San Francisco, that bastion of deliberately irrational behavior, has carried its meddling into personal affairs and parenting to a new low by passing a ban on giveaway toys in such offerings as McDonald's Happy Meals, unless they meet certain nutritional standards for calories, sodium and fat. In short, the city's board of supervisors has anointed itself "Supreme Nanny."
The board established as healthy nutrition benchmarks limiting meals to fewer than 600 calories, less than 640 milligrams of sodium and fewer than 35 calories from fat — or no toy. The statute is the brainchild of San Francisco Board Supervisor Eric Mar, who claims to have been "horrified" over the accumulation of fast food toys by his daughter, deciding once and for all to combat the obesity caused by fatty foods.
Admittedly, striking a blow against obesity, particularly in children but also adults, is a noteworthy goal, one deserving of applause. Nevertheless, one must wonder how Supervisor Mar reconciles his daughter's treasure trove of Happy Meal toys with his responsibility as a parent to supervise her diet? After all, if Supervisor Mar, who must obviously hold the grocery purse strings, cannot control the nutritional habits of his own child, where does he find the license to interfere with the rights of others?
Moreover, this overdose of bureaucratic nonsense could go nationwide if the Center for Science in the Public Interest forges ahead with its suit against McDonald's for its practice of giving away a free toy with a burger, fries and a small drink. According to CSPI's litigation director, "McDonald's use of toys undercuts parental authority and exploits children's developmental immaturity — to induce young children to prefer foods that may harm their health."
So what gives these overly officious, meddling interlopers a license to regulate the culinary preferences of the consumer, particularly when neither the consumer nor the producer has requested said interference? That obesity is an ever increasing problem is obvious; nevertheless, an arbitrary ban on toys in Happy Meals by busybody, do-gooder city fathers or national food police is a futile and inane gesture.
Responsibility for diet and nutrition is a function of family. It is not within the purview of government or quasi-government entities to decide for parents where, what, when or how much their children must eat, nor establish an arbitrary nutritional standard for meal ingredients before a prize or a dessert may be included. Realistically, anyone, regardless of relative maturity or age, whose preferred diet is high-calorie, high-fat fast food is not going to alter that habit because of the absence of a toy or prize in the package. However, for many if not the majority, a McDonald's or Burger King meal is a singular treat — to deny that child or that elderly second childhood person the advertised treat for no better reason than a "morally superior" gesture is asinine.
To be sure, dried fruits, carrot and celery sticks and apples are far more healthful than fries or tater tots — but, so are salads or servings of Brussels sprouts and broccoli. But is it not up to the parent to determine when to require the more healthy, but less desirable, fruit and veggie alternatives?
And, as we are all too aware, today's youngsters spend entirely too much time watching television, playing video games, texting and being hauled from event to event rather than walking, biking, skipping rope or organizing activities on their own. Is it therefore mandated that government nannies shall usurp parental responsibilities by taking over recreation activities?
For those who may consider this opinion an overreaction, may I remind you of the CSPI's recommendations to ban coconut oil in movie popcorn, tax sugary drinks and bar trans fats (which account for less than 2 percent of caloric intake). Also you may recall the anti-smoking crusaders, who started small by gaining a smoking prohibition on aircraft and have parlayed that into laws against smoking in restaurants as well as outside and even on beaches in some locales.
If government-supported zealots are enabled to take over the parental responsibility of caring and feeding of children, where is the brake to halt those same agencies from a decree that grown-ups be "clean platers" to merit dessert?
Our Declaration of Independence holds that among our certain inalienable rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Although not put into words, there is a tacit understanding that these inalienable rights include the authority for one to make individual decisions — even to make a fool or a pig of oneself on occasion.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.