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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Meal Ban: City, Health Activists Chagrined by McDonald's

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge McDonald's toyed with San Francisco
  • McDonald's toyed with San Francisco

Earlier: Happy Meal Ban: McDonald's Outsmarts San Francisco

How the Happy Meal Ban Explains San Francisco

It seems the phrase "like stealing candy from a baby" is due for retirement. When describing a malicious act committed with ease, the new phrase is "easier than eluding San Francisco's Happy Meal ban."

As SF Weekly broke Tuesday, local McDonald's restaurants found a remarkably simple method of sidestepping the city's new ban on unhealthy meals being incentivized with toys -- which takes effect Dec. 1. Instead of giving away a toy with a Happy Meal, San Francisco McDonald's restaurants will now require Happy Meal purchasers to make a 10-cent charitable donation to Ronald McDonald House in order to receive their coveted trinket. Ironically, a law intending to prevent fast food outlets from using the allure of toys to push unhealthy food may now be accentuating that practice. Prior to the city's "Healthy Meal Incentive Ordinance," buyers could simply purchase a McDonald's toy for $2.18. Now, however, only those who buy the Happy Meals are allowed to obtain the toys.

click to enlarge The mastermind
  • The mastermind

The McDonald's solution appears to comply with San Francisco's law against

toys included with restaurant meals, as obtaining the toy is now a

separate transaction. Our calls to the city attorney's office regarding

their reading of the situation have not yet been returned. Yet city

officials and health care advocates at the forefront of the move to curtail toys in fast food meals were taken aback by the move -- and not very happy.

Samantha Graff, a senior staff attorney with Public Health Law & Policy, and Charlotte Dickson, the director of local policy for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, learned about the McDonald's ploy by reading SF Weekly.

Graff's organization devised the state's first law against including toys in unhealthy fast food meals, which was adapted by Santa Clara County and, later, San Francisco. McDonald's "has developed a response to the law that allows them to continue marketing this unhealthful food to children in the midst of an obesity crisis," she says. "Not only have they attempted to do that, they've added in the veneer of additional whitewashing by linking the whole thing to charitable contributions."

Charitable contributions to "kids with cancer," notes Dickson. "It's really only a matter of time before parents basically say 'enough.'"

That may be. But, barring further city action, it seems that call is in parents' hands.

Reached on his cell phone, Supervisor Eric Mar, the architect of San Francisco's Happy Meal Maginot Line, was loath to criticize the Golden Arches. He noted that the company has "made steps in the right direction," and then hurriedly took a call from another reporter. SF Weekly has been unsuccessful reaching him since. We will update this story when we get a hold of the supervisor once more.  

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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