San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to support banning toy giveaways with food lacking nutritional value. Yes, they're talking about Happy Meals. Supervisor Eric Mar introduced the legislation saying, "This is a challenge to the restaurant industry to think about children's health first and join the wide range of local restaurants that have already made this commitment."
The opposition to this ordinance, mainly McDonald's, defended their product by suggesting "it's what our customers want," which posits the question about where responsibility lies. Is it appropriate for a city to decide what children can or cannot eat or should that burden be on the parents alone? Do corporations have any responsibility to the community or just to shareholders?
For children, nutrition is a significant factor in development. Obesity and diabetes are affecting nearly two-thirds of the population, with "adult onset" diabetes (type II) attacking children as young as age four. Some girls have begun menstruation not much later than that, a condition largely connected to the growth hormones and other drugs fed to factory farmed animals, of which McDonald's is the largest manufacturer of including cows, pigs and chickens, that affect the human body's hormonal balance, among other critical health risks.
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The moral discussion of where responsibility lies is nothing short of complicated. Alcohol is regulated, yet many persistent minors regularly find easy access. Also voted on yesterday in California was Prop 19, the ballot measure to legalize marijuana, which also easily finds its way into the lungs of many children, legal or not. That the quality of nourishment, including school lunches, is virtually unregulated despite heart-stopping lack-of-nutrition-profiles such as those found in Happy Meals is eye opening.
A typical Happy Meal has more than 600 calories, more than 640 milligrams of chemically produced bad-for-you salt and more than 35 per cent of calories derived from saturated fat. That does not include the sugary trough of soda that most often accompanies these kid's meals.The ban would also not allow toys to be given out if the meal does not include fresh fruit or vegetables. Ketchup no longer qualifies.
It's possible that if most people weren't in denial about their own health and lifestyle, food addictions and dependence on corporations to feed them and their families, a move towards making kid's meals safer might not cause such a stir. It would probably go unnoticed. Just ask the kids in love with their Edible Schoolyards courtesy of Chef Alice Waters, how much planting, growing and eating their own fruits and vegetables has changed their pallets, diets, health, concentration and happiness; and they might also be the first to tell you those Happy Meal toys are pretty lame anyway.
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Photo by Stefan, courtesy of Creative Commons