Happy Meals in the Crosshairs

Column by Michael Kleen.
Exclusive to STR
Back in November 2010, the City of San Francisco effectively banned Happy Meals by requiring any meals that included toys to meet strict nutritional guidelines. The ordinance was criticized and lampooned by many, including the Daily Show. Now, the self-appointed protectors of consumer health are at it again. This time, Monet Parham, a mother of two who is represented by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is suing McDonald’s for allegedly violating California consumer protection laws by including toys with their Happy Meals. With one victory under their belts, it seems that these so-called “consumer advocates” have redoubled their efforts to control what we can buy at the lunch counter.
Read some of the articles about McDonald’s battle with the Center for Science in the Public Interest and you may come away with the impression that the restaurant chain is like the witch in the story of Hansel and Gretel, tempting children into their restaurants and fattening them up for a life afflicted by diabetes and heart disease. In a recent article at Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote, “The practice of luring families to make suspect choices based on convenience, the promise of a new plastic animal, youthful whining, and parental guilt is so deeply embedded in our culture, so much a part of childhood, that the idea it could ever change seems almost unfathomable.” [Emphasis added]
Williams argues that by using toys as an incentive to buy Happy Meals, McDonald’s is engaging in “predatory practices” that pit children against parents in a battle of wills. These “tantalizing treats” “insidiously” compel your children to whine and cry until you give in and purchase the “nutritionally vacant meal.” At one point, Williams even suggests these toys are like past uses of cartoons to market cigarettes, and will therefore soon be considered just as irresponsible. After all, in her mind, rising rates of obesity and diabetes among children make Happy Meals just as dangerous as cigarettes.
Conspicuously absent from this argument is any discussion about the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, which is freely chosen by millions of Americans and American families. It is easy to blame fast food for rising rates of heart disease, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and childhood diabetes, but the fact remains that diet, exercise, habits (such as smoking), and genetics have a complex relationship in determining how likely a person is to develop any of those conditions. Therefore, from the Statist point of view, it would make just as much sense to ban Happy Meals as it would to set aside a mandatory 16 minutes a day for exercise. Restricting options, however, is much easier than trying to make everyone start doing jumping jacks.
The issue, then, is not whether abstaining from junk food would make you healthier, or whether you should exercise more, but whether it is appropriate for a state or city to make those decisions for you or your children. I too am concerned about the negative effects of consumerism, inactivity, and excess, but as an individualist, I believe that society would be better off in the long run if each individual were free to decide what proportion of junk food and exercise to include in his or her daily life.
“Freedom of choice and responsible regulation can coexist just fine,” writes Mary Elizabeth Williams, and if the regulation in question wasn’t eliminating a choice, she might have a leg to stand on. However, laws banning Happy Meals do take away a choice; they are just a choice that advocates of said regulation do not support. In the minds of groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, consumers should only be allowed to make “good” choices, that is, choices of which the men and women at the Center for Science in the Public Interest approve.
That is not really freedom of choice at all, however, because freedom of choice entails the ability to choose A or not A, B or not B, B and not A, or A and not B. All options are not equal, of course, but the freedom lies in the fact that the consumer can make up his or her own mind about what he or she wants to eat or wants to feed to his or her own children. It is not for the State of California, the City of San Francisco, Mary Elizabeth Williams, or the Center for Science in the Public Interest to make that decision for them.

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Michael Kleen's picture
Columns on STR: 36

Michael Kleen is the Editor-in-Chief of Untimely Meditations, publisher of Black Oak Presents, and proprietor of Black Oak Media. He holds a M.A. in History and a M.S. in Education, and is the author of Statism and its Discontents, a collection of columns on the topics of Statism, liberty, and their conflict. His columns have appeared in a variety of publications and websites, including Strike-the-Root.


Gwardion's picture

Yes. In this we see the mind of a liberal.

Parents are victimized by their own children, and McDonald's is giving aid and comfort to the enemies of parents, threatening us all!!!! Because we all know that parents should not be in the least bit responsible for making the choices they do for their children, the parents are just weak minded fools easily manipulated by a whiny 5 year old.

Lets make this easy. As a lower middle class to lower class person most of my life, I lived off of fast food for years. I am NOT morbidly obese and even though heart disease and diabetes runs in both sides of my family for 3 generations, I suffer from no ill effects.

