A bill that would ban junk food in schools shows just how misplaced lawmakers' priorities are

Let's see: Our state is facing runaway growth, drought, water shortages, budget shortfalls, rampant illegal immigration, soaring higher-education costs and rising crime. So what does our Arizona Legislature want to start off with? Telling local schools what they can put in their vending machines.

Let the CAP run dry; let Gilbert grow into Globe; let the drug cartels and people smugglers turn the Interstate 10 corridor into a permanent shooting gallery. At least our kids will be safe from potato chips.

Representative Mark Anderson of Mesa, who serves as the chairman of the House Committee on K-12 Education, has introduced legislation that would ban the sale of foods with "minimal nutritional value" at schools, starting as early as the next school year.

Anderson, a Republican, says that under his bill, the vending machines can stay, but the government gets to say what can be in those machines, and what your kids can buy and can't buy. It's probably safe to assume that representing Mesa as he does, a lot of his constituents are members of a religion stressing self-reliance and strong family structure. I don't suppose they'd be real happy if some government entity tried to tell them what their kids must eat. How, then, is it OK for the government to tell kids what they can't eat? And to top it off, this is the same kind of Governmental Busybodyism that Democrats have (often correctly) been accused of for the past 50 years, a charge that helped swing America's political leanings over to the dark side.

When my kids were in elementary school, some members of the Parent-Teacher Organization convinced the cafeteria to have Meatless Thursdays. It seemed harmless enough at the time, and I just shrugged when it was brought up at the meeting. Cheese pizza once a week isn't going to make my kids any less smart.

But then these same parents started pushing for Meatless Everydays, and they even started showing up at lunchtime and proselytizing to the kids about vegetarianism, and that's when the tofu hit the fan. And, believe me, substituting the word "tofu" into that sentence doesn't change the meaning one little bit.

We managed to stop the madness in the PTO meeting, but the die was cast. I started showing up on Thursdays with Happy Meals for my kids. This instantly made me the Coolest Dad in the whole school and, infinitely more importantly, made me aware of the Food Nazi Conspiracy.

You know the old bumper sticker that reads: "Wouldn't It Be Great if Schools Had All the Money They Needed and the Pentagon Had to Hold a Bake Sale to Buy a B1 Bomber?" That's simplistic, but, political rhetoric aside, the fact is that schools don't have all the money they need. Things like band instruments and sports uniforms that help make for outstanding, well-rounded young people are often not covered in schools' stretched-thin budgets and must be purchased through fund raising. It's a fact of modern life that many of today's most dynamic and involved students are in near-constant fund-raising mode. The more sports and extracurricular activities they're involved in, the more money they need to raise, and the demands on their time grows logarithmically.

That's where the vending machines come in. The Sunnyside School District makes six figures annually just from the presence of Pepsi machines on district campuses. Districts around the state use the revenues from similar arrangements to help pay for student necessities that are not covered by the budget. This also frees up the students from time-consuming fund-raising efforts and gives them more time for their studies and family activities. Gee, seems reasonable to me.

I'm not advocating a diet of potato chips and Red Vines. As a parent, I've actually been pretty careful about what my kids have been eating as they've grown up. They do eat meat (mostly chicken, some beef, almost no pork), but not all the time. My wife and I cook meals for the kids: a lot of Italian and Mexican food (which I'm sure will send up red flags somewhere in the Food Isn't Supposed to Taste Good cabal).

As for the vending machines, if I don't want my kids to eat junk food out of a machine, I'll ask them not to do so. If by some chance, I think they're doing so anyway, I'll see to it that they don't have any money to put in those machines. And if, in some bizarro world, it ever went beyond that, I'd do my best Uncle Buck imitation and follow them around school one day and embarrass the living piss out of them.

Of course, it would never go that far, because I take care of my kids, and I don't leave it up to Republicans from Mesa to do it for me. This is bad legislation, and it deserves to be squashed like a bug. Schools desperately need this money, and railing against potato chips and soda pop is a phony issue.

Mr. Anderson, seeing to it what your kids eat is your business. Trying to determine what my kids eat is most definitely not.

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