They’ve Left Their Smarts In San Francisco

Perhaps all the government do-gooders around the country should get together and figure out how to just outlaw McDonald’s completely.  Just get it over with, once and for all.

Because if there were no McDonald’s, ya see, there would be no obesity epidemic.  As everyone knows, all fat people in America were seduced by Happy Meals during childhood and now consume virtually all their meals at McDonald’s.  Take away those evil golden arches, and the fat people will finally base their diets on whole grains, lean meats, fruits and vegetables.  No more obesity.

At least that scenario seems to fit the belief system of city officials in San Francisco, who are considering yet another brilliant government solution to the obesity epidemic:

A proposed city ordinance would require the giant hamburger chain to either stop putting little toys for kids in those Happy Meal boxes, or otherwise make them healthier by adding fruit and vegetable portions and limiting calories.

Supervisor Eric Mar said in proposing the law that he was trying to protect the health of his constituents.

Well, gee whiz, if Supervisor Mar is trying to protect people, that should be all the justification he needs to strip a business of the right to freely sell products that other people freely choose to buy.  If you’re a government official, good intentions are all that count.  We can’t go around expecting governments to provide something like proof that their attempts at social engineering will actually produce benefits.

On second thought, scratch that.  I don’t care if they do provide proof.  I don’t care if Supervisor Mar can produce a hundred well-designed studies concluding that ordering McDonald’s to change its menu would lead to better public health.  That’s not the point.  I’m 99 % certain we could cure obesity in America by tossing all the fat people into prison camps and feeding them nothing but lean meats and green vegetables.  Despite the health benefits, I’d still be against the program.

McDonald’s vice president for nutrition and menu strategy, Karen Wells, said that “denying a toy to a child” would undermine the authority of parents to decide what their children should eat and would also be “difficult…to execute at our restaurants.”

“It’s different from what we’re doing today and different from what we’ve done for 25 years, successfully,” said Wells.

Responded Supervisor Sophie Maxwell in an exasperated voice, “Just because it’s different does not make it necessarily difficult. I mean, McDonald’s is an amazing institution. It’s been around for many years … because it’s able to change and to adapt to new circumstances and new things that people are eating so I think I have a lot more confidence in McDonald’s, I guess, than you do.”

Ohhh, snap!  Your confidence in McDonald’s ability to adapt to creeping fascism is truly inspiring, Comrade Maxwell.  But once again, you’re missing the point.  It’s not up to you to decide what’s good for my kids.  It’s also not up to you decide what would or would not be difficult for McDonald’s to implement.  Believe it or not, the people who run a business usually understand how it works better than civil servants do — even if the very idea causes you speak in an exasperated voice.

I realize being ignorant of how business works was probably a pre-requisite for your position, but perhaps you’re still capable of grasping this concept:  McDonald’s can’t sell anything that people don’t want.  That’s why the McLean burger was a colossal flop.  The McCarrots and the McBroccoli won’t fare any better.

The proposed Happy Meal deal is just the latest in a string of San Francisco ordinances aimed at regulating public health.

Which is why I will never visit the place again. I might accidentally provide these bozos with some tax revenue.

“Local politicians, especially liberal and progressive ones, tend to focus on individual lifestyle issues because they are consistent with liberal or progressive goals, yet do not require large scale government effort and resource mobilization,” said Jason McDaniel, a political science professor at San Francisco State University.

Allow me to put that in normal-person English:  “When we vote to replace the authority of parents with the authority of the state, we like to call that an ‘individual lifestyle issue’ because it sounds like we support the rights of individuals even as we’re taking them way.  And when we say a program ‘doesn’t require large-scale government resource mobilization,’ it means we basically just order McDonald’s to cover the cost of implementing our ideas.  And the beauty of it is, if the program doesn’t actually accomplish anything, the taxpayers don’t get upset because we wasted McDonald’s money, not theirs.  That’s considered very progressive.”

Cynthia Goody, McDonald’s nutrition director, said there was no evidence that childhood obesity would be reduced by requiring a fruit or vegetable with all meals as well as a cap on calories, sodium and fats.

