A couple of weeks ago, Santa Clara County became the first county in the country to ban toys in fast food restaurant meals that don’t meet nutritional guidelines. That means Santa Clara County (the unincorporated areas anyway) will be Happy Meal toy-free. As Santa Clara is the home of Silicon Valley--arguably some of the brightest minds in the country--one would think such an area would not need legislation to remind them to eat properly.
Proponents of the ban believe that the lure of the toys is what gets both parents and children to want to purchase the meals. Doctors and nutritionists argued that there is a direct link between the fast food Happy Meal lifestyle and childhood obesity. Kids want the toys. Parents buy the meals. Kids eat the meals and play with the toys. End of story. But of course, it isn’t the end of the story as more and more American children are obese and five-year-olds are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. The problem is very real.
Opponents of the ban, understandably, are primarily fast food business owners and toy collectors who maintain that we don't need nanny legislation to monitor our purchases for us.
Parents have weighed in on both sides.
The mother in me wants to protect all children from questionable parenting endeavors such as feeding kids carb and poison meals (as I like to call them). If it's child abuse to give a child a regular diet of bad food, kids should be protected, just as they'd be protected against other forms of abuse. Given that the new law will only affect meals with a high caloric content, this legislation might just give incentive to companies to make kids' meals more nutritious in the first place.
On the other hand, while I can totally see how blaming fast food restaurants for enticing kids to eat the meal to get the toy is detrimental to the health of the kids, not to mention downright evil in its execution, the average parent should be smarter than that. What parent thinks a happy meal is a healthy choice in the first place? And if a parent is giving in to a Happy Meal purchase for the kiddies isn't he/she resigning the family to a junk food night anyhow?
To me this legislation seems along the same lines of fruit snacks shaped like Lego pieces and bike helmets for kids on tricycles. We should be able to understand and explain the difference between a fruit snack and a plastic toy. We should be able to let our kids ride their tricycles in our driveways unimpeded by law. Unless a child's health somehow will affect my insurance premiums or my taxes, it's not my business. Like alcohol consumption, smoking cigarettes, and eating TV dinners--- the choice should remain with the consumer.
And toxic though they might be, I kind of like some of the toys. I know my kids like them. They have giant collections of them. My single friends are regulars at such places and save up the toys, discarded in their plastic wrap, behind the front seat of their cars. Every few months or so, my kids get a shoebox worth of Happy Meal toys. So even if I don't go to McDonald's myself, busy friends pass on the toys to us. Good thing I don't have any friends in Santa Clara County.
Every once in awhile on a road trip I stop at McDonald’s for a restroom and Happy Meal stop. My kids get the juice or milk rather than the soda, fries, and then they throw away whatever the main meal would have been. They keep the toy. The cooler in the car supplies the fruits and veggies.
I hate to see yet another American institution bite the dust, even if it is a kind of tacky tradition based solely in advertising gimmicks and hoarding. I think what the new legislation proves the most is Santa Clara’s identity.
Some would take the stance of "only in California" would this sort of ban take place. And perhaps they'd be right. Truly, this is a Northern Californian piece of legislation. In Northern Californian muncipalities we've changed wording to describe "pet owners" as "people companions." We celebrate "Indigenous People's Day" in lieu of Columbus Day. This is my home turf and I’m proud of its idiosyncratic behavior — no matter how weird. We give the rest of the nation---no pun intended---food for thought.
Where do you stand? Should nutritional behavior be legislated? Are there that many people who can’t tell good-for-you food from bad-for-you food?