Fast Food (Abomi)nation

It’s been a bittersweet week at the drive-thru window. Just as mystery-meat connoisseurs everywhere were rejoicing the limited engagement of the McRib, they were dealt a stunning blow. It seems the Happy Meal has gotten a little less festive, at least in one major U.S. city. Sure, you can still get your four-piece McNuggets and small fry complete in clown-festooned cardboard structure. But just don’t go lookin’ for that commemorative Megamind action figure at the bottom of the grease slick.

It seems the Golden Gate city has declared war on the Golden Arches. And it’s not another case of toxic-toy recall. Rather, the same city that has banned plastic bags and is considering a move to ban infant circumcisions (no, I do not make this stuff up) is taking aim at toxic food. Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors outlawed toys in kids meals that don’t meat certain nutritional guidelines. Of which the standard Happy Meal and its assorted ilk most definitely do not.

Cancelling Christmas can’t be far behind.

OK, maybe the Happy Meal crashers have a point. That cheap piece of plastic, it’s argued, is actually an expensive pawn in the marketing game, luring kids into the deep-fried vat of junk food dependence. After one bite, they become hooked on that seemingly indestructible all-beef patty that even the Hamburglar can’t escape. Before you know it, not only are they wolfing down burgers like Mayor McCheese, but they’re starting to look like him, too. Meanwhile, their arteries are coagulating faster than special sauce smeared on the backseat of a minivan.

Sure, some may argue this is not totally out of context for the same city that brought us “Fear the Beard,” which thankfully died a swift death, much to the delight of unassuming Amish men everywhere. But then again, the City by the Bay does have a few shining claims to fame, most notably the grand balladeer of arena rock, Steve Perry (who, I might add, gave a moving cameo performance during the World Series.)

And as much as we would like to chalk it up to tectonic shifting or the constant clanging of the Rice-a-Roni trolley bell, it seems San Francisco is not the only place where the food police have declared martial law. The nearby city of Santa Clara already enacted a similar ban, and you can bet health-conscious municipalities up and down the Granola Belt are watching with a keen eye.

My issue with all this is not so much where to start, but where to end. I mean, isn’t it bad enough they took the toys out of sugared cereals? What adult doesn’t have fond, sugar-coated memories of rolling up the PJ sleeves on a Saturday morning and plunging a hand of questionable cleanliness into the Crunch Berries box in search of a cheap plastic treasure that would later become the subject of a bitter intersibling battle?

What next? Removing the “magic marshmallows” from the Lucky Charms or requiring Velveeta to actually contain cheese?

And while we’re at it, maybe Twinkies should come hollowed of their creamy filling, substituted with a healthier tofu alternative, and Doublestuff Oreo’s should be reduced to their previous single-story status, or better yet, be sold as “OreNo’s.”

But why limit it to just children? If parents can’t be trusted to make decisions for their offspring, then surely they can’t be expected to make decisions for themselves. Why not sell beer with a “spare-tire” warning, complete with a picture of a delusional pot-bellied man who obviously became hooked by ads promising him scantily clad babes and six-pack abs.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t think the happy go-lucky clown should be exposed for the diabolical mastermind that he is, preying on people’s insecurities and weaknesses. And don’t think for one minute that I don’t recoil in horror at the thought of Domino’s Stuffed Crust Pizza, the KFC Double Down or Wendy’s Baconator Triple (so-called for the number of coronary bypasses required after eating.)

It’s just that, are people really that stupid? OK, excepting whoever thought it was a good idea to give Sarah Palin her own reality TV series?

All I can say is, I was practically weened on Ding Dongs and Quarter Pounders. It’s a dark part of my past that I’m not necessarily proud of, but somehow I miraculously emerged with most of my own teeth and HDL levels intact. Sure, genetics play a role, but I like to think self-preservation might have helped me find my way through the junk food jungle. In fact, I can say that other than a few, extremely intermittent late-night forays to In & Out Burger (really, more for the novelty than anything), fast food has not passed my lips in nearly two decades. It’s not that I’m some sort of fast-food vigilante so much as a food snob. And after a family roadtrip stop at the Delta McDonalds turned ugly outside the Gay Johnsons a few years back, I can safely say my children are similarly turned off to fast food as well. (Take one lukewarm burger, add winding road and mix in one unsettled stomach, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an emergency spew into the crayon bag.)

Yes, childhood obesity is an epidemic. But fighting it by taking away the toy in the Happy Meal is sort of like tackling a 20-piece bucket of Extra Crispy with a spork. Pretty much impossible. And after the initial frustration, you ditch the spork and end up eating it all anyway.

It’s like the old analogy about leading a carnivore to the dangling carrot, you still can’t make him a vegetarian. In other words, do what you will to that box – emblazon it with skull and crossbones, require it come with a side of defibrillator – but sooner or later, Americans are going to have to not only start thinking outside the bun, but thinking outside the cardboard box as well.

– Missy Votel



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
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State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows