July 2011

So called “free-market” types and Libertarians are incensed that McDonald’s has kow-towed to Michele Obama and other ‘nanny-staters’ and put apple slices in its ‘Happy Meals’. Piling on, the ‘Washington Times’ even suggested that the growing size of our children was a myth, referring to “the supposed childhood obesity epidemic”.

Hapless victim of a government pogrom against upstanding American corporations

Science deniers might be able to obfuscate climate change and use emotion to sell ‘intelligent design’, but it doesn’t take a PhD to see that kids in high-school today are fatter than they used to be.

The problem, these defenders of corporate rapacity identify, is slacker parents that won’t kick the children out of the house to play. Instead they let little Joshua and Brittany play games and network all day long.

The question I would ask is how did all the June Cleavers of the fifties transform into the obesity-enabling deficient parents they are today.

Some Conservatives will no doubt claim that it was the hedonism of the sixties that greased the moral skids. Pat Robertson, wearing his Jesus Christ Superstar cape, will blame Godlessness and homosexuals. Patriot groups will blame the illegal Mexicans, white supremacists will blame the blacks and conspiracy theorists will blame some devious Government/Corporate plot.

And in this case the conspiracy theorists will be closest to the truth.

I don’t mean that the government sat down with corporate executives to hatch a plot to make Americans fat. What I do mean is that we live in a culture that has decided that corporate responsibility to make money for its stock holders is our greatest national moral imperative (with lip service paid to anti-gay crusades): While at the same time interpreting the First Amendment to mean no restrictions on corporate speech (or corporate ability to buy politicians).

Corporations, in this case industrial food, realized that getting people to want to buy your product was the key. And so the great American institute, the Advertising Agency was born.

Holier than thou types will sniff that parents should make good choices for their children; and they should. But we don’t make it easy when companies spend billions on cute commercials with tie-ins to movie franchises and feature charming clowns. McDonalds hires consumer psychologists with years of experience and training to figure out the best way to separate a parent from her dollar. And that might not be so bad if, at the same time, they weren’t figuring out how to bring down the price of the ‘food’ they serve.

And if you think it is food, recall that when a consumer group claimed that Taco Bell’s ground beef was only 34% beef, Taco Bell sued claiming that it was in fact 40% beef – as required by law. What the hell is the other 60% and which politicians were so grateful for the industry’s money that they signed off on 40%?

The Washington Times, instead of feeling empathy for the fat children, identifies the real victim in this case – McDonalds – which has been “battered into downgrading its beloved Happy Meals”. I doubt any one at McDonalds (share price up 31% in the last year) feels particularly battered. But to claim that adding apple slices to a meal is a downgrade is to gulp the corporate ‘Kool-aid’.

Could the culprit be the fetishistic adoration of the bottom line at the expense of a decent wage which has required more two job families, leaving less time to make meals at home? Might the culprit be that the pressure on family income has made buying better food an uneconomic option? Could the culprit be that schools cutting out their sports programs has left fewer exercise options?

I don’t know. But it might behoove us to consider all the potential reasons for this national health problem instead of throwing the parents under the bus and congratulating ourselves on identifying the problem, without suggesting any solution.



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