Okay, now they’ve gone too far. The food police, in an attempt to force Americans to feed their children more nutritious meals, are going after that great American standard, the Happy Meal. Oh, no, they’re not outlawing burgers or fries — they are taking aim at the toy. Here's the headline from the Silicon Valley MercuryNews.com: “Santa Clara County: Supervisors ban toys with fast-food meals.”
Maybe I am obtuse, but isn’t it the food that should worry them, not the toys? According to the supervisors, fast food restaurants lure children into eating unhealthful foods by bribing them with toys. I have long promoted the concept of healthy Happy Meals, Kid Meals, whatever meals (of course, no one is listening to me). I know that healthy alternatives are offered in some of these meals, but I never got why there isn’t a side-salad children’s meal for vegetarian kids. How easy would that be? Instead of a choice between chicken or burger, it would be a choice between chicken, burger, or small salad.
I admit, I like children’s meals, and not just because I get a toy (although I admit that’s a plus). I have a small appetite and can’t eat adult servings. I don’t eat a lot of fast food, but when I do, I go for the junior portions. Parents who buy children’s meals for their kids aren’t doing so because their kids need more toys, they are buying them because it’s a child-sized serving of the foods the adult eats. How many people say, “Let’s go to Wendy’s and get some toys?” They go to Wendy’s to get something to eat; they get the children’s meal for their children and a toy comes with it.
When the country was gripped by Beanie-Baby-fever, and McDonald’s was giving away miniature Beanie Babies with Happy Meals, people did flock to McDonald’s. Undoubtedly, there are certain media (TV shows and movies) tie-ins that will draw people to buy from a particular fast food restaurant. How likely is it that these people are thinking, “Well, we were going to have tofu loaf for supper tonight, but GigaBurger is packing Harry Potter glasses in their kid’s meals, so we’ll go there instead”? Isn’t it more likely that if the choice is based on a toy, it happens when the family is going out for fast food anyway? Hey, I’d rather get the Barbie whatsis than the Ninja Turtles thingamajig any day. Oh, and food police, you should know that the toys can be bought without buying the meal in most fast food joints. That’s right, we can buy our little roly-poly potential heart-disease-victims a triple cheeseburger with double bacon, and gooey mayo dressing, a large order of fries, and a jumbo shake, and still get the toy! That sort of negates the idea that parents are coerced into buying children’s meals so that their little ones won’t miss out on the piece-of-junk toy that comes with them.
Instead of ensuring that children will eat better meals, the Santa Clara County supervisors are offering them less fun. They are also saving the fast food vendors some cash. How many of us believe that the price of the meal is going to go down just because there’s no toy?
Now, I’m going to be uncharacteristically fair to the Santa Clara County supervisors and tell you, “The law prohibits restaurants… from giving away goodies unless the meals meet certain nutritional guidelines.” That’s irrelevant. The issue is that government is trying to regulate what parents feed their children and pressure businesses into providing what big brother says is good for us, not what we want to buy. What’s the next law — Santa can’t visit your house if any of the children exceed a certain BMI measurement?
It’s admirable that the Santa Clara County supervisors care so much for the health of their constituents that they are willing to help them along the road to better eating. However, a law against goody giveaways isn’t going to keep people away from fried food, sugar, salt, or whatever the nutritional hobgoblin of the week happens to be. These actions open the door to more silliness, and before you know it, we’ll be issued ration cards, allowing one fast food meal every six months. And it’s all because our leaders think we’re all too stupid and too irresponsible to take care of ourselves. Well, someone has to look after us, right?