How, dear readers, have I achieved this miracle? I play outdoor sports, I walk instead of drive to nearby locations, I play with my kids, and I visit the gym when I get the chance.

It is miraculous how one can change the "inevitable" by getting up off their butts and doing something more then complaining.

Good post sir.

tzo's picture

This is a wonderful example of people getting exactly what they deserve. When you institute a government, you are giving power to a group of people, allowing them to make decisions and back those decisions with force.

Ah, but the people need to keep the government "in check" when the government steps over the "common sense" boundary. Question: How are you going to do that?

Typical answer: Well, if enough people get riled up, we can trow da bums out and put in new people who will scale back the monster and make it less intrusive. The system is here, so you gotta work with what you have. Be pragmatic.

Let me know when this works in any substantial way.

Once you give government the power to legislate, then you eventually will lose your Happy Meal toys. There is no common sense—no boundary between what should be legislated and what is legislated. If there is money to be made or power to be grabbed, then the legislator will use his "common sense" to grab it. That is his function, after all.

Once you give the power to legislate, you must accept whatever legislation is passed. You acknowledge that someone has the RIGHT to take away Happy Meals, but sirs, most of us don't want you to, so please, please, stop. If he says "no" you have to live with it. No complaining, please. This is what you wanted.

And what if most people want Happy Meal toys outlawed? What should the legislators do? What the people want? However you slice it—whether the decision is based on legislator whim or popular vote, or both or neither—you don't get to choose. Furthermore, you don't get to choose because you VOLUNTARILY chose to hand over the power to choose to someone else. There is no complaint to be made, no matter what the result.

You wrote: "Now, the self-appointed protectors of consumer health are at it again." No, the citizens appointed and empowered them. If you are a citizen, blame yourself.

Boy, my kid really likes Happy Meals, but I better check with [x] to see if we are allowed to buy them. Because that's the system we live in. Everything is a permission. There are no rights. Whatever "rights" I think I may enjoy can be erased tomorrow with a legislative pen-stroke. And I accept this and keep my fingers crossed in the hopes that I won't lose too many of my privileges.

If you have a contract with someone—even an imaginary social contract—and the agent abuses the power you give him, then you terminate the contract. What else? Continue to do business with the thug, asking him to please do what you want (of course what you want may be against what others want, but if you can use the thug to your advantage...) and continue to give him your blessing?

Fine. Just don't complain.

Every single person who calls himself a citizen gives his blessing to the legislation that bans Happy Meal toys. And oh, yeah, their blessings are with other much more trivial matters such as this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drone_attacks_in_Pakistan

Complaining about Happy Meals when one's voluntary monetary support is killing other human beings. I guess that's what's known as taking a pragmatic, measured approach to scaling back government.

Michael Kleen's picture

I think you make some conclusive leaps here that a) don't really respond to what I've written, and b) don't really follow from your premises

tzo's picture

Your article addresses a ridiculous law that obviously should not exist. Most people who read your article would agree with this sentiment, I would imagine. My response is directed at those citizens who are outraged by such invasive government action. My point is that every human being should be outraged, but no citizen should be. Once you call yourself a citizen, you kind of give up the right to complain about your government until you break the bond and recall to yourself your own innate authority.

My premises and conclusion connect like so:

Premise A: Government is an organization THAT HAS BEEN GRANTED BY VOLUNTARILY PARTICIPATING MEMBERS a monopoly on land, force, legislation, enforcement of legislation, and adjudication.

Premise B: Having the powers cited above, government has a de facto monopoly over every facet of every citizen's life.

Conclusion: Self-ownership becomes government-ownership. The citizen becomes property of the State.

Citizens complaining about unjust or unfair laws is an absurdity. Each individual has the authority to decide his own actions. Granting this authority to another simply means he allows an agent to act for him. He is saying that the agent is actually a proxy for himself and his actions.

When the government disallows Citizen X from performing Action X, what is being said is that Citizen X is disallowing Citizen X from performing Action X. So who shall Citizen X complain to when he is being treated unfairly by Citizen X?

Ah, but Citizen X does not have direct control over his proxy? The proxy has a superior claim to Citizen X as does Citizen X? Now what? Perhaps Citizen X can "work within the system" to change how proxy Citizen X treats Citizen X. Will proxy Citizen X give Citizen X permission to do what he wants? If he succeeds, he has been granted a permission. From himself. From the part of himself that he has no real control over. Follow?

