The (not so) Awesome Happy Meal Lawsuit

This Happy Meal nonsense is never ending, or so it seems. Earlier this week, a mom, Monet Parham, along with help from an agency I used to respect, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), filed a class action lawsuit at McDonald’s in order to stop them from marketing unhealthy food to kids via toys.

On the opposition are quite a few people, including Sarah Palin, someone I normally disagree with. Palin has been frequently quoted as saying that parents, not the government should be responsible for allowing, or not allowing their kids to eat fast food. I agree. When it comes to banning toxic chemicals found in everything, including basics, like canned foods and baby sippy cups, well good. That’s a smart ban to support, but fast food is easy to stay clear of without a ban.

I’m agreeing with Palin and disagreeing CSPI… is there a new world order?

To be fair, I do still like some of the work that CPSI is doing. Still, I’m utterly floored that they’d go here – targeting fast food because parents can’t parent and making a parent look stupid in the process. Honestly, this lawsuit makes Parham looks completely inapt at this parenting gig, especially when you read this statement she made:

I am concerned about the health of my children and feel that McDonald’s should be a very limited part of their diet and their childhood experience… But as other busy, working moms and dads know, we have to say ‘no’ to our young children so many times, and McDonald’s makes that so much harder to do. I object to the fact that McDonald’s is getting into my kids’ heads without my permission and actually changing what my kids want to eat.

Wow. The lawsuit itself (pdf) is also ridiculous, stating things like:

  • McDonald’s exploits very young California children and harms their health by advertising unhealthy Happy Meals with toys directly to them.
  • The United States Supreme Court noted this year that children “have lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility; they are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure; and their characters are not as well formed.”
  • Internal McDonald’s documents say that “[r]esearch shows when families with kids visit McDonald’s, the kids alone decide on McDonald’s in 53% of the cases …[o]n all, they [children] influence 95% of family visits to McDonald’s.” McDonald’s thus affirmatively and knowingly targets the most vulnerable class of consumers, very young children, in order to insidiously and deceptively access parents’ wallets.

Well, here’s what I’m going to put out there…

Are kids really as dumb as this lawsuit suggests? Probably not. Especially not if you raise your child how YOU not the establishment wants to raise said child. The lawsuit states “Children eight years old and younger do not have the cognitive skills and the developmental maturity to understand the persuasive intent of marketing and advertising.” Okay, that’s likely true, children under eight may not get marketing. However, I’d argue that neither do many adults. Also, this is part of what parents are here for – to explain to their child what’s going on in advertisements.

If your child really influences you by 95% to visit a non-healthy, calorie loaded, gross tasting food establishment, vs. you cooking at home, or eating somewhere better, then whose fault is that? The kid’s fault? Mc Donald’s fault? NO it’s your fault as the parent.

Here’s how I know I’m right…

I have a nine-year-old. He’s smack at this peer pressure age noted in the lawsuit. We don’t have cable TV at my house, but he sees commercials at his dad’s house. He hears about new toys targeted at kids from his friends. Does Cedar ever want plastic crap, non-organic junk food and other commercial nonsense? Heck yeah he does. He sings Pillow Pet commercials, asks for stupid little plastic toys and I distinctively remember him asking for, at one point,  some sugary gross cereal straws he saw on a commercial. This is a child, who at the age of five or so asked for life insurance, simply because he saw it in a commercial.

Commercials and marketing affect my son just like they affect every other kid. He’s not magically protected from commercialism because I’ve got some eco-values.

So what to do???

I say no. AND more importantly, “No” is not the end of the conversation. I offer him other, greener, healthier ideas to choose from.

We discuss the environmental impact of cheap toys. We talk about the health and eco issues regarding organics in depth. Am I a total miser? No. Cedar gets the occasional pack of Skittles, although he’s now as likely to ask for Fair Trade candy. He gets a box of Legos, because he uses them to death, and in my opinion he gives up a lot to keep it green already without having to give up everything. We look for eco-alternatives to the lame Pillow Pets and Cedar ends up learning how to make a smarter shopping eco-decision.

He’s only nine, but having been raised this way he chooses organics at the store with zero prompting. He asks for veggies before cake. He does not ask over and over for cheap toys. He’s willing to celebrate a less commercial, homemade Christmas. He doesn’t ask for Happy Meals, because, as he says, “They taste bad” – so no, the toys there don’t lure him in. He thinks about purchases and lets many bad choices go, even though, as a kid in a commercial culture, he’s surrounded by this stuff.

My son is not perfect – we’re all somewhat lured by commercials – but he most assuredly has the capacity to think things through and uses that capacity often.

If peer pressure and commercials really influence our kids as much as this lawsuit states, then why don’t we also target schools, which are filled with peer pressure? Why don’t we ban all TV and movies? Get rid of video games and soda and chips at the store, oh and candy, which is truly marketed at kids non-stop? Stop the presses on the freaking Twilight and Harry Potter books?

We don’t do any of the above; and why not? Because while we are lured by consumer issues and commercials, we also can say no. Or we can say yes once in a while if we like and learn to make better decisions the rest of the time.

Some people like the argument of corporate responsibility. As in McDonald’s should be held accountable for corporate responsibility, hence the lawsuit. Well, yes, it’d be amazing if everyone upheld perfect corporate responsibility, but that’s just not a reality. There are plenty of shady products and companies out there. Many toxic companies and even the government isn’t looking out for your best interests. You can support them or not. Vote for them or not. That’s a choice. You need to get educated about these health and eco-issues to protect your family, because trust me, no one else is going to protect your family better than you can.

At my house, although they’re the norm, we say no to…

  • Toxic cleaners.
  • School.
  • Non-eco-friendly toys (most of the time).
  • Paper towels.
  • Conventional food.
  • Cable TV.
  • And yes, Happy Meals. I can’t remember the last time I was even at a McDonalds, yet there are three within eight minutes of my house.

We say no, or hey, let’s get something else, to a lot of things that most people think are necessary. You can say no as well, zero lawsuits required.

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