Stealing Candy from a baby? Or saving kid’s lives?? NYC braces for a fast-food toy ban

My nephew would hate this, but there seems to be a movement astir to get fast food chains a bit more involved in the national efforts to fight childhood obesity. That was putting it lightly and euphemistically. Actually, several states are pushing to impose bans on the inclusion of toys in fast food value meals targeted towards children. The logic is that the toys add to a child’s enticement to get super-unhealthy food. And smack dab in the hot seat of this revolution is everyone’s favorite globally dominating chain, McDonald’s.

I recently came across a blog post that showed the varying Mc menu choices available at different locations around the world and it was so telling, yet so alarming. It was like a cultural study from a very surface level. This coincided with a recent trip of desperation to a nearby Burger King while I was rehearsing for a show with my boy Sol-Leks at his crib. I couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve eaten from a Burger King chain, but that night I found myself standing next to their calorie chart while making my decision from what for me, are slim pickings. It was ridiculous! Almost to the point that I can’t believe there’s still places making food with this much crap in it. I thought the health craze got everyone slapping organic, gluten-free and ‘Only 100 Calories’ on everything. Wow. I called myself healthy when I decided to order their experimental Veggie Burger choice (I know right? Burger King has veggie burgers now??  In the Hood??!), only to see that that burger was like 400 calories alone. I’ve never paid attention to caloric intake because I always thought it was just some shit for chics to care about, but after recently reading the book Eat This, Not That, and learning a bit more about what the average daily amount of calories should be per meal, I’ve been a tad more receptive. The numbers next to the menu items, especially the signature ones, are sky-high.

If this is what they’re putting in the meals for kids like my nephew, then a bill banning the ever-alluring draw of getting an action figure or car with those murder burgers and die fries might not be the extreme killjoy that it sounds like.

California has led the legislature pack after last year’s Santa Clara County ordinance that bans toys from being included in kids meals with either 485 calories, 600 mg of sodium, or 35 percent of fat or sugar and up. San Francisco followed suit last fall. This was big and of course met with great contention and opposing feedback, especially from the restaurant organizations, but nothing poses to raise more controversy at the present than this week’s call from New York City councilman Leroy Comrie to implement the ban in the Big Apple. 

Comrie cites himself as an example of the negative and detrimental effects that fast food consumption fosters. As an obese man who claims to have grown up off of such eating habits, he personally attests to how serious the issue is and how concerned he is with the future health of the youth in the city. Though slightly more lenient than the Santa Clara standards, Comrie’s proposal targets fast food chains with kids’ meals containing 500 calories or more. The other side to that, are the fines that threaten to slap business with penalties from between $200 to $2500 for failure to comply.

Of course, as with most African-American political figures, his argument is littered with colorful remarks such as “we are not trying to hurt anyone’s bottom lines. We are trying to help people’s bottoms”. He is backed by other luminary Black council folk such as Harlem’s Inez Dickens, but how much weight this holds is yet to be seen. I think it’s super interesting that this issue is being brought to the media from such a source. In a way, it’s subject to ridicule due to whom it’s coming from. Also, in the face of government shut downs, poor mayoral ratings, school chancellor resignations and economic woes, this is going to get received as a low priority. However, by the same token (and I do mean token), there’s a level of validity here because of who it is delivering this message. Who better to express concern and promote forward action against obesity than a product of it?? An African-American product at that, who represents the very demographic that unfortunately is disproportionately targeted from super-young ages by the most popular franchises in the poorest and least healthiest neighborhoods??! And with findings like 1,090 calories in McDonald’s kid’s meals, 1460 at Burger King and 1,080 at Wendy’s, the man has done his homework and has a real point, backed by stats and numbers. For all of that,You can also just buy the toy at the counter if it’s that serious.

McDonalds stands to lose the most if this bill gets passed as its Happy Meal has become the iconic standard with child-oriented fast food. It is synonymous with the arches, with the fast food experience and children’s eating habits outside of the home in general. There are even sit-down restaurant chains who have modeled their fare for younger eaters after Mickey D’s. It would be an upset indeed in NYC if this bill sees the light of day.

Yet at the end of such a day, what’s being put on the table here is not a punishment for parents and children, but more so an incentive for establishments to rise to the occasion. Remember, this is not a bill to take the toys away, just to keep them out of the meals that can do the most substantial damage in the long run if eaten on a continuous basis. And for most kids like my nephew, in the hood, whose parents look to the Happy meal as a quick fix, or who will ask and ask for it until their request is honored, continuous is not a far-fetched word. I remember those days, when a toy in the box would make my face light up and change half of my whole day! I know how good that crap tastes too…I used to eat it every day I could for lunch when I was in middle school. Then I completely stopped at the age of 12 and never looked back. A toy ban would definitely be the end of an era, but maybe for the best…

Sorry Winnie.


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