More importantly, if Citizen X fails in his quest for better treatment from his proxy, he cannot in any sane manner complain. I'm not letting myself do what I want! The part of me I can't control—because I voluntarily ceded that control—is making me do things I don't want to do! Somebody do something!

The government is the proxy for the individual who voluntarily participates as a citizen. Whatever the government does, the citizen has VOLUNTARILY granted his own individual authority to those government actions. The citizen IS the government and the government IS the citizen.

You wrote: "The issue, then, is ... whether it is appropriate for a state or city to make those decisions for you or your children."

Of course it is, if you are a citizen. You have abdicated your personal authority to them. They are your proxy. While you keep the relationship intact, they are you, and so you are doing it to yourself.
"It is not for the State of California, the City of San Francisco, ... to make that decision for them."

Premise, premise, conclusion: If you are a citizen then yes, it is.

A citizen also does NOT get to pick and choose which details of government policy he voluntarily supports and which he does not. He gives his consent to ALL government action, in whatever form it presents itself. Premise, premise, conclusion.

When the government outlaws Happy Meal toys, then the citizen has done it to himself. No complaints, please.

When the government bombs innocent people, the citizen participates by proxy. Acknowledgment of responsibility, please.

Yes, being a citizen certainly gives you some perks. But at what cost?

Suverans2's picture

Greetings tzo,

    Premise A: Government is an organization THAT HAS BEEN GRANTED BY VOLUNTARILY PARTICIPATING MEMBERS a monopoly on land, force, legislation, enforcement of legislation, and adjudication.

I sincerely apologize for detracting from the wonderful logic of your comment, but I have long been curious as to how the "VOLUNTARILY PARTICIPATING MEMBERS" granted a "monopoly on land" that wasn't theirs to begin with?

You may remember this[1], "Claims to land by human beings also cannot be arbitrary. X’s land resources are here for all human beings [all living beings] to utilize in order to survive. A human being may justly claim as much land as he himself can put to use, and no more." [Bracketed info & emphasis added]

[1] http:// strike-the-root.com/theory-of-natural-hierarchy-and-government [Remove space, copy and paste link, if you wish to read the article.]

Note to the developer; my comment was flagged as spam when I embedded this link.

tzo's picture

“… I have long been curious as to how the "VOLUNTARILY PARTICIPATING MEMBERS" granted a "monopoly on land" that wasn't theirs to begin with?”

Just another restatement of the paradox that forms the foundation of "just government."

The citizens IN FACT cannot justly delegate the right to monopoly control of 'uge tracts of land because they do not possess this right individually.

The citizens IN FACT cannot justly delegate the right to tax because they do not possess this right individually.

The citizens IN FACT cannot justly delegate the right to murder because they do not possess this right individually (I forgot the authority to declare war in my list.).

The citizens IN FACT cannot justly delegate the right to forcibly coerce anybody to do anything because they do not posses this right individually.

The unjust organization that is government (as it currently is implemented around the world) is created by the unjust acts of its citizens. The citizens arrogate to themselves superhuman rights and then foolishly give those rights to a small group to everyone's disadvantage. Why do they do this?

Perhaps they like the feeling of power that they get from being a part of such a beast.

The citizen is not pitted against the government, he is a part of it. And he is willingly a part when he feels that he has a hand on one of the controls that guide Leviathan. Play by Leviathan's rules, and you, too, can rule.
from http://strike-the-root.com/millions-of-petty-tyrants

Perhaps they have been taught that ethics is a subjective proposition in their government schools, and so cannot see the injustice of their acts.

Since no one wants to admit out loud that they advocate unethical behavior, justifications must be invented. Let’s see…if we say that ethics is purely a subjective proposition, then we can always deem certain actions ethical. Oh, I know! Let’s include instituting a coercive government as being absolutely necessary, hence an ethical action! Yes! Problem solved!
from http://strike-the-root.com/failed-theory-of-relativity

Perhaps they don't understand that they possess innate authority over their own lives, and the default setting is not in some bureaucrat's hands.

