Thursday, November 4, 2010

In loco parentis

So, San Francisco, that bastion of liberal tolerance, that home of anything-goes sexual licentiousness, has proven its obesophobia by an act of intolerance aimed at young Jolly-Americans--those very people most at risk of self-hatred, confusion, and pain stemming from their desire to live the Jolly lifestyle:
SAN FRANCISCO — Lost in the nationwide electoral tumult Tuesday was another important vote, this one by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which took on one of the great (tasting) issues of our day: the Happy Meal.

The board, whose political leanings can sometimes fall somewhere between Democrat and Dadaist, passed a ban on restaurant toy giveaways unless the aforementioned meals meet certain healthy nutritional standards for calories, sodium and fat.

The bill, which passed 8 to 3, was sponsored by Supervisor Eric Mar, who had recounted how he had been horrified by his daughter’s collection of giveaway toys and envisioned the bill as a way to strike a blow against fatty, salty fast food. Mr. Mar said he hoped it would act as an incentive to fast-food companies to “provide better choices.”

McDonald’s called the bill misguided. “It’s not what our customers want,” said Danya Proud, a spokeswoman for the company, in a statement. “Nor is it something they asked for.”

Clearly, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors doesn't know what it is like for a young Jolly child to be force-fed the message that his love of french fries is disordered and must be reshaped to fit society's demands. And they're willing to punish him for that disordered love by denying him free toys! How...bigoted of them.

All kidding aside, I was struck by the fact that Supervisor Eric Mar was moved to sponsor this bill when he became horrified by his daughter's collection of the free meal toys. Unless Mar's daughter was riding her tricycle through the drive-thru and ordering Happy Meals unknown to her parents, chances are that an adult was colluding in the purchases of said meals. Chances are also that the adult was a parent, and that the adult wasn't motivated to make the purchase at all by the presence of a bit of cheap foreign-made plastic advertising some cartoon or movie. So why does Mar think that banning the inclusion of the toys will suddenly motivate more responsible child-food-selection behavior from parents...such as himself? And if Mar's wife was the one making the purchases--well, she is, according to Mar's bio, a public school teacher, so is her decision making process really going to depend on whether a free toy is included with her daughter's meal?

But this is the typical liberal way of solving a problem: deny the role of personal responsibility, insist that the trouble is really society's fault, and then punish those least able to effect any change in the matter--in this case, the children who will be disappointed by the lack of a toy with their meal, since they've become used to getting one.

Now, we could talk about whether Happy Meal toys are a good idea, or not; we could talk about the materialism and consumerism involved; we could talk about the exploitation of third-world workers who toil away for pennies a day to produce worthless items to be given away free to the children of rich nations; we could talk about whether the cumulative piles of restaurant toys are wasteful and difficult to dispose of without negatively impacting the environment; we could admit that on long road trips the toys go from being "scourge of parents' existence" to "saviors of parental sanity;" we could focus on the marketing of movies that aren't even appropriate for young children through this venue; and we could probably find dozens of other, related issues to be brought up in a vigorous pro/con Happy Meal toy debate. All of these are legitimate points of discussion.

But do Happy Meal toys make kids fat? Well, let's see--did kids eat McDonald's hamburgers or cheeseburgers, with a small french fry and a small drink, long before Bob Bernstein had his sales-increasing idea? Um, yes (I remember doing exactly that as a child). So unless you believe that there's some magical, mystical way that the same food increases its obesity-causing properties simply by the inclusion of a cheap toy, the removal of the toy will have little effect on the number of children who still regularly consume a cheeseburger with fries and a soft drink.

Do we have an epidemic of obesity among young children in America? It would seem so. But I have a feeling that this has very little to do with Happy Meal toys, and a whole lot to do with other matters, including the decline in unscheduled outdoor play time for children, the rise of sedentary entertainment possibilities, the absence of mothers from the home (since it takes a great deal of constant, focused discipline to prepare a home-cooked meal every day if you're not actually at home, but working outside of it, every day), and the fact that fresh fruits and vegetables cost ten times more than junk food, according to this article.

