Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Happy Americana Meal

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk.]

Andy Warhol from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol:

The most beautiful thing in Tokyo is McDonald’s

The most beautiful thing in Stockholm is McDonald’s

The most beautiful thing is Florence is McDonald’s

Peking and Moscow don’t have anything beautiful yet.

In 1990, Moscow became beautiful.

Beijing (formerly Peking) didn’t become beautiful until 2007.

America is “The Beautiful.”

When I was young,I knew I had done well when my parents would tell me we were going to McDonald’s. Together we would drive deeper into Queens for Big Macs, cheese burgers, vanilla shakes, and a mountain of crispy French Fries.

Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Chevrolet – it was all a part of becoming more American. And while I desperately wanted to assimilate more in my youth, I understood even then that a visit to the Golden Arches was not a visit made without thought or purpose. It was not something we did everyday.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t scream and cry for McDonald’s whenever the opportunity presented itself. However, my parents were firm. They said, No!

What disturbs me most about the outcry to retire Ronald McDonald and to remove the toys from the McDonald’s Happy Meals is that the arguments to do so seem less about healthy eating and more about parents not wanting to say, “No” to their children. From what I read, the proponents of the forced retirement and ban justify their stance by clinging to the belief that it is too tough to get their children to “eat healthy.”

Damien Hoffman at the Wall Street Cheat Sheet writes:

As the father of a 9 1/2-month-old, I prefer to have a level playing field when taking the time to teach my children how to eat healthy. If Ronald is giving toys with his meals, I have to work that much harder to get my children to eat what is best for their self-interest (which is also best for our economy and society). Personally, I am sick of having to compete with the lowest common denominator when it comes to creating a healthy environment for my family.

I agree. It is tough to get children to eat healthy. As our careers seep more and more into our personal lives and through cell phone and net book our offices become viral, the time traditionally reserved for healthy meals is diminished. Greater effort and planning needs to be done to insure a healthy diet for us as well as our children.

However, just because it is tough doesn’t mean we don’t attempt it. The problem is not Ronald and his Happy Meal toys but busy parents not wanting to spend the time to cope with the consequences of saying: No!

I am my children’s parent, not their friend. Damien is right in asserting: “Children don’t have a mature sense of social reality.” I would add that a lot of adults don’t either (and I don’t mean that in a passive aggressive pot shot way). Reality is a social construct. Individuals who have not had the benefit of developing in a diverse community logically lack the array of tools with which to construct their social reality. This is where we as a society work together to inform and guide. 

Parenting is very inconvenient. Parenting is very tough. These are social realities. Expecting a “healthy” fast food meal is not socially realistic. Fast food is about convenience. It is filler until something substantial can be had.

The Happy Meal toy is a symbol of American innovation. The Happy Meal was created as a way to promote McDonald’s as a family restaurant specifically servicing small children -

The very first Happy Meal in 1979 in Kansas City was the Circus Wagon Happy Meal and McDonaldland Fun-To-Go in St. Louis. It cost one dollar and contained either a McDoodler stencil, a puzzle book, a McWrist wallet, an ID bracelet or McDonaldland character erasers. The Circus Wagon Happy Meal consisted of a hamburger or cheeseburger, twelve-ounce soft drink, a small order of french fries, and a "McDonaldland Cookie Sampler", a small portion of cookies.

The Happy Meal is that little slice of Americana my parents risked their livelihoods on. They traded their familiar worlds for one they had only seen in the movies. They worked hard for their baseball and apple pie. However, this doesn’t mean we had either everyday. They knew a healthy diet could contain some pie but was not entirely pie. A healthy diet is balanced. And when I screamed for pie, they knew enough to say: No! (and mean it)

2 comments:

bigWOWO said...

I agree with you.

Another way to look at it--just because cake is unhealthy doesn't mean I want to outlaw cake. I have fond memories of my grandmother buying me Happy Meals with the toys. It wasn't like I ate Mickey D's all the time, but in the rare instances that I did, the toys were definitely part of the fun.

Andrea and/or Jeff said...

Whoa! The "Happy Meal" started in my home town? Get out!

I agree with you, and up the ante too. How do their kids even know there are toys given away with meals at McDonalds? My 6 year old doesn't. It isn't that we don't eat out - but we still eat real food. Yeah, we're lucky in that our kid really does eat almost everything and will, shockingly, try things again and again and change her mind and decide she likes them (except mushrooms). But to some extent you get what you model, and if you placate your children with a "Happy Meal," then you reap what you sow.