated topics blur together, but Dan Yorke’s discussion on WPRO of the Massachusetts bake sale ban set off a mental chain reaction.  Here’s a story on the subject:

A state law goes into effect in August that tries to limit kids’ access to unhealthy food from a half-hour before the school day until a half-hour after it ends.

But the Department of Public Health wants the restrictions around the clock. Its new guidebook says schools are encouraged to apply the nutrition standards at all times.

According to such junk-food activists as PTO members and parents seeking to raise money for music programs and other activities that keep kids off the couch, elimination of everything from bake sales to door-to-door fundraising drives to athletic-event concession stands could cost the kids big.  Some might suggest that increasing the difficulty of maintaining programs that keep students moving is contrary to the goal of healthy living.

The direct links are likely limited, but MA’s nanny-state restriction feels of a kind with First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiatives for healthier eating, which have been running into the cold reality of economics:

After vowing to open more than 1,000 stores selling fresh fruit and vegetables in underserved urban neighborhoods, or “food deserts,” grocers have opened a fraction of them, putting in jeopardy Michelle Obama’s effort to improve food choices for low-income Americans.

The reasons stores don’t open in certain places tend to have something to do with the fact that they cannot make money there.  Any concessions to the First Lady, therefore, would have to be in response to some other incentive, and ultimately the costs will be passed on to others, in some way — probably indirectly.  It isn’t inconceivable that increased prices at profitable Walmarts (for example) could squeeze household budgets, driving families to cheaper, more processed, and less healthy dietary alternatives, all in the name of placing food before people who have not demonstrated much demand for it.

Meanwhile, today’s light news (so to speak) comes via a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that Americans are on a trend toward pervasive obesity:

Even if the skyrocketing rates of obesity level off, 42 percent of Americans will be obese and 11 percent will be severely obese by the year 2030, a new report predicts.

That means 32 million more people will be tipping the scales in the wrong direction, costing the country billions, according to the study, appearing online May 7 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

So, at least by correlation, we have accelerating attempts to dictate what Americans can eat, where, and when on one hand and continuing trends toward heaviness on the other.  The cause and effect could go either or neither way, but one must question whether the fact that we used to be lighter while at the same time free to indulge our taste buds should come into consideration.

There’s something happening culturally, probably under the influence of economics, that’s overwhelmed the government’s ability to juggle unintended consequences.  Our kids have been increasingly drawn and dragged to more sedentary (albeit safer) activities, and it’s been going on for long enough that the habits are making their way into grown generations.

American occupations are moving in the same direction.  Where once five carpenters spent the day swinging hammers, one now taps a nail gun.  Where once a secretary may have been up and down to the filing cabinet and up and down the stairs to other offices, she now clicks her way through files and emails.  And on a macro scale, the emphasis on college-educated careers and a constrained notion of a “knowledge-based economy” has the implicit promise of jobs that are not only better paying, but also physically easier.

Thus does the jumble of cause, effect, and correlation come around to my last bookmarked essay, by Bret Stephens, in the Wall Street Journal.  It’s a letter to the graduating collegiate Class of 2012:

No doubt some of you have overcome real hardships or taken real degrees. A couple of years ago I hired a summer intern from West Point. She came to the office directly from weeks of field exercises in which she kept a bulletproof vest on at all times, even while sleeping. She writes brilliantly and is as self-effacing as she is accomplished. Now she’s in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban.

If you’re like that intern, please feel free to feel sorry for yourself. Just remember she doesn’t.

Unfortunately, dear graduates, chances are you’re nothing like her. And since you’re no longer children, at least officially, it’s time someone tells you the facts of life.

Perhaps aversion to such facts of life as Stephens goes on to describe lurk behind our unhealthy lifestyles and susceptibility to nanny-state solutions.  Maybe we should be a little less timid about teaching that even one’s own self esteem ought to be earned.  It could be that our systematic elimination of the necessity to just get up and go (through wealth, technology, safety nets, and unqualified tolerance) has created a culture in which fewer and fewer of us learn to enjoy doing just that.  Learning to love that which must be done is a chosen state of mind, a skill, and it withers to the extent that we believe that the world owes us all a path toward both leisure and gratification.

Purchasing a cupcake on the way to practice with money earned from the morning paper route was once a very tangible way to taste the rewards of labor.  Perhaps a culture that has lost its sense of work will inevitably empower do-gooders to take its treats away.

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