May 9, 2006

Hamilton needs to straighten her facts

Laura Hamilton’s recent Viewpoints column on the removal of caloric soda from public schools is absolutely ridiculous. Her main point seems to be an issue of choice: she decries a “liberal” desire to circumscribe what she considers the “right to choose” one’s own school food.

I can only assume Hamilton has never been in a public school cafeteria if she thinks that the food served therein provides a plethora of “choice” in which public school students find their liberty. The selection of food at public school is extremely limited, and often fails to provide adequate options for students with religious or moral dietary restrictions, as well as for students who like tasty food. Unless schools start allowing supermarkets to operate on their grounds, they are already circumscribing our liberty to choose what foods we like to eat or beverages we prefer to drink, if we only buy food at our schools. Moreover, the limitations are not merely by default. Ronald Reagan (that double-speaking liberal) instituted a series of nutritional requirements for school lunches which included the presence of vegetables (infamously, ketchup was considered a “vegetable,” but that’s neither here nor there). District by district, schools regulate what sorts of foods are sold in school all the time.

The point is that we regulate that food already, so why not, in the face of mounting scientific evidence about child obesity and the negative effects sugar and caffeine highs have on a student’s ability to function in the classroom, regulate it so as to help curb these issues? Last I checked, most students were minors, and we tend to allow the state to impose all sorts of regulations on minors, particularly those who receive free benefits from the state. I mean, gosh, those poor 16-year-olds already can’t smoke, and now they have to walk down the street to buy soda, too? Nobody’s liberty is infringed if schools and manufacturers make the choices they already do based on sound science and the desire of teachers to not have to deal with caffeinated, sugar-high students.

Besides, public school students are not required to buy all their food on school grounds. Soda hasn’t been banned from public schools, it just isn’t going to be sold in schools anymore. Students can still pick up a Big Gulp on the way to school or bring a six-pack from home. So what’s the problem? Students can still choose what they eat in school.

Hamilton’s critique includes some vague references to a slippery slope argument, the idea that if poor lil’ corporations like Coca-Cola can be bullied around by big bad lawyers, pretty soon corporations will be held accountable by all sorts of unfair things like “science,” “ethics,” and “the public” (the last of which Hamilton seems to think is at the terrible risk of learning that soda might be kind of bad for you). Coke could have mounted a defense—I’m sure they have lawyers, too—but they chose not to, probably because like any corporation, they realized that the good PR from this voluntary agreement would be better for profits than machines in schools are. There’s no double-speak here, just PR–based economics.

Hamilton mentions Griswold v. Connecticut, writing “it is not the immediate result but rather the sweeping language that is so dangerous.” Seeing as Griswold was a case in which the Court held that a state could not regulate the right of married couples to purchase and use birth control, I can only assume that a) Hamilton has no idea what she’s talking about, or b) she thinks that soda is beyond the realm of regulation, unlike contraception and private choices about child-bearing, which is one of the most obnoxiously hypocritical positions I can imagine.

Hamilton’s previous columns, “AMA’s Junk Science Debunked,” etc., function as variations on this theme, or rather, variations on the wholesale lifting of content and sources from Fox News’s “Junk Science” blog. They’re tired, boring arguments that fall to pieces with the least bit of scrutiny. Just as the AMA releasing a non-binding, simple recommendation that spring breakers drink less and keep their drawers on does nothing to infringe liberty, neither does this decision by Coca-Cola lead us further towards totalitarianism. If Hamilton is really so concerned about that threat, she should reread 1984 and take a look at domestic wiretapping or the Patriot Act, not something as inane as soft drinks.