In news that has pissed off grownups across the country, San Fransisco has decided to ban McDonald’s restaurants from giving toys to children with their Happy Meals (or other food items that don’t meet certain nutritional requirements). Tom Johansmeyer from Business Insider lists his four reasons for disliking the ban:
1. Civil liberties take a beating … again
It’s easy to get alarmist about the encroachment of the government on our various rights that haven’t been explicitly stated or rescinded (remember, the tie goes to the runner on this one). But, add it to measures across the country – especially in California and New York – that curtail some of the vices we enjoy most, and it’s easy to see the trend form. Prohibiting a product for kids has very real implications for adults.
I’d like to know more about how he thinks that prohibiting the restaurant industry from using certain types of emotionally manipulative and deceptive marketing tactics is a type of civil liberties violation, because I frankly don’t get it. McDonald’s uses the allure of a free (cheaply made, quickly-forgotten about) toy to entice children to hopefully pressure their parents into buying them the nutritionally-void food products so they can get the toy. Children whine and cry, their parents take them, and eventually, if the trend continues, as McDonald’s hopes it will, the child will grow an addiction to the pile of fat, salt, and high fructose corn syrup that the restaurant provides to them to accompany their free toy so that they become life-long customers. Parents can buy all the products they want for their kids; there’s no banning of toys, there is a ban on toys sold with shitty food. What these “very real implications for adults” are is not explained, nor implied.
2. The message is wrong anyway
The ordinance approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors only allows toys to be included in meals that have certain health benefits. So, instead of relying on parents to talk to their kids about nutrition and instill proper eating habits, the elected officials are leaving a loophole to bribe kids into healthy eating with shitty toys they’ll forget about in a few minutes anyway. Maybe the next move will be to give out free hugs with gym memberships? Just a thought …
It’s unclear how allowing toys to be served with healthy foods is “bribery.” Johansmeyer doesn’t elaborate. Furthermore, is it really worse to offer a toy with a healthy menu item than it is to offer a toy on an unhealthy item? His claim that the children will forget about their “shitty toy” in a few minutes, anyway, is also confusing. If that’s really the case, which we all know it to be, why is he so concerned that these “forgotten” toys will not be given out with unhealthy meals any longer?
He also uses the “let’s leave it up to the parents” talking point, like he’s been waiting for the perfect opportunity to use it in print, but which doesn’t make sense in context. He’s suggesting that the government is trying to replace responsible parenting with government-controlled fast food commercials. What’s actually happening doesn’t have any effect on what parents teach their children. Parents are still perfectly free to teach their children whatever they’d like about food; the children simply will not receive a toy with meals that their parents choose to buy them that do not meet certain nutritional requirements.
3. Tradition is relegated to history
While I wouldn’t let that food anywhere near my body now (and would keep it away from kids), I do remember growing up on Happy Meals. I guess I turned out fine, despite what many have said and written at length. I made it through childhood and into adulthood despite stuffing fries into my mouth and pulling pickles off tasteless burgers. It’s part of being a kid – a “childhood rite of passage” Melissa Bell of the Washington Post blog, calls it. If it is time for this sort of transition to occur, government isn’t the way to do it.
He’s being really over-dramatic. I, too, remember eating McDonald’s as a kid. I really liked it, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. Fast food was a once-in-a-while splurge and felt like a treat rather than a staple of our diets. It’s apparent that Americans eat like crap, and a lot of factors play into that fact. Transitioning away from that would be a good idea, as would relegating this tradition to history, as he says, and I’m sure not too many people would disagree. But is government not the answer, like he says? What government definitely is, is a regulatory body that also serves to protect the people of the country. Government is not supposed to protect us from ourselves, but from other people. If the people are to be expected to make their own decisions and be responsible for themselves, then they need to be given correct information. For a government that exists to protect the people to allow corporations to deceive citizens in advertisements with misleading information, omission of facts, and emotional manipulation of children in order to maximize profit, then people don’t have a free choice to make.
4. The target’s off to the right … you didn’t hit it
The ordinance requires that toys not be served with shitty food: it doesn’t say anything about the food itself. One would think that if we have to sacrifice our civil liberties for something, it might as well be for the right thing. Banning toys in the name of nutrition is like prohibiting boob jobs to prevent teen pregnancy.
That’s a really dumb analogy. Also, what would this article look like if San Fransisco had banned fast food restaurants, or forced them to change their menu items instead of getting rid of cheap plastic crap shaped like Barbies and cars? That’s not a very convincing argument. Obviously, changing the food so that it wasn’t so full of saturated fat and sodium would be the best option; that, however, would cause a huge public outrage, because ZOMG, Government takes over everything!!1. So instead, San Fransisco tackles the greed-based marketing strategies of fast food restaurants and help to give parents and kids a real choice about what to eat by eliminating the tricks. And that choice is really important to ensure a truly free society.
Update: David Katz, M.D. has a great analysis up at Huffington Post about why not only is this decision not an example of government taking over, but that it’s really the other way around:
I do understand the resistance: opposition to heavy-handed government. Those opposed to the toy-free Happy Meal are our defenders against tyranny!
Or are you?
The government in San Francisco, unlike McDonald’s, is accountable to voters. The government actually needs the support of a majority of citizens to get elected, and thus have the authority to take the toy out of the Happy Meal. McDonald’s only needed the passive assent of its share holders to put it in.
We are all prone, whether or not we care to admit it, to manipulation by multinational corporations with fortunes to spend on the best thinking Madison Avenue can provide. Thinking designed to figure out what it takes to get us to buy what they’re selling. Being manipulated into a lunch choice by McDonald’s and Dreamworks is not exactly the epitome of personal liberty.
I understand that some see tyranny in the removal of the toy from the Happy Meal. But I think they are missing the point in a rush to judgment.
Removing the toy is the will of parents. The toy was the tyranny.