The Happy Meal Ban Flops
The law reveals the motivations behind the nanny state.


San Francisco’s ban on McDonald’s Happy Meals goes into effect today. But because the law bans only giving away toys with certain meals, restaurants are set to comply with the law by selling the toys.

Now, not only can kids still get toys with their burger and fries, but McDonald’s will earn an extra dime per sale and donate the funds to its charity, the Ronald McDonald House. Unsurprisingly, the Occupy McDonald’s crowd is furious. The San Francisco Examiner’s Joshua Sabatini claims that McDonald’s is “skirting” the law, while self-styled public-health lawyer Michele Simon alleges that McDonald’s is “exploiting” kids.

To me, the company is simply complying with the law’s provisions. It’s clear, however, that the legislation these activists pushed — with the ostensible purpose of making unhealthy food less attractive to children — hasn’t done any good.

But the food-police movement has never, at its essence, been much about helping people become healthier. If it were, it would focus a bit more on getting us to exercise. The movement’s favorite exercise is the exercise of control — over other people.

It is no wonder the food police feel right at home with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Their mutual disdain for allowing markets to operate makes them wonderful tent-fellows. In fact, food cops are now partnering with OWS at rallies across the country. In a rally in New York this November, they called for “No more corporate feeding of America.” Does this mean they want only the government and charities to feed us? (And don’t corporations fund government and charities?)

And on Twitter, @OccupyBigFood spent the days before Thanksgiving calling for a Butterball Boycott. Note to the corporate officers of leading fruit-cake makers: Start giving away your profits, or you will be the next target.

Solidarity between OWS and the food police should be no surprise, because what offends both groups is corporate profit. For nanny-staters, it really never was about just helping people fight obesity or get healthier. The nanny-state activists are, at their core, anti-capitalist.

Claiming that anti-corporate policies will improve the nation’s health is an effective tactic for getting more people to subscribe to this approach. All activists have to do is to convince the public that too many Americans are overweight, that we need to do something about it, and that cracking down on food corporations will do the trick. Americans too busy to think through the issues rely on activists such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, academics such as Marion Nestle, and columnists such as the New York Times’ Mark Bittman to tell them what constitutes effective food policy.

Don’t think that just because the Happy Meal ban isn’t going over so well that we’ve got a reprieve from the food police. Evidence that an initiative isn’t working should lead to a different problem-solving approach. But not with this crowd.

Consider New York City’s requirement that chain restaurants post calorie counts to fight obesity. The city instituted the program in the spring of 2008. Activists touted it as an experiment that would prove the need for a nationwide law requiring calorie counts on menu boards — not just on serving trays and websites — so consumers could take calories into account before ordering. No, the law isn’t overly intrusive, but it also didn’t work.