In response, a supervisor asked what mix of foods would lower childhood obesity. Goody said she would need to conduct more research to provide an answer.

Now there’s an interesting exchange …

“Tell us exactly what mix of foods we can order McDonald’s to serve that will solve the nationwide problem of childhood obesity.”

“Uh … uh … can I get back to you on that?”

“Well, okay, if you must.  But in that case, I also want you to tell us what mix of foods we can order you to serve that will improve academic scores in the nation’s public schools.”

San Francisco has a long history of bold public health stances and the latest string of laws is nothing new, according to Alex Clemens, founder of Barbary Coast Consulting, a local political communications firm.

Here’s how you know a reporter likes a new, intrusive goverment program:  he or she will describe it as “bold” or “historic.”  If the reporter doesn’t like a new form of government intrustion, the adjective will be “unprecedented.”

“San Francisco has a reputation – and it’s well deserved – of being a very progressive city … With that comes naturally, hand in hand, a reliance on government to encourage thoughtful change – that’s just tradition,” said Clemens, whose firm helped fight the fee on liquor distributors and wholesalers.

A reliance on government to encourage thoughtful change … I have to say, that is the nicest euphemism I’ve ever heard for “A few of us have some totally unproven ideas we want you to implement at your own expense, which of course you will do, or we’ll send in the guys with guns to give you some serious encouragement.”

“In San Francisco you do have an authentic conversation between the progressives and the moderates about how much social engineering is enough and how much is too much.”

Well, that’s just fabulous … when governments step in and take away my freedom to buy a toy for my girls at McDonald’s, I feel a lot better if I know someone engaged in an authentic conversation first.  I believe there’s a clause in the Bill of Rights that reads something like, “Governments may abridge any of these rights as long as they have good intentions and first engage in an authentic conversation.”

I started writing this post in the afternoon.  In the early evening, we drove my wife to the airport. (Her high-school reunion is this weekend.)  The girls wanted to stop at McDonald’s for dinner on the way, so we did.  They both got Happy Meals — with a toy.  As usual, they didn’t finish the meals.  Sara took two bites of her sandwich, then removed the bun and scraped away the ketchup and onions.  She ate the meat and the cheese, less than half an order of fries, and that’s it.

Government busy-bodies can mess with Happy Meals all they want; it’s not going to change how my girls eat day-to-day.  Same goes for the fat kids.


30 thoughts on “They’ve Left Their Smarts In San Francisco

  1. Kate

    I..uh…erm…wow. What the )(*()*&* is San Francisco thinking?

    I don’t believe this qualifies as “thinking.”

  2. TonyNZ

    I’m sure I’ve said it before, but the amount of exercise I got from McDonald’s toys would surely surpass the energy intake of the happy meal.

    Awesome post on “A Modest Proposal” by the way.

    Thank you.

  3. Sean

    Am I the only one who shudders at the term ‘social engineering’?

    I love the reporter’s constructed narrative. Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward was also bold and historic, and, of course, he also had a great reputation for such things, although I’m not sure the dialog was as authentic.

    We should all shudder at the term. It scares me that some people consider it a fit topic for authentic dialog.

  4. chainey

    “…and feeding them nothing but lean meats and green vegetables.”

    A baffling sentence coming from you. Since when were you on the anti-fat bandwagon? And what proof do we have that green vegetables are essential, or even beneficial?

    I’m not on the anti-fat bandwagon. But if we fed people nothing but lean meats and green vegetables, they’d certainly lose weight.

  5. RobR

    Government is simply a collection of Thugs and Sophists. It has never been any more legitimate an institution than your common mafia… its simply the most successful. Its quite difficult to convey that in modern society.. propaganda is rampant and Stockholm syndrome is in full effect for most. For the logical recognizing that a government is funded exclusively by threat of violence is often helpful. Getting to the point where that is not acceptable and alternatives need to be considered is often a large hurdle.

    The combined life history of your average government employee is truly tragic. It takes a really lousy society to breed these people and the people who worship them. Clinton had a single mom and his father was a wildly abusive alcoholic. George W was idolized by many yet was blowing up frogs at 6 years old. The same can be said for almost all government employees who seek power over the “bad people”. The rest of society can’t stop patting itself on the back for how great we treat children. Yet all throughout the country children are being turned into power hungry narcissists and true believers.

