Why the L.A. Schools Healthy Food Experiment Failed

COMMENTARY | The L A. Times has a story that illustrates the limits of what can only be described as food nannyism. An attempt to force Los Angeles public school children to eat health food in the school cafeteria has collapsed.

The attempt was well meaning. Out went hamburgers, corn dogs, pizza, and tacos. In went such tempting delicacies as beef jambalaya, vegetable curry, pad Thai, lentil and brown rice cutlets, and quinoa and black-eyed pea salads. The idea was the combat childhood obesity by serving up healthier food that was lower in fat, sugar, and sodium.

Unfortunately the public school children of L.A. rejected the new menu en masse. Children started bringing more food from home. A black market for fast food had arisen. A lot of the healthy food went uneaten and had to be thrown out.

Part of the problem is that the food that students found delicious during the taste tests did not actually resemble the food that was served up at the school cafeterias in L.A. Complaints about the food were rampant and some of it even made some of the students sick. One suspects that food created in a test marketing kitchen would be of higher quality than something prepared on a mass scale in a school cafeteria. It is easier to mess up vegetable curry than pizza or hamburger. One’s experience suggests that even a mediocre pizza is better than no pizza.

The L.A. school district should have test marketed the new menu items under real world (i.e. school cafeteria) conditions. Teachers and administrators should have been part of the test market sample. The school district should have also explored ways to make pizza and hamburger healthier without compromising on taste. A turkey burger actually works fairly well if prepared with the right spices.

In the meantime, the experience of the L.A. schools illustrates the limits to nanny state mandates. People should eat healthier, but one cannot force them to do so without instituting ridiculous draconian measures. People must be enticed to eat healthy, with food that would not, if the accounts are accurate, choke a goat if it tried to consume it.

Source: L.A. schools’ healthful lunch menu panned by students, Teresa Watanabe, L.A. Times, Dec 17, 2011

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