The reasons for American obesity are both puzzlingly complex and frighteningly simple. The complex part has to do with our ongoing subsidies of things like corn and sugar, ingredients that fill junk foods, processed foods, calorie-laden beverages, and a whole lot of other worthless calorie options (and the resulting cheap price and wide availability of such foods). The frighteningly simple part, though, has to do with each individual's ability to make good food choices, to reform bad habits, and to address the emotional and other mental aspects of overeating.

And when it comes to children, there is one sure-fire weapon against obesity: the word "No." Because parents are the ones who are in charge of what our children eat, and though it may be a struggle to get them to eat good, healthy food sometimes, that struggle is worth the results.

But it's not a struggle some government body can make on our behalf. It's not a struggle that has to take away every fun aspect of childhood, either. The reason children need parents is because they need responsible grown-ups willing to find the proper balance between the occasional Happy Meal and the regular, healthy meals cooked at home. It takes a pretty crazy sort of government to think that banning Happy Meal toys is a proper act of in loco parentis.


RobKPhD said...

I used to work in San Francisco, and children are largely not welcome. Anything goes, but traditional families with children.

I suspect that this is, in part, a further attempt to chase families from the city. Of course, if you have a family in San Francisco, it is probably a very good idea to leave if you value their moral health much less their physical health.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I am reminded of an old Mike Royko column, when Marcus Raskin or someone with a similar name and ideology agitated for McDonald's to offer veggie burgers. Unfortunately, nobody going to McDonald's wanted to buy one. Royko replied with an impassioned defense of steak tartar, preferably still on the hoof.

Personally, I find I can make much better burgers at home, with much better quality meat, at significantly lower cost, and I like everything well done. But, I have no patience with thought police, food police, nor with the city council's other recent resolution expressing outrage that the local Archbishop wasn't going to have Catholic social services place children for adoption with same-sex couples. It wasn't that they board thought such placements were OK, its the arrogant assumption that nobody should even QUESTION the board's preference.

Larry Denninger said...

Time to eat at Burger King, I guess...

Magister Christianus said...

Ah, Burger King! Yes, I do like the double Whopper, large fries, and a vat of Dr. Pepper. Or White Castle...6 or 10 sliders...yum! Actually, I think Steak 'n' Shake offers a good meal...burger or hot dog, large fries, Chili Mac Supreme, order of onion rings for dessert, and a Hershey's Dark Chocolate Shake. Now, I am an adult who still eats as if he were 17. I am not being duped by toys. I just like the stuff! Do I eat it all the time? No, and neither do our children. Erin is exactly right. It is the ability to say no, and this has nothing to do with the thought-food-everything else-police. Do these people seriously have nothing better to be concerned with?

melanie said...

At first I read the title as " in loco parents"...(in Spanish loco means crazy). ;-)

L. said...

Ah, nostagia....I miss San Francisco so much. But in the interest of full disclosure, I have to say, during the four years we lived there, I successfully managed to get my three kids to eschew McD's in factor of In N' Out Burger, which has no toys....but much more delicious food.

And the toy ban is much less silly than the ban on ALL plastic bags. Just try carrying your heavy groceries home on a rainy day in paper, and see what happens.

MightyMighty said...

This reminds me of a documentary on credit card debt, Maxed Out. Watching it, especially as a Catholic reared to believe that we are in charge of our own behaviors, was bizarre. People were trying to explain how credit cards ruined their lives, but they had to explain how it was the CC companies' fault because their teaser rates and direct mail were so good.

I'm sorry, but Discover Card could offer me a new refrigerator and I wouldn't take it if the deal was I had to spend more than I earn, or staple my head to the carpet.

Great post Red Cardigan!

Anonymous said...

Watching it, especially as a Catholic reared to believe that we are in charge of our own behaviors, was bizarre. People were trying to explain how credit cards ruined their lives, but they had to explain how it was the CC companies' fault because their teaser rates and direct mail were so good.

