(An earlier version of this article appeared at the Texas Millennial Institute blog.)

The government schools could be better. But hey, they’re what we’ve got. Our school system is certainly better than any alternative – whatever that means. At least, that’s what it taught me.

In fact, I think we should apply this “public” model elsewhere in society. And what would be more appropriate than child nutrition? Educating kids is important, to be sure; but if we don’t feed them, they’ll starve. So why shouldn’t we also socialize food?

I mean, it’s pretty clear that the private sector can no longer be trusted to nourish our kids. Greedy companies are taking advantage of people. Parents are uninformed and generally unreliable. Some are too poor to afford real food; others don’t even care to try. Why should children ever suffer for the inadequacies of their parents? Besides, the adults are busy working. Taxes don’t pay themselves.

We all know that our youth are sick and malnourished. This has nothing to do with government intervention, of course – nothing to do with protectionist regulation that stifles local or natural food sources, monopolistic subsidies that encourage highly processed junk, or perverse public dietary policies dictated by special interests that prioritize corn flakes over meats and vegetables. That can’t be it at all.

In fact, more government is the only solution. And when I say government, I mean the real government – the federal government. Stuff as important as child nutrition doesn’t get left to your fickle, fragmented states, so don’t give me that high-minded nonsense about federalism and states’ rights. No, the federal government needs to feed your children, just like the Soviets fed Ukraine. Admit it, capitalists: Your free market has failed.

So how are we going to start properly nourishing our kids? Well, I’m not all-knowing – like, say, a congressional subcommittee, a bureaucratic task force, or a corporate lobbyist – but I think I’ve got a pretty good plan. The Feds need to establish “public cafeterias” around the nation, which children can attend to be fed. Fed by the Feds! What could be more natural?

Fed what, you may ask? Simple. Knowledgeable government experts will determine a plan to provide the nation’s children with optimal nutriment. You know what they say – one size fits all. Armed with their sound advice, the new public cafeteria system will stuff your kids so full of healthy that it hurts.

Won’t be able to transport your children to these cafeterias? No problem. We’ll just draft an army of buses running daily routes, courtesy of the state. Totally free.

But seriously, you say – how are we going to pay for it all? But that’s actually the easiest part. We’ll tax the rich! Well, we’re probably looking at federal property taxes – but don’t worry. It’ll be your obligatory contribution to public wellbeing – the price of participating in civilized society. We can even add it to our GDP.

What – still not down? Think you can feed your kids on your own? You’ll have to prove it. Every semester your home-fed child will need to perform a physical examination and laboratory tests conducted by federally licensed professionals, the results of which you’ll need to submit to authorities, along with your child’s semesterly dietary plan.

Sounds like a huge pain, right? Confusing paperwork? A waste of time and resources? Exactly! After all, such antisocial behavior should be discouraged. In the new era of socialized nutrition, home-feeding will be for weirdos.

Now, if you want to send your children to private eatery-institutions, then the system might allow for that. Politicians like to pay lip service to freedom. Of course, to guarantee society’s proper nourishment, we’ll have to regulate the private cafeterias just like the public ones. No child left behind! So basically they’ll be the same thing, except artificially expensive and with fancier names. And, of course, even if you’re using a private cafeteria, you’ll still have to pay your fair share in taxes.

Alright, fine. If you fight back hard enough we might let you use cafeteria vouchers. This way you can direct your child’s nutrition-dedicated tax dollars to a cafeteria of your choosing. Actually – let’s call this option ”eating choice”, a token of Big Brother’s benevolence. That’ll disguise the fact that you really don’t have much of a choice at all. Gotta love Orwellian doublespeak; we certainly wouldn’t want people to think they’re being forced.

And what will we call the agency charged with supervising this project? How about the “Federal Administration for Imposing Legumes”, or just FAIL for short.

Fail it will. Drastically.

In my proposed system the concentrated power of state-contracted corporations will promptly hijack public cafeteria food policy, just like special interests have co-opted school curriculums. As they presently exploit public learning, corporations and bureaucrats will profit at the expense of children’s health.

Private eateries oriented towards kids will be driven or regulated out of business. Soon, even parents will grow accustomed to not being involved in feeding their children. In a generation or two, we’ll forget that it was ever the responsibility of parents and communities to nourish their children. In fact, such a notion will seem implausible. In this age of commercialism, they’ll say, how could average people and greedy businessmen ever have been trusted to provide kids with food?

When the costs of the public cafeteria system skyrocket due to the economic nature of bureaucratic, top-down management, we’ll just blame the free market. When the kids get fatter and sicker, we’ll say society’s not contributing enough and that we need to raise taxes and throw even more resources into the system. If you object to this, you’ll be a heretic. Clearly, they’ll say, you don’t care if children starve; better shut your mouth. It’ll be almost as bad as opposing increased funding for public schools.

Moreover, under the government cafeteria system, kids will never learn how to feed themselves. When they reach adulthood they’ll be starting from scratch. They might, however, learn to deal drugs and bully each other, as well as develop an artificial, isolated social environment unlike anything in the so-called real world. Sometimes one of them might even snap and bring a gun to lunch. Then we’ll have to bring in metal detectors, security cameras, drug dogs, and security guards. Don’t ask how much that’ll cost. And please don’t bring up the Bill of Rights.

Oh, and the public cafeteria workers might unionize.

Okay, that last one went too far. And of course this is all ridiculous. We would never be so foolish as to implement my public cafeterias, or any related system.

Except for the one we already have. Because – as if we haven’t figured it out by now – the point of my government cafeteria system is to parallel our government school system and to highlight its flaws. Replace the word cafeteria with school, nutrition with education, feeding with teaching, and so on, and you see that they are not dissimilar concepts, and that many of their justifications and downsides are shared.

But with public schools the problem is real, and deeply entrenched, since the system has had a century to establish itself. And with education the poor results are slower to surface and harder to identify than with food. If kids were starved of nutrition by my proposed public cafeteria system to the extent that they are starved of intellect by the present public school system, I think many would soon grow quite ill. Some might even be famished. No good citizen would stand for it; there would be riots in the streets within weeks.

Thankfully, we can leave our diverse private food options alone. Don’t get me wrong – our current hyper-regulated, hyper-subsidized food sector is far from a free market paradise. But it sure beats socialism’s mass starvations. The current school system, however, is almost entirely socialized – it is a government-controlled, government-run sector – and children are starving for knowledge.

So what can we do?

The first legal step is to allow for alternative solutions: homeschooling and private schooling. But we also need to deregulate these institutions. We need to let entrepreneurs and parents figure out the best ways to educate kids, more like we do with feeding them.

Education should be cheap. It should be efficient. It should be enjoyable. It should be diverse. Basically, it should be more like dining out, home cooking, grocery shopping, and farmers’ markets.

That’s why you should support freedom in education. And not my government cafeterias.