In February, it was reported that Michelle Obama’s showplace for her campaign for healthy kids’ meals, the Chicago Public Schools, is having difficulty selling the First Lady’s baloney to kids. When more healthful meal options were introduced, sales of school lunches dropped by 5 percent from the prior year. There were many accounts of students throwing away their lunches, while others opted for “cookies and slushies” from the canteen or simply waited until they got home to eat. The vast majority of students viewed the new food options as, er, “undesirable.”
One school, however, found a solution — ban alternative sources of food entirely. At Little Village Academy on Chicago’s West Side, students are not allowed to pack lunches from home. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria. Understandably, this has students in revolt. In typical nanny-state thinking, the principal says it’s her intention to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.
This decision has economic ramifications. Any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district’s food provider. The federal government pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch taken, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch.
Antitrust laws were enacted to increase consumer choice In the world of antitrust, when a person with monopoly power in one market, say a school or a public school system, makes a consumer buy something in another market that the consumer doesn’t want or need in order to get the good or service it wants, it’s called a “tie-in.” In Chicago, if you want a public education, in some schools you now have to take the meals provided by the district’s caterer, whether or not you want them. This reduces Chicago public school meals to a form of Hobson’s Choice — “you can have a free meal from us, or nothing at all.”
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