What If Government Controlled The Grocery Store Industry?

Copyright © Rachel Bjorklund, Feb 2009

GovtGrocery-store

Imagine that the Federal government announces a new program to help fight the ever-growing obesity problem in this country.

The President appoints a dietitian to become the very first Secretary of Nutrition. She will be responsible for assembling a panel of nutritionists other health professionals committed to building awareness and promoting good eating habits. To kick off this new nationwide nutrition campaign, her first act is to offer a series of free, nutritionally balanced menu plans every week (complete with recipes and shopping lists), to be made available at every grocery store across the country. Citizens are encouraged to try the menu plan as a means to maintaining good health.

The new menu plans are a hit! What a great idea! If you can’t think of anything to make (or don’t know much about food to begin with), they’re a great resource, especially for busy moms. It’s not long before the weekly menu plans become the accepted standard of healthy eating, and are an indispensible necessity to families nationwide. As the years pass, people don’t know how they ever got along without the menu plans, and some would be at a complete loss of how to properly feed their families without them.

A few years later, the Secretary of Nutrition announces that it is high time we addressed the issue of hunger. Millions of children still go to bed hungry every night in America, and this is unacceptable. To meet this need, she announces a new program, called “Food For Every Child”. Any family who qualifies can bring a copy of a national menu plan to their local grocery store, and receive every item on the shopping list – free! To fund this program, each state will add a small tax to the total of paying customers.

Over the years, the program continues to grow. Middle-class families, with now over 40% of their earnings going towards federal, state and local taxes, are having trouble making ends meet. For many, the “Food For Every Child” program is a godsend. “We could never afford to buy food on our own. Thank goodness it’s all free,” they say. Although it’s kind of a bummer that they’re stuck with whatever is on the menu that week, it’s still better than having to pay for it themselves!

The economy hits a slump, and suddenly the number of paying customers who can afford the ever-growing grocery tax is dwindling, while the number of applicants for “Food For Every Child” grows exponentially. States begin applying for Federal funds to supplement the program. Of course, the problem is that government has not made nutrition enough of a priority, and continually underfunds it!

The Department of Nutrition proposes an additional federal income tax on the wealthiest income brackets of Americans. Why should the rich be allowed to spend money on fancy cars and other luxuries while children starve in the streets? The new tax passes with cheers of support. Now federal money will be made available to every state food program that meets stringent regulations. We must be sure that taxpayer money is spent wisely. Accountability is key!

Now that federal money is involved, a lawsuit is brought against one grocery store for offering “religious” holiday items such as Christmas candy and chocolate Easter eggs. This is surely a “violation of the separation of church and state”, the plaintiff contends. The Supreme Court agrees. Grocery stores which accept federal funds will no longer be permitted to offer food items for religious holidays.

A few more years pass, and the DON decides that more aggressive solutions are needed to deal with the ongoing obesity problem. Too many people continue to be overweight, and it’s a burden on our health care system (not to mention an unfair distribution of food)! New regulations are put in place. From now on, junk food items are banned from federally funded grocery stores. No sodas, candy, cookies, sweet cereals, cake mixes or other sweets. If you want these items, you can make them at home, but the taxpayer isn’t going to pay for them.

There are calls for more efficiency. To make sure food is distributed evenly, every family is assigned to the grocery store in their own zip code. To make things easier, the DON decides you won’t have to pick a menu and find all the items on the list anymore. Instead, you show up once a week and pick up your pre-bagged groceries, with the menu included. Thousands of government workers are hired to pre-bag the groceries. There is enough for three complete meals and two snacks per day for each individual in your family. No more, no less. If you have friends over for dinner, they can bring their daily ration. It’s all the same menu, anyway.

One week you find an item you don’t like and ask for a substitute. “That’s not allowed,” you’re told. “Menus are specifically designed to have an exact balance of nutrients. Besides, there are far too many people in this program to be making substitutions for everyone who wants one. The program has to aim for the best menu for the greatest number of people. ”

For people with food allergies and other dietary needs, there is a lengthy application process for opting out of the standard national menu, including a doctor’s note and diagnosis. It often takes weeks. Vegetarians, Vegans, Kosher Jews and other dietary groups must sign a document which establishes their philosophical reasons for opting out of certain foods. Special grocery bags with attached menus are provided for these groups. More government workers are needed to manage the new “Special Dietary Needs” branch of the DON. The income tax is expanded to meet increased costs, and now every middle-class family is paying up to 50% of their earnings in taxes, largely to fund the “free” food program.