Delegated authority is always a voluntary proposition, and it can be withdrawn at any time. It is a privilege bestowed—an extension of a natural right from one individual to another. Assumed authority is thuggery.
from http://strike-the-root.com/philosophy-of-authority

Or perhaps they do understand the injustice at some level, but they quickly discard it to resolve the cognitive dissonance and preserve the integrity of their own egos. They are, after all, good people.

It should come as no great surprise, then, that government can best be understood as an enormous act of mass self-delusionary justification. We must act in an unethical manner in order to be ethical. Therefore we are ethical.
from http://strike-the-root.com/aristophanes-law

After all is said and done, if government truly is an unethical organization, then let’s not forget that citizens are part of the government.

Government is an organization that consists not only of those who are "given the mandate" to assume authority, but also of all the "citizens" who support the imaginary enterprise. The citizen is just as integral a part of the definition of government as is the King, President, Parliament, or whatever other fancy label some of the participating humans choose to affix to themselves. All governments must have citizens in order to exist.
from http://strike-the-root.com/theory-of-natural-hierarchy-and-government

It all boils down to saying the same thing twenty different ways.

Suverans2's picture

Well said, tzo, well said! I will re-read, once more, those five common-sense-articles you have taken the time to link to your comment. Thank you.

Suverans2's picture

"No man can delegate, or give to another, any right of arbitrary dominion over a third person; for that would imply a right in the first person, not only to make the third person his slave, but also a right to dispose of him as a slave to still other persons. Any contract to do this is necessarily a criminal one, and therefore invalid. To call such a contract a "constitution" does not at all lessen its criminality, or add to its validity." ~ Lysander Spooner, excerpted from his letter to [CONGRESSMAN] Thomas F. Baynard, of DELAWARE

Suverans2's picture

"What, then, is legislation? It is an assumption by one man, or body of men, of absolute, irresponsible dominion over all other men whom they call subject to their power. It is the assumption by one man, or body of men, of a right to subject all other men to their will and their service. It is the assumption by one man, or body of men, of a right to abolish outright all the natural rights, all the natural liberty of all other men; to make all other men their slaves; to arbitrarily dictate to all other men what they may, and may not, do; what they may, and may not, have; what they may, and may not, be. It is, in short, the assumption of a right to banish the principle of human rights, the principle of justice itself, from off the earth, and set up their own personal will, pleasure, and interest in its place. All this, and nothing less, is involved in the very idea that there can be any such thing as human legislation that is obligatory upon those upon whom it is imposed." ~ Lysander Spooner

Suverans2's picture

G'day tzo,

As much a I appreciate your thoughtful comment, and agree with the largest portion of it, I must take exception with one thing you wrote.

    "There are no rights. Whatever "rights" I think I may enjoy can be erased tomorrow with a legislative pen-stroke."

That, in my opinion, is not a true statement, my friend. Firstly, there are "rights", and secondly, the only rights which can be "erased tomorrow with a legislative pen-stroke" are man-made rights.

Though our natural rights can certainly be trespassed[1] upon, they can never be "erased...with a legislative pen-stroke"; we may only lose our natural rights by our own volition, i.e. with our consent, (express or implied and conditional), or by forfeiture[2], which of course, is just another form of consent.

[1] Trespass. An unlawful interference with one's person, property, or rights. ~ Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition (c.1991), page 1502

[2] FOR'FEITURE, n. 1. The act of forfeiting; the losing of some right...by an offense, crime, breach of condition or other act. ~ Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language

Michael Kleen's picture

You make a good point here, Suverans2. I think that any law that attempted to erase a natural right would be illegitimate, no matter what its origin.

tzo's picture

Well, so much for 99.9% of the U.S. Code.

tzo's picture

The entire paragraph that contains those sentences are what I imagine to be the typical citizen formulation of "how it is and how it should be because it has always been this way." Human rights and privileges are conflated in a fuzzy ball of vague ideas.

I don't believe it is a true statement either. :>

Suverans2's picture

Greetings tzo,

You wrote, "Human rights and privileges are conflated in a fuzzy ball of vague ideas."

That is so true it hurts!!

    Human rights - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - This article may be too long to read and navigate comfortably. Please consider splitting content into sub-articles and using this article for a summary of the key points of the subject. (June 2010)

As a direct result of this intentional conflation, this mixing together of different things, natural rights, civil rights, political rights, economic rights, social rights, cultural rights, religious rights, et alii, by those who wish to have dominion over everyone, and everything, on earth, there are some who now believe that men have no rights at all, which was the intended goal of conflating, or should we say, of confusing.

