Social & Domestic Issues

Happy Meal Toy Ban Backfires, the California Way

California is just way wacked-out these days.  It’s easy to see what an Obama second term would be like—visit the Golden State.  Consider three quick examples.
 
The University of California Regents boosted salaries for administration just as the cash-strapped state legislature socked students with higher fees.  Not to worry.  Just increase student loans.
 
Los Angeles has proposed a 70-year, $1 billion program to fix its sidewalks.  The state doesn’t have the money, but it’s a cool idea for the “shovel-ready” project list, no?
 
The California High Speed Rail Authority wants to build a train from L.A. to San Francisco at three times the original estimated voter-approved budget, starting with a train to a nowhere segment between two small towns in the agricultural Central Valley.  A pyramid would be more useful.
 
And politicians here profess to be mystified by an accelerating migration out of Californians to other states.  The average IQ inCalifornia is dropping fast, as the smart ones get out while they can.  Adjacent states call the impact on their communities Californication.
 
The ban on the McDonald’s Happy Meal in San Francisco is as fun an example of the California nightmare as there is.
 
In August 2010, San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar was astounded to find a stash of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys in his preteen daughter’s room.  Mar acknowledged taking his daughter to McDonald’s because of her “pester power,” but blamed his daughter’s fixation on McDonald’s food on the free toy.
 
In November, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed Mar’s “Healthy Meal Incentive Ordinance”—a ban on including toys with any meal of 600 calories or more that didn’t include required amounts of fruits and vegetables.  Mar’s daughter was saved by government order.  The Happy Meal could no longer come with a free toy in San Francisco.
 
As SF Weekly has pointed out, the ban is the legislative equivalent of a Happy Meal.  It feels good, therefore it must do good.
 
Mar’s premise—that the toy induces the child to want the Happy Meal—turns out to be false.  Removing the toy would have little effect on consumer choice.
 
In an independent study of 1,200 fast-food customers, 32% of those who chose McDonald’s ate at the Golden Arches because of the “pester power” of children, but only 8% said the free toy was the reason.  Turns out patrons like McDonald’s because the food is convenient, affordable and tastes good.  Duh.
 
Supervisor Mar also justified the Happy Meal toy ban on the grounds of fighting childhood obesity.  San Francisco nutritionists uniformly disagreed, saying that it was unlikely that occasional Happy Meals contributed as much to the obesity problem as the daily “free” meals at city schools.
 
Turns out that not one meal in the San Francisco school district qualifies to include a free toy.  Not the 708-calorie beef dippers, not the 711-calorie cheese lasagna, not the 712-calorie chicken nuggets.
 
Also turns out that before he was a county supervisor, Mar was an elected member of the San Francisco School Board from 2001 to 2009, its president in 2005, and never—not once—sought to reduce the freeze-dried fat from student meals provided by the school district.
 
Supervisor Mar’s ordinance held McDonald’s Happy Meal to a standard he was unwilling to impose on his school district.
 
After the ordinance was passed, city staff took over generating nutritional standards for fast-food meals that include a free toy, anticipating the ban would start Dec. 1, 2011. 
 
Last July, McDonald’s announced the new Happy Meal.  Goodbye to the gooey caramel apple dippers, hello to plain apples.  But despite a 20% drop in calories, the Happy Meal remained a vegetable or two away from meeting the standards.
 
Mar, in perfect-pitch Obama logic, intoned that “McDonald’s … needs to do much more to meet basic nutritional standards to cut fat, sugar, salt and calories, especially in their meals targeted to children in which they use toys to lure our youth into habits of eating unhealthy junk food.”
 
All this because he couldn’t say no to his 10-year-old daughter on her meal choice.  Liberals are like that.  If a conservative doesn’t want to buy a gun, he doesn’t.  If a liberal doesn’t want to buy a gun, he wants a law to prevent everyone from buying a gun.
 
But I digress.  The best part of this story is what happened next.
 
As the Dec. 1 deadline approached, McDonald’s devised a solution to its problem that could make them even more money and sell even more Happy Meals.  The toy is no longer free.  It costs 10 cents.
 
If Mar’s daughter browbeats him into buying a Happy Meal and still wants the toy, it will cost the crusading Supervisor an additional 10 cents.  And if you just want to buy only the toy (proceeds go to support the Ronald McDonald house), you will be required to buy the Happy Meal too.
 
The Happy Meal free toy ban is in effect to no real effect.  San Francisco politicians are perfect practitioners of the Obama style of progressive politics—noble rhetoric premised on lack of personal responsibility backed up by transparently unworkable solutions.

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