Supervisors in the insolvent county of Santa Clara, California have taken time out from failing to address their rapidly growing budget shortfall in order to tackle a more pressing problem: toys in Happy Meals.
"This ordinance prevents restaurants from preying on children's love of toys to peddle high-calorie, high-fat, high-sodium kids meals," Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager announced after the supes voted 3-2 to prohibit toys in meals containing more than 485 calories or 600 milligrams of sodium. "This ordinance breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes."
The ban on toys in McDonalds Happy Meals and their counterparts at other restaurants only applies to unincorporated county areas and thus will only affect about a dozen restaurants. However, the move has attracted wide attention because California bellwether so goes the nation blah blah blah. The Golden State was also a pioneer in requiring nutritional information brochures in fast food joints, various fizzy-drink limitations, and other efforts to limit consumer choice that have since become popular in other parts of the country.
The location of the new ban is significant for another reason. Santa Clara is home to one of the greatest concentrations of wealth on Planet Earth, yet this year the county is looking at a $52 million budget shortfall, while next year's budget gap is projected to exceed $250 million. In the face of this kind of monumental failure of governance, Yeager should be impeached for wasting the public's time with this asinine new law.
Encouragingly, it appears even in the heart of the Silicon Valley, voters have had enough of this kind of nonsense. The California Restaurant Association has released a survey that (with all due caution about considering the source) says 80 percent of county residents believe Barbie Mermaid toys are "not an important issue for local government and lawmakers to be involved in," while "87 percent of county residents believe ordinary citizens are better informed than local government and lawmakers about what foods sold in restaurants are healthy and nutritious."
Judging by the man-in-the-street quotations from coverage of this issue, the number of residents who believe the new law is a waste of time is closer to 100 percent:
"What we need to understand is that these fast-food restaurants are spending hundreds of millions of dollars—they know exactly what they're doing by using these toys, cartoon toys, toys that are associated with movies—to try to entice the children to come in and have the meal," Yeager told CBS News Station KPIX-TV in San Francisco when he proposed the measure March 23.
Mother Deborah Dini told KPIX-TV that taking toys out of fast-food meals won't discourage parents from taking their kids to fast-food restaurants.
"They'll still take their kids to the drive-thru and fast food because it's easy and it's fast," Dini said.
This swooning and inaccurate panegyric for the ban by Tim Hayward of the U.K. Guardian draws very little support even from staunch Ronald haters. Comments range from the bemused but unsupportive ("Seems a bit unfair to ban entirely the odd unhealthy treat with gift.") to the vehemently unsupportive ("So we can only draw the conclusion that this isn't about childhood obesity, it's about well-meaning but clueless yuppies creating a bogeyman because they can't think of anything better to do.")
If, on the other hand, you don't think your family can survive the dystopian nightmare of a country where restaurants—exactly like crack dealers—hook kids by giving them three crayons and a placemat with activities, Santa Clara may soon be a safe haven. The ban will go into effect in 90 days. Meanwhile, fear not: Shrek Happy Meal toys are still available on eBay.