This is true as far as it goes, but while an individual bears most of the responsibility for his actions, there is common human weakness and no shortage of people who will exploit it for all its worth. ie. Temptations are sure to come, but woe to him by whom they come. I'm not trying be argumentative, but it bothers me in the sense that it is similar to arguments we here from pro-abortionists--that is, they say that because pro-lifers are willing to let woman who seek abortions go and reserve the harsh jail time for the doctor, that that somehow proves we don't think abortion is really killing. It's a nonsense argument of course considering how much abortionists insist that abortion is caused by poverty. Well, if it is, that means that woman are tempted by abortion's way out while in a weakened, scared, or desperate state. Meaning she's being exploited. So yeah, she's culpable, but not nearly as much as family members that sleazily encourage abortion, boyfriends that threaten, and doctors that pretend a white lab coat in a sanitized office makes what they do something other than gravely evil.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Note on the junkfood costs 10 times as much as fruit and veggies--

If you read it, that's PER CALORIE, not per serving.

So, for instance, you can buy an apple for less than the cost of a bagel and cream cheese (at least around here.)

Both qualify as "1 serving" and "midafternoon snack".... but apples, while filling, only have about 75 calories compared to tons and tons in a donut.

So, we're fat not because servings of veggies are too expensive (1 serving of frozen peas from aldis = 20 cents!)....but because junk food servings are packed with calories... and most Americans, given a choice between a dollar for 5 servings of peas or 1 serving of a double cheeseburger, will choose the 1 serving of fast food!

Barbara C. said...

The thing is that McDonald's does offer relatively healthy choices in the Happy Meal. For instance, the kids could choose apples and milk instead of fries and soda.

And just because you take your kid to McDonald's doesn't mean that you HAVE to buy them a Happy Meal. I've got four kids; they get a happy meal about one out of ever four or five visits. Otherwise, they share a large fries and a large order of nuggets and drink water, milk, or juice at home.

And who in the world goes to McDonald's looking for healthy food anyway? When you go to McDonald's, you accept that your choices are unhealthy and slightly less unhealthy.

MightyMighty said...


"there is common human weakness and no shortage of people who will exploit it for all its worth. ie. Temptations are sure to come, but woe to him by whom they come."
--> I agree completely. I could make money investing in vice stocks, but I don't because it's wrong to fund immoral things/make them more accessible to the weak.

"it bothers me in the sense that it is similar to arguments we here from pro-abortionists--that is, they say that because pro-lifers are willing to let woman who seek abortions go and reserve the harsh jail time for the doctor, that that somehow proves we don't think abortion is really killing."
--> I'm not sure I follow. I think most people know that you're supposed to pay your bills which should add up to less than you earn. That's not easy to put into practice all the time, but people with high balances on cc's know that it's a bad plan. With abortion, lots of people really do believe the lies about life in the womb. I have a highly educated relative who still believes it is a clump of cells, despite anything she's been told.

Further, if abortion were illegal, I would actually promote jail time of the women involved, and any boyfriends/parents/etc. who pushed her there, just like any other murder. Is there a commonly held belief amongst pro-lifers that if abortion became illegal, the woman involved would be handled like a minor involved in kiddy porn? A total victim?

Let's not forget that women who kill their babies are culpable for doing so most of the time. Peer pressure is not a viable (excuse the pun) excuse for killing your baby. Also, most of these women are engaged in sexual immorality, which they are trying to cover up/avoid the natural consequences of. Also doesn't excuse child murder.

As a woman, I've never understood why people complain about how it's so unfair that only women can bear the burden of getting pregnant and the guy can bolt. First of all, nobody is unaware that sex leads to pregnancy for women. (I would get this argument more if either sex could get pregnant, but statistically 99% of the time the woman "lost".) Second of all, women have traditionally used this to their advantage, netting a permanent supportive spouse who understood that she wasn't manipulating him with sex, but that the price of sex was responsibility for children/wives.

