In the past couple of days, you may have heard a story going around, published by a right-wing think tank hyped by the paranoid and the right-wing talk radio crowd about an incident in a North Carolina. In the story, a "government lunch inspector" at a pre-school deemed a 4-year-old's sack lunch from home as not being nutritious enough, and forced her to have chicken nuggets and milk instead, sending her mother a bill for the lunch.
Wow, wouldn't that get your blood boiling? Government lunch inspectors? Really? Upon reading a rehash of the story on a Texas conservative news website, my first reaction was disgust at what seems like idiocy by a school district, followed by "hey, wait a minute...". I went to the original source of the article, which seems to be an original report, including statements from the child's mother. I thought about writing something last night about how the occasional overreach or isolated mistake by someone somewhere in government can manipulated to induce fear in a paranoid population that a given policy or action is widespread and on its way to crushing their freedom.
As it turns out, I'm glad I didn't write anything, because as usual, there is more to the story, as pointed out by The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. Another conservative outlet in North Carolina published its own version of the story that reveals a few more details: It turns out that the school was being inspected that day by a contractor for compliance with the North Carolina Division of Early Childhood Development. You see, this preschool is a voluntary free program for children "at risk" (low income or with learning issues).
As such, since the state funds the program, expecting the children to be low income, it requires schools to provide a "nutritious" meal. If a child's sack lunch is not enough, the school provides extra food to supplement it - not replace it. The inspector ordered full lunches for all students in the class.
Further, the mother says she hasn't been billed for the food, though she worries she might. The school's principal says that no parents will be charged.
Look, it's a valid thing for a pre-school program for poor kids to pay for and require a healthy lunch for the kids. For many kids, this could be the only nutritious meal they receive all day. All you can do is provide the meal; you can't force kids to eat it. And I would argue (as would this outlet) that milk products are not necessary to make a healthy meal.
And certainly, the intent of the program was not to second-guess the judgement of parents, who know what their kids will eat. Rather, it's got to be about making sure kids have enough to eat.
If anything, I think the lesson here is that despite the best of intentions on the part of lawmakers and government employees, there are people out there who will misinterpret everything in the worst possible way. Good communication with parents and the media is a school district's best defense against ending up with this type of situation getting blown all out of proportion.
I guess another lesson is to look at stories like this with a bit of skepticism and discernment, because too often they fit an anti-government narrative all too conveniently.