    Its no question what creates people who are power hungry and the people who worship them. Religion and Statism will always be rampant so long as people have a fundamental ethical outrage to pick with humanity.

    /Rob’s we have a government because society treats children wildly unethically rant

    That’s the point I’ve tried to pound home with my big-government-loving friends (yes, I have some of those): everything government does is backed up with the threat of violence. They have a very hard time accepting that — even though it’s manifestly true — because they consider themselves “progressive” and therefore nice people. Too much cognitive dissonance.

  6. mezzo

    Given a choice between McD’s and Subway I would opt for the former any day. I had to eat there once and took a look at the “fresh” ingredients on their counter. This is only for Germany and may be different on the other side of the pond, but I was not impressed and very little amused: I saw the cheapest cuts of cold meat, salami and cheese, Iceberg Salad which is notorious for containing almost no nutrients at all and as for the sauces, well I’d better not mention them. At McD you at least get a decent serving of beef and can safely ignore the frankenfoods. At Subways you can’t.

    Picking on McDonald’s has little to do with the nutritional quality of their meals. People consume far more calories and far more fat (which the government believes is bad) at pizza places, ice cream shops, and most sit-down restaurants. They go after McDonald’s because these goofy “progressives” dislike capitalism and McDonald’s is a money-making machine.

  7. Katy

    My, such astounding logic! My grandson went from being a normal-weight child to an overweight one when his parents separated and his father fed him primarily pizza. He is now an adult and is still overweight. I guess we should now ban pizza deliveries to households run by single men. With children. And toys had nothing to do with it.

    I got fat on breakfast cereals — most of which probably had an American Heart Association seal of approval on the box.

  8. Derek

    I think most of us would classify this action by San Francisco as heavy-handed and misguided and silly. Characterizing it as a fascist government-takeover of business is more than a bit overboard. I love the primary message of your blog but could do without the excessive libertarian dogma.

    An analogy from Milton Friedman: if you toss a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out. But if you put the frog in a pot and then slowly turn up the temperature, it will sit there until boiled alive.

    Statists in American have learned that lesson. Just take away one little freedom here, then another there. Just tag on one little tax here, then another there. Pass this little regulation, then that little regulation. Order private businesses to fund this little government scheme, then another government scheme. They count on us thinking, “Well, that’s not such a big deal” each time. I absolutely consider it creeping fascism, and if we don’t oppose each “little” loss of freedom, we don’t deserve to be free.

  9. Jan

    Awesome title to the post, but I’d say they left their smarts anywhere BUT San Francisco.

    This all makes me very, very nervous about my food and freedom. It’s bad enough that I’m going to have to go head-to-head with my new endocrinologist over the amount of fat I eat (I saw her for the first time yesterday – I want to know if I’m having thyroid issues or if it’s just perimenopause that’s making me homicidal – and she’s asked me to keep a “food diary” for three weeks…this ought to be interesting), now I have to worry even more about the government interfering with my already shrinking food choices. I have half a mind to take my kid to McDonald’s for dinner tonight – if I thought he’d want to eat there at all, which he doesn’t.

    Let us know how that food diary is evaluated. When the doctor in Fat Head saw mine, he said, “So, I see you went on a widow-maker diet.”

  10. D. Sterner

    McDonald’s is the largest purchaser of beef, pork and potatoes. Perhaps that’s why they get the lion’s share of blame in the obesity “epidemic”. French fries, cheeseburgers, bacon & sausage are the poster child for CW lipophobes arguing that sat fat is the problem. I’d be okay with the gov’t stepping in and banning transfats from the fryer. If they go back to beef tallow, maybe I’d start eating them again! (in moderation, of course)

    I’m assuming you are okay with the DDT ban, for example. Or do you think that the feds overstepped there as well?

    I’m actually not okay with the government banning trans fats. I’m perfectly okay with the government pointing out the dangers of trans fats and then letting people decide whether or not to consume them. As Gary Taubes said when someone asked him the same question, how do we justify banning trans fats while subsidizing sugar, which is probably far worse for our health?

