The Food Bullies of Maine

By Jerry Rogers

Just in time for Thanksgiving the Food Bullies are back looking to ban foods and monitor what we eat – all in the name of what they think is good for the rest of us.

Maine – through its Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) – is renewing its push to ban certain foods and drinks purchased through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (food stamps). This time it’s trying to get the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow a ban as an addition to federal healthy-eating efforts.

According to the Portland Press Herald, “The state Department of Health and Human Services is once again seeking to ban food stamp recipients from using their benefits to purchase candy and soda. The department announced that it will seek a federal waiver to prohibit so-called junk food purchases within SNAP. The move by the department follows several failed efforts to seek the waiver through legislation, including a bill that died in the Legislature this year. This time DHHS will pursue the change through rulemaking.”

How will store clerks distinguish between food purchased through SNAP or with cash? Why should we trust that the surveillance will not spread to all food purchased by all Americans? Conservatives should reject proposals to leverage government agencies (like the USDA) to interfere so deeply in the personal choices of Americans. Monitoring what some Americans put in their grocery carts is decidedly bad policy and anathema to conservative values.

Food surveillance is a misguided, dysfunctional idea that will result in less freedom, bigger government, and more spending.

Whether it’s under the guise of entitlement reform or public health, some politicians may favor food monitoring and restrictions because it’s an easy way to show voters that they’re being good stewards of taxpayer money. On the contrary, if the precedent is set that state governments – on the basis of public health – have the authority to monitor the food choices of the poor, state-bureaucracies from coast to coast will set us down a slippery slope toward the food-police regulating and keeping watch over the diets of all Americans.

There are some politicians who believe that solving nutritional issues is the responsibility of the government. However, a food surveillance program will not make people healthier; it will not save taxpayer money; and it will not reform entitlements. Instead, the food-police will disrupt the free market and create massive state-based food bureaucracies. And if consuming less of an unhealthy food is good for poor people, consuming less of an unhealthy food is good for all people. Food surveillance will have its start in SNAP, but will end up impacting all Americans.

Public health advocates believe that all adults are unable to make responsible decisions about the food and beverages we consume. Conservative advocates and elected officials should stand against paternalistic policies aimed at our diets, and trust the American people to decide for ourselves what is healthy or unhealthy. Food surveillance violates individual liberty, and it creates a gateway for more government intrusion into our lives. Food surveillance is not entitlement reform, and it is not going to make Americans any healthier – as if that’s the government’s business anyway.

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