Helen Whalen Cohen

Breaking news: top down planning doesn't work. Back in June, we brought you a story about LA schools sprucing up their menu as part of a new healthy eating initiative for elementary school children. Now that the corndogs, chicken nuggets and chocolate milk have been replaced with butternut squash and quinoa salad, I'm sure you will be shocked, shocked, to learn that most of the new food is ending up in the garbage.

 

It's lunchtime at Van Nuys High School and students stream into the cafeteria to check out the day's fare: black bean burgers, tostada salad, fresh pears and other items on a new healthful menu introduced this year by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But Iraides Renteria and Mayra Gutierrez don't even bother to line up. Iraides said the school food previously made her throw up, and Mayra calls it "nasty, rotty stuff." So what do they eat? The juniors pull three bags of Flamin' Hot Cheetos and soda from their backpacks.

 

"This is our daily lunch," Iraides says. "We're eating more junk food now than last year."

For many students, L.A. Unified's trailblazing introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop. Earlier this year, the district got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium. Instead, district chefs concocted such healthful alternatives as vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads and pad Thai noodles.

But that's not all-there is even a black market forming for fast food. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you a microcosm of Prohibition.

Participation in the school lunch program has dropped by thousands of students. Principals report massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away. Students are ditching lunch, and some say they're suffering from headaches, stomach pains and even anemia. At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving.

Can anyone honestly say that they are suprised by this? You or I would probably love to eat tostada salad for lunch (though maybe not at a school cafeteria)  but 12 year olds? Not so much. I could have told them that the food would just end up getting trashed.

The lesson that we can hopefully take from this is that 'for your own good' policies aren't effective in the hands of bureaucrats. There are always unintended consequences. This policy was no doubt created with the best of intentions, but we all know where that road leads.


Helen Whalen Cohen

Helen Whalen Cohen is Associate Editor and Community Manager at Townhall.com.