Food Vigilantes On Patrol in Philly

Kids represent special cases in the libertarian commitment to individual liberty, and for a good reason. They are, it is generally thought, not necessarily able to know what is best for them. The solution is to leave child-rearing to the parents, but what do we do about parents who are abusive or negligent? Lots of room for discussion there. But a recent story about one “solution” to the problem of childhood obesity made my skin crawl. Apparently some adults have taken to standing guard outside corner stores, harrassing kids when they exit. From the New York Times:

PHILADELPHIA — Tatyana Gray bolted from her house and headed toward her elementary school. But when she reached the corner store where she usually gets her morning snack of chips or a sweet drink, she encountered a protective phalanx of parents with bright-colored safety vests and walkie-talkies.

The scourge the parents were combating was neither the drugs nor the violence that plagues this North Philadelphia neighborhood. It was bad eating habits.

“Candy!” said one of the parents, McKinley Harris, peering into a small bag one child carried out of the store. “That’s not food.”

The parents standing guard outside the Oxford Food Shop are foot soldiers in a national battle over the diets of children that has taken on new fervor.

This started because a Philadelphia school principal was fustrated and concerned about the diets of her pupils.  She was worried about the effect it was having on their health and ability to learn. Ok. She banned soda and sweet snacks from the school, but still kids were eating…well, the stuff kids will eat and, after pressuring local store owners to stop serving the kids yielded unsatisfactory results, she called in the heavies:

Frustrated that her pressure on stores had not worked, Ms. Brown called on parents and Operation Town Watch Integrated Services, which typically helps neighborhoods fight crime and drugs.

“I need you to go to those stores and say, ‘Look, can you not sell to our kids between 8:15 and 8:30?’ ”Ms. Brown said, kicking off the effort in January. “ ‘We don’t want them to eat sugary items. There is a breakfast program right here. And if you don’t do this, we’re going to have to boycott for a while.’ ”

The kids are putting up quite the show of resistance, though:

Mr. Harris… and three other parents took the first corner store watch, with mixed results. Tatyana continued past the store without stopping, but others bought the usual fare.

“Ha, ha, ha,” one young girl said, scoffing at Mr. Harris.

“I bought everything!” another bragged.

(The kids apparently stopped going to the corner stores after a while, but the article didn’t say whether they had acually stopped eating the bad foods, or if they just went elsewhere for their fix).

Clearly there is some room for debate about what to do when kids are not being looked after. But vigilante groups, checking on what other people’s children are eating? Too far, IMHO.