    I don’t have any problem with government preventing poisons from being sprayed into the environment. But I’m not sure DDT was quite the hazard we were told it was:

    The difference is choice. If someone dumps toxins in my drinking water, I didn’t choose to consume them. But if I decide to eat a donut, I know what I’m getting.

  11. mrfreddy

    Whilst sittin in a hot tub, swilling scotch, in Southern California the other day, I had a conversation with someone who works at Homeland Security. Did you know that San Francisco is an “asylum” city? What does that mean? In other cities, if a federal fugitive gets picked up, they are reported to the feds, and probably handed over to the feds. Not so in SFO. If Joe Terrorist is picked up there, say, for jaywalking, no report is filed, they let the guy go, la dee dah.

    I love San Francisco, and I am pretty liberal, but this is too much!

    I agree that San Francisco is an asylum city, but my definition is a bit different from theirs.

  12. Paul451

    The Social Engineers are no more interested in eliminating McDonalds than they are in making the cigarette industry vanish. In both cases, the strategy is the same: demonize and then tax the Hell out of it but NEVER eliminate it entirely because then your revenues disappear.

    Of course. They simply want to hijack businesses to suit their own ends.

  13. Sean

    Derek wrote:
    “I think most of us would classify this action by San Francisco as heavy-handed and misguided and silly. Characterizing it as a fascist government-takeover of business is more than a bit overboard.”

    I’m curious at what point heavy-handed, misguided and silly turns crosses the line into the forbidden territory of fascism, or why the two should be mutually exclusive. Heavy-handed, misguided and silly is a great blanket description of Mussolini, Hitler and Franco and their communist counterparts Stalin and Mao, not to mention the later silly and misguided Castro (oh dear, am I also going overboard by more than a bit?).

  14. Dave, RN

    Whenever I see stuff like this I think of cigarettes, which are clearly responsible for heart disease, COPD, cancer etc etc and the 400,000 something odd deaths they cause each and every year, not to mention counteless dollars in healthcare expenditures that lead up to the death of the smoker, but only after causing suffering beyond description. Dying of COPD especially is not pretty.
    So why don’t they ban cigarettes? Oh yea… billions of $$ in tax revenue. Some of which can be used for funding healthcare.

  15. Anna

    I shudder at the current use of the word progressive, remembering in my young adult days I also used it to describe my politics (back when I didn’t realize the office bagels were a part of my rapid 20 pound weight gain). Wasn’t the Republican Party the “progressive” party back in Theodore Roosevelt’s day? There’s nothing progressive about interfering in people’s right to choose their own food for themselves and their children, even if it’s cr*p food.

    And it isn’t just Left Coast liberal do-gooders stirring the social engineering pot, NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg on the Right Coast is up to similar tricks with his plan to ban food stamp for soda. I’m not a huge fan of soda/juice or McDonalds/fast food, but these measures are much ado about nothing (don’t make even a dent in obesity in America), meanwhile the Emperor is still running around naked…

    The terms have definitely gotten mixed up. Back in the day, people who favored limited government and economic freedom were called “liberals.” Now that “liberalism” has come to mean big government, high taxes and regulations on damned near everything, we have to use the term “classical liberalism” to describe what was once simply “liberalism.”

  16. The Dude

    I think the obvious solution is to recommend that those who are obese (standards set by BMI, of course) start taking a prescription strength amphetamine. Why not? That’s what we do to our kids who can’t pay attention in class. The government doesn’t have to make this requirement, they just need to back some studies that show it works, get some doctors on board and we’re done.

    Side effects, schmide effects.

    I ate McDonald’s all the time as a kid. And although I eat Paleo now, I’m not going to completely deny my children the opportunity to hit up Mickey D’s every once in awhile… even with those diabolic happy meal toys.

    That’s how we handle it with our girls. They eat at McDonald’s maybe once or twice per month. They don’t load up on sugar or carbs when we’re at McDonald’s because they haven’t been conditioned to crave sugar.

  17. Ms. X

    “Barbary Coast Consulting”…, government “encouraging” thoughtful change… consarnit! why does the term “shanghaied” keep popping into my head?


