January 14 2013

Meanwhile, Back on Defense...

Julie Gunlock

Speaking of companies that often cave to food nanny pressure

McDonalds has announced that in the UK, it will soon replace the much-loved toys in happy meals with books.

The fast food chain has pledged to distribute 15 million books by the end of 2014 through its UK units. The program, which is being called the Happy Readers Initiative, began Jan. 9. The books currently being distributed are nonfiction titles from DK Publishing's Amazing World series, which includes titles that explore topics like space and marine life. The DK books will be distributed for five weeks and then McDonald's will move on to other books. The company has not yet said which additional titles will be given away as part of the program.

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of a billion customers served kids crying.

Look, I’m no fan of Happy Meals (my kids don’t get them because I detest tiny, cheap toys!) yet I’m a huge fan of books for my kids. So why am I not happy about this bookish development?  Because there’s a much bigger issue here: corporations caving to nanny pressure. That bothers me even more than these cut-rate, giveaway toys.

After all, Happy Meal toys have been in the crosshairs of the food nannies for several years now. Who can forget the case of spineless mother Monique Parham (a willing puppet for the real masterminds over at the Center for Science in the Public Interest) who sued McDonalds because she claimed it was impossible to say no to her children’s requests for happy meals and claimed that it was the toy drawing them in. While Parham's frivolous lawsuit was eventually dismissed, the hysteria about toys in Happy Meals had some pretty serious repercussions.  It led the San Francisco City Council to ban toys in Happy Meals (The Jon Stewart Show’s Aasif Mandvi’s epic take down of the SF’s toy ban almost made it worth it!).

The point behind these bans is simple: parents are helpless, easily lead and overpowered by these malevolent corporations intent on making kids fat and unhealthy. Moms—incapable of uttering the two letter word NO--must be supported by benevolent government regulators who will step in to take down these corporate monsters. 

Why are women not more outraged by this paternalistic and condescending message?  

What’s even more disturbing about this is that corporate caving empowers these nannies. How powerful they must feel that they are able to push these corporate giants into altering their business model. How confident these nannies must feel in their pursuits for other regulations—soda bans, ingredient limits, labeling mandates, marketing restrictions.

That’s the bigger issue. It goes beyond toys and books and happy meals.  It’s about giving the nannies what they want: their regulatory way.

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