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What Rot? The Lasting Power of the McDonald’s Happy Meal

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What Rot? The Lasting Power of the McDonald’s Happy Meal

The McDonald’s fast food chain is no stranger to controversy. It seems like any given moment, there are a handful of flare-ups implicating the McDonald’s corporation of all sorts of wrongdoings, and/or nefarious activities. Strangely, as vilified as they are, they are able to maintain their good standing with much of hungry America. I drive by the golden arches nearly everyday and see cars queued up and idling in the drive-thru line just waiting for that ubiquitous, and never-changing product.

Never-changing is the operative term here, as one of McDonald’s most popular and enduring menu items, the Happy Meal, has weathered a great deal of criticism and denunciation of recent. The McDonald’s Happy Meal, for those of us that have not had the pleasure, is a packaged meal in a box marketed towards children, usually consisting of a hamburger, fries, a soft drink, and a toy, which is usually a tie-in for a popular cartoon franchise or a blockbuster kids movie (e.g. Harry Potter, Cars, etc). Most recently, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, seeing the Happy Meal as a nutritional threat to children by drawing diners in with a toy, rather than sensible nutrition, passed an ordinance requiring meals that included toys with their purchase to meet strict nutritional requirements, thus putting a temporary ban on the three decade long tradition. As Joe Eskenazi of the SF Weekly reported, “It seems the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has accomplished what the Hamburglar never could. They’ve made off with McDonald’s fare.”

The fate of the Happy Meal, at least in San Francisco, hangs in the balance. Knowing McDonald’s, and having somewhat of an understanding of big business, they will ultimately be compliant and give the people (or the Board of Supervisors) what they want in the form of a more nutritionally balanced meal. But there will certainly be backlash, as this bad has made for quick comedic fodder for both bloggers and late night television. Some critics of the ordinance claim it is draconian, and that parents, not local government, should decide what their children eat, no matter how calorie-intensive.

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Read more: Children, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Following Food, Food, Healthy Schools, Vegan, , , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


+ add your own
4:35AM PDT on Aug 15, 2012


12:25PM PDT on Nov 4, 2011

Grateful to be a Vegan and previously a Vegetarian since the 80's. Blessed, totally bless! Why is this food legal in a world with mega cases of increased asthma?

6:49AM PST on Feb 21, 2011

McDonald's burgers sucks! They have no taste, no texture, are hard to eat and all in all a bad choice for a meal. If you have one of their Happy Meals you will be hungry again within an hour. The preservatives they use stay in your body for a very long time, the fat, salt and sugar makes you lose health and gain weight. What is there to like about McD? And why feel sory for their loss of the San F market? If you want healthy fast food there are plenty of places you can visit. Real vegoburgers made from spinach, with plenty of fresh veggies, carrot sticks and a glass of freshly made fruit juice will make both your body and yourself happy and filled up. Stop supporting these enormous corporations with their questionable support of farm factories, murders of union activists and obesity running amok in the Western world! And parents responsibilities? Yeah, right. As if that's going to happen on a larger scale. It's much easier to cave in to the kids when they demand fast food than to place a plate with wholesome food in front of them that hasn't emerged from the micro wave! The budgets of ad and marketing departments of McD and other in that business equals some small countrie's annual state budget. And you think those ads that are shown when kids watch their favorite shows are going to make it easier to resist the kids? I support any measure to decrease fastfood joints in any urban area. Go for it, San Fransisco!

12:13PM PST on Jan 28, 2011

Once you find out that McDonald's and most other FF restaurants use premade burgers that contain ALL PARTS OF THE COW...and mostly not "real meat", it makes you think twice about eating there food.

If that doesn't stop you, they're support of factory farming should....the only place that adds beef products to their french fries.

7:16AM PST on Dec 1, 2010

Fast food is for those who do not have time to cook and look for better food than those served by McD.

12:15PM PST on Nov 28, 2010


12:54AM PST on Nov 28, 2010

Thanks for the article.

1:26PM PST on Nov 25, 2010

thank you

7:45AM PST on Nov 25, 2010

I wonder how different the world would be without McDonalds.

9:49AM PST on Nov 24, 2010

Fast food is evil!!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

people are talking

We would all be healthier if we consumed more fresh produce.

The dog is looking and thinking "Can someone shut this kid up"...

The child is mimicking someone close to him.


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