I’m conflicted about this new turn in the Happy Meal wars.  From the WSJ: 

The Happy Meals wars are heating up. Last November, San Francisco passed an ordinance limiting toy giveaways in fast food kids’ meals that have excessive calories, sodium and fat, a measure aimed squarely at Happy Meals. A Sacramento mother later filed this civil suit claiming that McDonald’s had used Happy Meals toys as “bait” to induce kids to eat unhealthy food. 

…Now, the fast food industry is lobbying for legislation that would restrict local governments from trying to enact so-called Happy Meal ordinances, Reuters reports. The lobbying effort paid off in Arizona, where a state law will take effect July 20 barring counties and cities from regulating toys, games, coupons, crayons, or prizes that are offered at restaurants to appeal to children, according to Reuters.

…A law similar to Arizona’s is now pending in the Florida legislature, Reuters reports, adding that the fast food industry justifies such legislation on the grounds that it would prevent restaurants from being subject to myriad, conflicting local marketing standards. 

I have two thoughts.

First, I’m thrilled that McDonalds is challenging these food nannies and spineless parents. As IWF friend Charlotte Allan wrote in 2004, McDonalds and other fast food restaurants cowtowing to these nannies added up to a “sad state of gustatory affairs.”

This is the chain that was ordered to pay out millions of dollars a few years ago to a woman who got burnt by some hot McDonald’s coffee because she was dumb enough to drive with the open coffee container between her legs.

The net effect of all the health-and liability-groveling on the part of the fast-food-mongers over the last two decades has been absolutely to ruin junk food. I grew up on McDonald’s because I’m from southern California, where the chain got its start back in the 1950s. Back then, McDonald’s piping hot French fries were the finest on the planet, because they were cooked in the leftover beef tallow from the hamburger-frying operations. This strategy was not only thrifty and thus enviro-friendly, but tasty as well. The milkshakes brimmed with real, similarly animal-fat laden milk. Then, some 20 years ago, McDonald, responding to the health establishment’s plaints, leached the animal fat out of both these signature offerings. Today, the vegetable-oil-cooked fries are, well, okay, and the artificial-ingredient milkshakes loom a little above revolting.

As Charlotte points out, many of the changes to McDonalds menu were because of the food nannies constant clamoring. I’m glad to see McDonalds stand up against the nanny’s constant meddling in their business affairs. 

However, I also feel a bit queasy at the idea that McDonalds is getting behind an effort to ban the legislative activities of counties and cities. 

I get it….McDonalds faces thousands of frivolous lawsuits a year not to mention a myriad of random food regulations. I’m just not sure the answer is to limit what a city or community chooses to do. I’ll be the first to ridicule some city’s insane regulatory actions (as I did with the – in Wellfeet, MA) but these citizens should have every right to act insane.

Of course, McDonalds really has no choice but to get behind these efforts.  As legislators continue to back greater regulations and parents and interest groups continue their efforts to drown business in unnecessary lawsuits, how elsee can McDonalds and other fast food restaurants fight back?