Take This Toy and Shove It!
A short story for you: once upon a time, I had a very bad day. I lost track of time and as a result, picked my son up from kindergarten very late.
He was devastated.
I felt like a terrible parent.
Like any species, he sensed I was weak.
I was weak.
This is the part of that story that I rarely tell. Before I have you huddle in, so I can confess that which I rarely speak of, a preface: I am a card-carrying member of Slow Food International. Seriously. In case you don't believe me, I've included a picture. Actually, it's a picture of me and a The Slow Food Companion book. It photographs better than a tiny card.
So, with that preface in mind, back to my weakness which was sensed by one of the smaller members of my tribe. He saw an IN and he took it. He threw down the McDonald's card. I blinked. And for the first (and only time) I drove through what I consider to be one of Dante's rings of hell.
"Would you like a Coke with that?"
"No, I don't want a Coke! It's a kid's meal! Who the hell gives their child a Coke? What else can I get?"
"So you don't want a Coke?"
"No. What else is there?"
"You mean instead of Coke?"
My patience was waning, I glanced over my shoulder and concluded that with three cars behind me there was no mode of escape, "Listen, I realize your manager has been told to push Coke because of some perverted deal that Coca-Cola made with McDonald's, predicated by the fact that Coca-Cola made another deal with some big Ag company to plant a shit-load of corn, rather than healthy fruits and vegetables, so that they could get a cheap source of sweetener in the form of high fructose corn syrup. And that Agriculture company hired a ton of lobbyists to convince the government that somehow the Federal Farm Bill should subsidize corn over anything else, so that it can continue to provide the American people with expensive crap to eat, and blame the local organic farmers for being stuck-up and overly-expensive, while they're trying to keep us healthy. I get that. What I want to know is WHAT ELSE DO YOU HAVE TO OFFER MY CHILD OTHER THAN COKE?"
"Fine. I'll take it. And the apple dippers instead of fries. Thank you."
"OK, pull up to the window."
I did. I pulled up to that window, seething all the while. She handed me a Coke.
I almost threw it at her. Instead, I said, "Apple juice."
"Oh, right. Sorry."
I grabbed the stupid food, paid her, handed the bag to my son and started to drive away.
"There's no toy!" I heard the scream come from the back.
Just about to exit the parking lot, I looked over my shoulder, put the car in reverse, nearly dropping the transmission, and parked.
"Stay here. I'll be right back."
My hands balled into tight little fists, and I stormed back over to the drive-thru window. I ignored the car between me and my new best friend, the Coke dealer.
"There was no toy!" I yelled. She quickly grabbed the toy and nearly threw it at me, like a hot potato she didn't want to be left with when the music stopped. I grabbed it and stormed back to my car. I handed the toy to my son. He was so happy.
I felt dirty. I had just partaken in about 87 things I vehemently disagree with.
...And this, my friends, is why I am ecstatic that Santa Clara County officials voted to ban restaurants in unincorporated parts of the county from giving away toys with meals that contain excessive calories, sodium and fat.
As a parent, as well as a marketeer, I am completely aware of how successful these toys are for the bottom line of companies that don't really care about the health of children in any way. A new movie comes out, my kid wants to see it, he sees commercials about it, then suddenly there's a kid's meal popping up on commercials with a toy associated to that movie. And he MUST HAVE IT. He MUST! He starts begging to be taken to McDonald's. Mind you, he wants the toy, never the food - that's something he would have to develop an unnatural taste for, over time. And that's the reason kids are lured in with toys. Like cigarettes, you need to hook em when they're young, before they know any better.
We have an obesity epidemic with our nation's children. All children. Not children of "bad parents." And of the children who are not obese, a good percentage of them will go on to become obese adults. Why do we want to make this harder on ourselves as individuals, as parents, as a nation? If the food at these places was really something to naturally crave, they wouldn't have to try and trick children into it by providing a toy with that side of fries.
485 calories. That's the line. Restaurants are banned from giving away toys with meals that contain MORE THAN 485 calories, MORE THAN 600 milligrams of sodium and EXCESSIVE amounts of fat and sugars.
Ladies, are you with me? Any of us who've ever tried to shed ten pounds and stick to a 1200-1450 calorie diet knows how much 485 calories is. And on a body that might not even weight 40 pounds! That is RIDICULOUS. To defend these toys is to acknowledge that we feel this type of food is appropriate for anyone, let alone children.
I see good parents, parents I know and love, take their children to these places because they're tired. It's easy. Life's busy. You want the child to stop begging.
Happy Meal toys may not be the cause, but they're certainly a part of the problem. Parents are busy. And we're tired. And we have enough trouble summoning up the energy to play with our kids outside, versus letting them sit in front of a TV or play on a Nintendo DS. We don't need the likes of fast food restaurants marketing to our children, making our lives even more challenging.
I have a strict belief that children won't starve themselves to death. If leeks are in season, as they are now, then my child is going to have ham with a side of potato leek soup and maybe some broccoli for dinner. If he doesn't want it, then he can not eat. He may try to negotiate his meals but he always loses. So eventually, he eats what he is served. They end up complaining less and less. They develop a taste for things like chard, things you thought they would never, ever eat.
The problem is...McDonald's doesn't just want my child to come in for that toy, when I'm tired, or I feel guilty, and I don't feel like listening to his begging anymore. McDonald's wants my child to develop a taste for sodium and fat so that things like chard and leeks don't stand a chance.
You know who deserves a break today? I DO. Thank you, County of Santa Clara, for providing it.
When Paige Bayer isn't preaching, she's practicing: she blogs about gardening, canning food, hanging out at Farmer's Markets, cooking and generally trying to convince her children these things are cool at Canning with Kids. If you tweet, you can follow Paige on Twitter.
This is an original post to the Silicon Valley Moms Blog.