Thursday, December 1, 2011

Private Enterprise Finds a Way: Working Around San Francisco's Happy Meal Ban

Last year, San Francisco took a big step toward establishing itself as the busybody-est place in California, tackling the phantom obesity "epidemic" by announcing a ban on Happy Meals (and related kids meals) in the city. Specifically, restaurants would be prohibited from offering free toys with children's meals unless the servings totaled 600 or fewer calories, a fruit or vegetable option was included, and a non-sugary drink was offered. McDonald's responded by offering apple slices and smaller-sized French fries in Happy Meals, and introducing low-fat milk and apple juice options; the Jack in the Box chain pulled toys from its meals altogether, and began offering caramel apples. Still, with cities like New York and Los Angeles moving forward with their own plans to curb fast-food offerings, purveyors of cheap, tasty food clearly realize their work isn't finished. According to the LA Times, McDonald's has figured out a new way around the San Francisco law: selling Happy Meal toys separately from the meals, for ten cents apiece, with the proceeds going to the Ronald McDonald House charity.

Critics, naturally, decry the new policy; according to the group Corporate Accountability International, "As McDonald’s long has, it is again using a charity that helps children get well to defend a practice that contributes to a range of diet-related conditions like diabetes." To us, this is nanny-statism at its worst. For one thing, are we supposed to think it's a bad thing that Ronald McDonald House is getting more money? This is a charity that sponsors mobile health clinics and maintains properties that make it easier for families to care for hospitalized children. For another thing, in a world that includes the Xbox, hundreds of channels of cable TV, and the internet, are we really supposed to believe that cheap plastic toys are the only reason kids like food from McDonald's? Like it or not, in a free society, restaurants like McDonald's have a right to do business (full disclosure: it's been years since we set foot in one). If you don't like them, no one's forcing you to give them your money.


  1. Who the hell is "Corporate Accountability International"? Six fat old women in a hotel lobby?

  2. Clearly, they're an organization dedicated to giving predictable quotes to the LA Times.