  18. k_the_c


    the best and brightest don’t win popular elections. Popular elections are precisely what the name implies, a popularity contest. By definition, the winner of a popular election is the most average person. It’s a fools game. I opted out a long time ago.

    George Carlin on voting…

    The best I’m hoping for is not to get barreled over.

  19. Bruce

    If they put a law like that in place, McDonalds should give the parents and kids a lesson in economics and big gov. Charge a dollar for a happy meal. If you want the toy pay a nickel for the toy if you purchase the meal. Charge $1.20 for a Happy Meal with a free toy. The kids, and maybe the adults, might learn a lesson.

    Or not.

    To teach them how big government works, McDonald’s would have to give the meals and the toys to some kids for free, while charging other kids triple to make up the difference.

  20. McAnon

    …and of course, people who would have normally taken it upon themselves to thouroughly research health and nutrition once again have cause to rest easy at night.
    They can put their trust in a pro-active and regulatory government that appears to possess both the motivation and leading scientific knowledge to take care of them – no research into all of this “paleo”, carb-this carb-that stuff is required.
    In fact, even the local governments are doing things… progressive things, so why not trust them with our health and nutrition? They also have a pyramid, dontcha know?
    One that seems to change every few years, like Stalin’s Glorious Five-Year Plans…

    Good point. If they’re thinking for us, we’re not thinking for ourselves.

  21. Dave Fish

    Well this certainly explains why the SF Board of Supervisors isn’t focusing its energy on stopping vagrant street punks from aggressively harassing citizens and tourists for money and spitting on babies. Its much more important that they control the lives of ordinary people who actually contribute to society.

    Yeesh. Yet another reason never to visit the place again.

    Something similar happened in Santa Monica. The do-gooders on the city council decided to provide lots of free services for the homeless then were stunned when all the vagrants in Southern California relocated to Santa Monica. Talk about not understanding basic economics.

  22. Jakounezumi


    I was quite amused to see that I were not alone in drawing parallels between government and organized crime. Most people think I am silly when I say things like that 🙂

    Over all.. though.. I would like to think that MOST politicians are not really stupid, gullible, shortsighted, money grabbing, power hungry and evil people with delusions of “we knows what best so smile and obey” …but rather just well meaning and somewhat from a different planet with no more than a passing acquaintance with the reality most of us live in.

    That’s part of the problem: they may mean well, but they’re trying to regulate businesses they don’t understand.

  23. Bullinachinashop

    Strange that they would pick on Mcdonald’s for giving a toy, but not at A&W for giving candy with that meal. I guess it must be healthy candy, made with corn syrup. Or maybe McDonald’s just has bigger pockets to sue from? Am I unsure, or sarcastic? 😉

    When the health police start going after “progressive” companies like Ben & Jerry’s for selling sugar mixed with fat, then I’ll believe this isn’t mostly about disliking McDonald’s.

  24. Dave Fish

    Actually your favorite consumer protection group (CSPI) “requested” that Ben & Jerry’s drop “All Natural” from its labels:

    Funny how they requested Ben & Jerry’s to do that but I think they’ve always “demanded” McDonald’s, Chinese restaurants, movie theaters, etc. comply with their edicts.

    As for the Santa Monica council, perhaps they need to see this video (language warning):

    Now I don’t agree with everything he says in the second half of his rant, but the analogy in the first half is spot on!

  25. Jo

    We don’t get this sort of anti-MacDonalds here in the UK. Sure anti-fast food but as far as I am aware MacD is not singled out. Sounds like this is about more than food.

    Keep up the good work.

    It’s partly about taking down a large, successful corporation.

  26. Brian Mallard

    Do you think it would be too much trouble for one of these elected idiots (with apologies to real idiots) to read a book (Good Calories, Bad Calories) or watch a movie (FatHead) to try and expand their pea sized world view? I am so sick of well intentioned nanny statists trying to run my life when they come at every problem with the solution that government intervention is the only answer. How about individual responsibility, consequences be damned? Geez.

    When you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail. They’re politicians, so every problem looks like something that laws can solve.


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