Sharon Secor's picture

Thank you for saying what you say so well! Fabulous comment, tzo. And, of course, you, too, Suverans2. Your addition was welcome and, in my opinion, quite correct.

B.R. Merrick's picture

"A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have." -- Gerald Ford

I think the sick mentality represented by the regulators starts in childhood, perhaps with parents confiscating property that belongs to the child. Children are wont to interpret everything their parents do as loving, because they are terrified (and justly so) at the idea of there not being enough love about. If loving parents confiscate property to teach loving principles to "inferiors," then it's a simple loving, logical progression that other children, when you are no longer one, will benefit from loving confiscation of their property. Therefore, Happy Meals have to go, 'cause just like your loving mother long ago, you now know what's best.

And just as tzo pointed out in the comments, it will come back to haunt the confiscators. Reaping, sowing... confiscating, confiscated.

Suverans2's picture

"If you’re unemployed or addicted to drugs, it’s somebody else’s fault. Laziness and self-indulgence have morphed into one big illness we all caught from mom’s sloppy butt-wiping techniques." ~ Mama Tried, You Failed by Gavin McInnes

B.R. Merrick's picture

This is a perfect example of how the status quo has abolished cause-and-effect. If "mom's sloppy butt-wiping techniques" have no effect on the child's brain, then a slap across the face means nothing; a spanking on the rear end (an erogenous zone) has no effect; pushing, shoving, threatening, confiscation of property, ignoring, indoctrinating for 12 years, television, junk food; all of it NOT forming habits in tiny minds that have very little information necessary for survival and creating comfort.

No, Suverans2, parents are never responsible for anything.

Suverans2's picture

@B.R Merrick,

Funny, I don't recall saying that "parents are never responsible for anything". Let's put the shoe on the other foot and see how you like it.

How calloused of me, of course you are right, YOU are NEVER responsible for YOUR OWN actions, it's always someone else's ( ________________ [just insert your favorite scapegoat]) fault that YOU do the things YOU do.

Is it too many spankings that makes a man unnaturally fixated on the "rear end" being an "erogenous zone"? There are several OTHERS, that are far higher on the list of "erogenous zones", too, you know.

B.R. Merrick's picture

How else was I to interpret a quote that includes "mom’s sloppy butt-wiping techniques"? To point out that the rear end is an erogenous zone is to point out a fact, not to be fixated on it. Actions have consequences, which is where personal responsibility comes in. But death-oriented actions like drug taking, child abusing, vandalizing, and so forth often come from lies that circulate in the mind. Once you get at the heart of these lies, why you believed them for as long as you did, you normally find that you were taught incorrect principles beginning in childhood, whether those principles were intentionally or unintentionally taught. Face up to it as an adult who doesn't need to be afraid of a sometimes profound lack of love in your early life, and you're well on your way towards being more life-oriented.

The problem with quotes like the one you originally provided is that those people are (perhaps unwillingly) denigrating a search for the truth concerning what the child lied to himself about. To point out personal responsibility for adult actions is one thing. But the work of Alice Miller, which has been of tremendous benefit to many people including me, focuses on being honest once and for all with what you really thought and felt as child. It's a search for the truth about your own mind.

People from truly loving homes seldom have to worry too much about responsibility for the many awful things other people seem capable of doing, because they don't do those sorts of things. The search for greater understanding of where one's mind came from in one's early life is crucially important. My fear is that quotes like the one you provided seem to make fun of research that unfortunately gets too easily lumped into the type of psychoanalysis that asserts we are not responsible for what we do as adults.

guillermo112's picture

I am agree, people are usually predestinated to do some things...

B.R. Merrick's picture

I wouldn't say "predestinated." I would say "predisposed." It's about forming habits, which we all do. Sometimes to fix a "bad" habit, one needs to look more closely at what happened in early life, so that one can find out where the internal lying started. I know I taught myself a few whoppers.

Perhaps "lying" is too strong a word, because I don't think people intend to lie to themselves, but there is some refusal to look at the truth. "Falsehoods" is perhaps a better word.