I should note that I have read some of the accounts of women tormented by their abortions, or who were threatened with homelessness while pregnant, etc. I do not judge them, but I think they would make different choices if *everyone* knew that the law would judge them. In the long run, enforcing the law on women and doctors would protect them because nobody would be able to say "It's not big deal." It would be easier to say no to pre-wed sex as well, without being called a prude or manipulator.

Anonymous said...

A typical conservative answer to the obesity problem seems to be to (at least partially) blame moms who work outside of the home.

Working-class mothers have always worked outside the home and their children weren't fatter than middle class kids. I worked FT while raising my son and managed to make breakfast and dinner from scratch, as well as pack a homemade school lunch everyday. Most of my son's mothers worked and none of them are obese, either. (They all play computer/video games, too.)

This is a post-1970 phenomenon that has much to do with agricultural policy that started under Earl Butz during the Nixon administration, largely in response to consumer unrest over rising food prices. Corn became the magic answer to our food problems.

Of course the SF decision is stupid and will have no impact. But that is not a typical liberal way of solving problems, just a typically desperate and foolish way. People want to do something and they too easily grab on to simplistic solutions. Kind of like Republicans during this election claiming that tax cuts will create jobs (no- customers buying your product create jobs) or that regulation is the problem (review the Financial Meltdown of 2008, Causes of - and no, the CRA of 1979 did not cause the crash, sorry.)

Anonymous said...

Oy - "Most of my son's friend's mothers worked."

kkollwitz said...

Not much longer 'til we have Liberal Nirvana:

What is not forbidden is conpulsory.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

That's conservative kkollwitz, in traditional terms. I wouldn't want, say, abortion, to be either forbidden or compulsory, nor happy meals either.

L. said...

Anonymous, I had to chuckle until I saw your correction! ALL of my sons' mothers work. ;)

Erin Manning said...

Anonymous, I think today's working mothers have things a little harder:

-many of them did not have mothers who were home, either, and so they didn't necessarily learn to cook, especially to cook for children;

--many of them work the kind of jobs where 50+ hour work-weeks are expected, leaving little time for cooking;

--many of their children are home alone for hours after school (at a certain age, anyway) and have plenty of time to microwave unhealthy snacks or otherwise indulge in sodas, candy, and similar things

and so on.

I'm not arguing with you that the prevalence of unhealthy foods makes a lot of the difference--it does. But I think it's even harder for working moms today to cook from scratch--when I was working, before our oldest was born, my husband and I didn't get home until 7 or 7:30 every night. That was fine for us (I could fix something in about an hour that we could eat)--but what about the hungry child picked up from daycare who wants to eat right now, not an hour from now?

L. said...

Don't forget today's working parents have plenty of HEALTHY take-out options.

People who are truly low-income, working to survive, barely making ends meet -- they just do the best they can, day by day, and bless their hearts.

But people like me -- working just because I WANT to, not because I HAVE to -- they can pick up a ready-made roast chicken at Costco, pre-cut veggies in a bag, and ready-to-eat salad for only a little bit more than burgers and fries cost these days. Or they can go out for sushi or fresh burritos, if they're in a city San Francisco. (SIGH, I do miss San Francisco....)

Pete said...

@Red, you can't really mean that today's working mother's have it harder than prior generations' working mothers, can you? I suggest you rethink that statement. There's lots of evidence to counter your claim (e.g., google Triangle Shirtwaist Factory). Or am I misunderstanding your claim?

L. said...

Pete, I can't respond for Erin, but I can say that the problems of today's working mothers are DIFFERENT than those of prior generations -- certinly easier in many ways, but perhaps harder in others. Life in general is a lot easier in the modern developed world than it was for my working-mother ancestors who toiled on farms or in sweatshops. And the average lives of middle-class workers are generally easier than those of the working-class poor, even today.

I think when it comes to food (which is what this original post was about), today's working mothers have more easily available low-nutrition junky options, and it's all too tempting to choose them when one is on a budget and/or in a hurry.