As the years pass and more lobbyists and special interests get in on the action, the bureaucracy grows and the menus start changing. There’s a big push to remove all convenience foods. Anything instant, processed, or boxed is deemed unhealthy. Sure, these items may be faster to make, but should taxpayers be forced to pay for the increased health care costs down the road because of all the preservatives and other unhealthy ingredients in these foods?

Activist groups start getting more powerful and influential. Someone decides there’s not enough multiculturalism in the menus. People should be exposed to all sorts of different ethnic foods. You show up one week to find ingredients you never heard of and have no idea how to make. Later there’s a big scandal: an ethnic food company that made big contributions to several congressman was getting preferred contracts for their foods to be included in the national meal plan.

By now, there are plenty of calls for reform. Some radicals suggest that it’s time that grocery stores were opened up to free market competition. They are quickly smeared as “heartless” and “selfish”, willing to starve children in the streets so they can eat steak every night! The intimidation works. Politicians are afraid to challenge the system. It’s been decades since the program started, and nobody can remember a time when there wasn’t a Department of Nutrition. “What about the poor?” they protest. “What about irresponsible families that only want to eat junk food? If we open government grocery stores up to free market competition, the whole system will collapse and children will suffer!”

Some families decide they’re sick of the whole system, and opt out completely by growing their own food at home and buying bulk ingredients out-of-pocket. It’s a financial burden, because their tax money is deducted to pay for the food program whether they take advantage of it or not, but they feel strongly enough to make the sacrifices needed in order to take charge of their own family’s nutrition.

Critics say that parents are not as qualified as professional dieticians and nutritionists, and should defer to the experts. They contend that only parents with a degree in nutrition or a related field should be permitted to choose their own family’s menus. Most states won’t completely ban the practice, however. There are calls for regulation to make sure that these families are following federal “nutrition standards”. Families must prove that they are not serving junk food, and that their children are not under or overweight. Regulations differ by state, but most weigh children at least once a year to make sure they are “on track”. If your child doesn’t measure up, you’ll be required by law to go back on the national menu plan.

By now, the average citizen has no memory of a time when government did not provide and regulate food. Isn’t that government’s job? Isn’t food a “basic right” for every citizen? Nothing could be more natural than a federally regulated food program. Choice would be nice, but that’s only if you’re rich enough to pay for your own food. For the rest of us, however….we’re stuck with the “free” food that government provides, and for the most part, we’re convinced that it’s a pretty decent program. We cannot trust the free market for something this important. We cannot trust citizens to make their own choices about food. Only government can do the job right.

Is this starting to sound familiar? It should. This is how a free people are slowly seduced into surrendering their freedoms to government in exchange for the false promises of utopia. It doesn’t happen all at once. It is slow and gradual, the result of blind good intentions and years of careful marketing, but those who see the inevitable end result and try to warn their countrymen are most often accused of being “alarmist” and “heartless”. By the time the end result is obvious, citizens have become so complacent and dependent upon the government system that the idea of returning to a system of liberty and personal responsibility becomes more frightening than the oppression they have become accustomed to. We’ve seen it happen in education, and are now watching it happen in health care, finance and other industries.

We can stem the tide of such dangerous seduction by discplining ourselves to start asking a simple question whenever a “good idea” is proposed by government: “Does our constitution grant the Federal Government this power?” If the answer is “no”, then it’s not constitutional – period! Our Founding Fathers had good reason to limit the power of the government they way that they did. They understood that without constitutional limits, government power would gradually encroach on every right and liberty we hold dear. By ignoring this fundamental question, we have allowed government to grow beyond the boundaries of constitutional power, and its appetite is insatiable. There will always be a “good reason” for government to expand and abuse power, and it will always be sold as “fair”, “compassionate”, and a “good idea” to unsuspecting voters who do not understand history or how our constitution was designed. It’s time for the American people to wake up, hold government accountable, and take back the power that is rightfully and constitutionally theirs!

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