This week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to ban McDonald’s Happy Meals as presently constituted, including the toy. Yesterday, Mayor Gavin Newsom vetoed the ordinance, saying, "Parents, not politicians, should decide what their children eat."
But the board has the votes to override him. By December 2011, people may be able to buy medical marijuana in San Francisco, at places called The Vapor Room and Goodfellows Smoke Shop — but not a Happy Meal.
Supervisor Eric Mar, who introduced the ordinance, worries that children who crave a toy, which is frequently tied to a movie promotion, will urge their parents to buy them a Happy Meal.
"From San Francisco to New York," says Mr. Mar, "the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country is making our kids sick."
Right now, a Happy Meal contains a small hamburger, cheeseburger or four Chicken McNuggets; french fries or sliced apples; and juice, milk or a soft drink.
Mr. Mar hopes to spur McDonald's into reducing sodium and fat in the items it bundles into Happy Meals, and include more fruits and vegetables.
McDonald's sent its chief dietitian to San Francisco to point out that Happy Meals already offer fruit instead of fries, and even with fries, meet current federal nutritional guidelines that cap children's meals at 600 calories.
Will Happy Meal Prohibition work any better than Prohibition? In fact, I wonder why some people who question the logic of laws that label marijuana a drug, but license alcohol as a beverage, seem confident that some new anti-fatty food Prohibition will keep Happy Meals off the streets of San Francisco. After all, the golden arches of Daly City, Oakland and Milpitas are so close by.
I know parents who vow to never let their children eat sugary, salty, franchise food, and I admire them. I think this bill was probably aimed at those of us who try to make sure our children eat healthy food, but don't begrudge an occasional treat. As Julia Child once said, "Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health."
It's been my parental experience that many children tear open a Happy Meal to find the toy and eat the fries. In fact, I know of some parents — all I have to do is look into the mirror — who order a Happy Meal with fruit instead of fries, then also order fries, because that's their children's favorite part. There's a reason why they serve steak frites, and not steak fruits, in the bistros of Paris.
Maybe you can pass a law that will bring children a Happy Meal with fruit and vegetables. But you can't make them eat it.