When I was a youngster, I frequently brought a brown-bag lunch to school. My parents were country people who hunted, fished, grew vegetables and even foraged for wild plants. Consequently, my lunches were not in keeping with what the other kids were used to seeing.

In fact, other students often convinced me to trade lunches with them. So I would find myself eating peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches and perhaps a store-bought cupcake or something similar. The people who traded with me were treated to cold venison slabs with plenty of salt, fried fish roe sandwiches — both flounder and perch roe were used here — or perhaps cold, fried hind legs of rabbits and squirrels, topped off with some of grandma’s homemade fudge or butterscotch candy.

I’m sure that if someone brought such a lunch to school today, the lunch would be confiscated and the offender marched to the principal’s office for chastisement. And it’s likely that the parents or guardians who provided such a meal in the first place would be brought up on charges of child endangerment. Imagine, wild game, laden with salt. And fish eggs. How politically incorrect and totally unacceptable. News of such a “crime” would make national headlines.

Food Pyramid

And that, in a nutshell, pretty much describes the nanny state that we live in. Big government must dictate our actions because we are incapable of making rational, safe decisions. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) “Food Guide Pyramid” comes immediately to mind. This began back in 1916 with a guide for feeding children and how to select food. Since then, the concept has expanded to the point of being confusing, complicated and completely condescending.

The Food Guide Pyramid I recall was the one established in the 1940s. I remember seeing it in magazines in the 1950s. My family, grandma in particular, did not follow the guidelines set forth by the USDA. Instead, she and we ate according to the seasons, something people have done since the dawn of time.

Specifically, in spring and summer we ate a lot of fish and little red meat, that item being too expensive. Our garden supplied us with plenty of fresh, healthful vegetables. Often, a meal would consist wholly of vegetables, not necessarily by design, but because that was what was available at the time. Sometimes grandpa would supplement our home-grown stuff with wild offerings. In fall and early winter we ate lots of wild game and then on until spring, we used what we had laboriously canned and frozen.

I don’t recall ever seeing a USDA food chart in grandma’s kitchen and I’m sure she held such government interference in total disdain. All the same, we ate safe, healthful and nutritious foods — foods that we mostly produced or harvested on our own.

Today things are different, at least for most people. I personally still adhere to my upbringing and am pretty much responsible for producing or harvesting from the wild much of what I consume. Probably as a result of that, I have no taste for sugar and dislike sweets. This is not because anyone told me sugar was bad, but simply on account of personal taste.

School Lunch

Lately, I’ve read scads of reports on how the current First Lady’s influence on what schools serve students for lunch has met with disastrous results. That is, the nutritious foods served in schools don’t fly with students who were brought up eating junk food. Waste has become rampant, since so much of the food winds up uneaten. Of course taxpayer’s money pays for the wasted food, so in effect, this is a waste of taxpayer funds.

But to quibble over a wasted billion here or a squandered few million there is to miss the big picture. Neither the First Lady nor anyone else has the right to dictate what other people eat.

Consider New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on super-sized sodas. Who in the world does he think he is? But with office comes power and Bloomberg freely exercises his power. Right or wrong, that’s what many politicians do.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I support a healthy lifestyle. That means lots of green, leafy vegetables, wild foods, fish and poultry, with a scant amount of beef. I love wild game, too, but it is never available in sufficient quantity, so it is more of a treat than a staple.

In fact, I write books about my eating habits and even belong to a nonprofit organization that includes professionals in a variety of health and food-related fields. But as my conservative mind sees it, it is not my or anyone’s place to dictate or legislate what someone else eats.

Rather, it is perfectly fine and indeed important to try and influence others, not by laws or intimidation, but by convincing people to change eating habits because they want to. And that is key to affecting any kind of social change.

Family Matters

The real seat of power lies in the family. Sadly, it seems that few families share a common mealtime nowadays. Our modern, hectic lifestyle has divorced the average family from such traditional rituals.

But whether they eat together or not, it is the parents, not the government, who have the rightful authority to determine what their children eat. It really is as simple as that. The First Lady has tried to fast-track her food-police laws regarding school lunches and the GOP has decided to wait a bit. The First Lady is furious and has vowed to fight to the bitter end in order to get her way.

So which seems like the most important thing on the First Lady’s mind, influencing children’s nutrition in a positive way or getting her way? Sadly, it looks as if the latter takes precedent.

I’m not sure if brown-bag lunches are still acceptable in most schools. I suspect that in some places, the contents of home-grown lunches must pass official muster. Besides that, any student who brought a brown bag or, worse yet, a dinner pail, to school would be tormented and ridiculed as a total goober. Peer judgment is a terrible thing.

So, as the First Lady has learned, foot-stomping and throwing hissy fits are not effective tools for improving student diets. There are ways to make vegetables more palatable, of course, and any nutrition counselor can no doubt offer countless suggestions.

No good can ever come from forcing anyone to do anything. That’s the bottom line.