Randy Forbes: A crackdown on bake sales?

randy forbesAnd now the government is cracking down on bake sales. A couple years ago, First Lady Michelle Obama launched her Let’s Move campaign. Along with it, the President signed into law the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Both are targeted at reducing childhood obesity, a laudable goal indeed. Childhood obesity is a real issue and one that our country needs to thoughtfully address. We need to be teaching our kids about nutrition and equipping them to make healthy choices. Some argued the law went too far, though, dictating what food can be served in school cafeterias – down to calories per snack, and the percentage that comes from fat, sugar, or sodium.

Just last year, even more guidelines took affect that pushed those regulations beyond the lunchroom, restricting what food can be served in schools at all. These regulations will ban many in-school fundraisers – like bake sales – in some cases, unless they meet rigid nutritional standards or have a state-approved exemption.

I started getting calls from school administrators concerned about some aspects of the new regulations and their impact on school life. My first thought is that we’re a long way away from my own school days when a bologna sandwich, Nabs, and a brownie weren’t an unusual school lunch.  We’ve made a lot of progress over the years, and that’s important because we want to raise a healthy, strong generation. We want nutritious food for our children. But that doesn’t mean we want to ban them from selling cookies in school to raise funds for their soccer team.

Cracking down on bake sales doesn’t make any common sense. In typical Washington fashion, it’s taking the worthy objective of healthy options for our kids and twisting it into a heavy-handed government mandate.

Not only is it nonsensical, this new push – putting homemade brownies, cupcakes, and pumpkin bread under the weight of federal regulations – is really about something much bigger than bake sales and fundraisers in schools.  It is indicative of a culture of hand-holding that is creeping into our country.

In the hand-holding culture, the federal government chooses what’s best for individuals – as well as businesses and organizations. Instead of empowering people with options, it dictates their decisions. Instead of challenging them, it chooses for them. Working towards healthier meals in school and teaching our children to make wise choices about what they eat are good goals. But mandating the calorie intake in the cafeteria, at bake sales, and beyond, takes away individual decision-making and replaces it with a government defined dictate. Instead of educating our youngest generations that their actions have consequences, we’re defining the path for them. We owe it to ourselves to measure the costs of such a culture, because there is always a cost.

One danger with this attitude is it leads to a shedding of individual responsibility.  It chips away at the characteristics that make us great as a nation: our ability to think for ourselves, make our own choices, and decide our own destiny. What if our founding fathers woke up one morning and said, “I’m going to wait until someone tells me what to do”? Where is there room for self-direction and drive in a hand-holding culture that tells you how to get from Point A to Point B (and what to eat along the way)?

A shift happened in Washington last week. To many, the election of new leadership in Congress signals the potential for a new direction. This could be, but I also believe the new direction for Washington needs to start with a shift in mindset. We need to ask ourselves, are we going to regulate the personal decisions that happen in everyday life? Or are we going to empower Americans to make their own choices?

Real growth happens when we roll up our sleeves, get to work, and start making things happen. But we’ll never be able to do that until the federal government stops trying to hold everyone’s hands.

Randy Forbes represents the Fourth District of Virginia in Congress.

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