In a scene right out of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, a modern day Burgermeister Meisterburger is coming to take the toys out of your kids’ fast food meals.
“It’s a difficult responsibility / That you accept from the number one lawmaker, me / Let it known across the land from sea to sea / That there’ll be no more toymakers for the (Burger) king.”
In Superior, WI, City Councilor Greg Mertzig wants to pry the toys out of your tots’ kids meals at fast food restaurants just in time for Christmas. Mertzig is proposing copying the ordinance recently passed in San Francisco that would ban the inclusion of toys in kids’ meals at fast food restaurants that have 600 calories, 10 percent fat and or have any trans fats.
The City Council will meet Tuesday to consider Mertzig’s proposal. The Council could decide to send the proposal to committee, have it drafted into an ordinance, or reject the idea completely. With any luck, a stop-action Chris Kringle will speak on behalf of the toy giveaways and leave Mertzig some coal.
In an interview Sunday, Mertzig claimed he is not anti-business and he is not anti-McDonalds. Mertzig sees the matter as a national security issue. Military recruiters are having a hard time recruiting physically fit young people, a symptom of what some have described as an “Obesity Epidemic” affecting our country’s youth.
In other words, if there’s a yo-yo nestled among the chicken nuggets, the terrorists will have won.
Mertzig says this proposed ordinance, “in no way is intended to tell parents what they can or can’t feed their children.” Instead he wants to stop parents from being forced by their children into buying unhealthy meals because children want the toys. He said parents often “have no choice” because of circumstances to buy kids meals, and the toys in the kids meals act as reward for bad dietary choices.
He said the proposed ordinance, “in no way dictates what a restaurant can serve.”
“If you sell unhealthy food and it is targeted to children you can’t reward them with food or games.”
Mertzig does not put the blame for fat kids on the parents. “I don’t want to say parents are irresponsible. The vast majority are responsible.”
“Marketing makes it nearly impossible to go to these places and not order unhealthy food.”
“Studies indicate that kids will prefer these places for reasons other than the food that they are eating.”
But Merzig fails to understand that while marketing targeted at children may make them want to visit McDonald’s, the choice is ultimately left to the parents. Even if this proposed ordinance goes nowhere, as is likely, parents still can say, “no,” and often do. “No” can apply to going to McDonald’s, or even to the food choices a child is allowed to make at McDonald’s.
If a parent finds that they are making too many trips through the drive-thru, the fast food restaurants have added healthy choices. Emphasis on “choices.” It’s part of being a parent. And if it is true that kids do not care about the food as much as they do the toy, as Merzig claims, then substituting the apple spears and low-fat milk will hardly cause the kids trauma.
Merzig was asked what’s wrong when responsible parents decide that they want to treat their children to a fun restaurant experience including a little unhealthy food and maybe a toy, he responded that it would be “okay for them” but that those would be unusual circumstances. But he said that he doesn’t think the question really applies. “Oftentimes parents don’t have the luxury of exercising that option.”
But it is the responsibility of parents to make the decisions of when and how they will treat their children to a special trip to get a kids meal and a toy. That responsibility is not a luxury, but a requirement of the job.
By needlessly interfering in the marketplace, Merzig would have the government assume the role of parent by taking on the decision-making role of what is best for the child. Parents should not be told by the government when and how they treat their children, any more than the government should regulate the content of a kid’s birthday cake.
Merzig, who has no children of his own, assumes he knows better than the parents who are slaves to children programmed by a 30 second commercial. That type of condescension towards his fellow human beings can only lead to more regulation of their lives because “it’s good for them.”
Merzig has failed to understand that what he thinks is good for the children of Superior is not necessarily what the parents think is good for the children. Outside of California, we still live in a society that allows parents to make those choices in the marketplace, and if the choice is a healthier diet, then the marketplace will respond.
Merzig’s proposal doesn’t address the issue, but what’s next? Banning birthday parties at McDonald’s because of the sugary orange drink? Will the McDonald’s Playlands be verboten by the Burgermeister? What about the school tours? And will Ronald McDonald go the way of Joe Camel?
Fortunately for the children of Superior, this is the Dairy State, not the village of the Burgermeister Meisterburger. It is unlikely that they will have to hope Ronald McDonald will slide down their chimneys to sneak the latest Dreamworks cartoon movie toy past Superior’s Burgermeister wannabe.
Superior Mayor Dave Ross said of the proposed restrictions on toys, “I don’t believe there is much support at all.”
“There is not much traction for this and it’s just another way for this individual to grandstand.”
By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute