Come On, Get Happy

1 12 2011

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Necessity is the Mother of Invention. And where there is a law, there is necessity to find the will to get around it.

Kind of like McDonald’s has done in San Francisco. Happy Meal ban be damned. Mickey D’s has found a loophole.

And I am sure they are laughing hysterically back at headquarters. The new law says that meals cannot be sold that include toys. OK. Big deal. So why not charge a dime for the toy? Oh yeah, and let’s put a positive PR spin on things by donating the entire 10 cents to their Ronald McDonald House?

That was almost too easy.

Here’s the problem. Laws have a nasty little artifact. It’s called skating close to the edge. I think it is both human and corporate nature to venture as close to the water as possible, but without falling in. McDonald’s found an easy way to skirt San Fran’s new law, which, by the way, everyone refers to as the Happy Meal ban. Because it was written specifically with McDonald’s in mind. Let’s not try to pick on anyone now, OK?

While I appreciate some of the intent (we are an obese nation, after all, and our children are going to pay the price later as adults), it is rather onerous and discriminatory. It only includes those vendors selling kids meals that include toys. Fast-casual restaurants like Chili’s, for example, can continue selling their Children’s Menu items without harm, even though the coloring-book menu probably provides as much entertainment as a McD’s toy.

But back to the law. I fully understand the need for laws and at least some semblance of structure and order, for without them we would have anarchy. The downside is that nearly every law implicitly encourages people and companies to figure out the workaround. This is why we have tax accountants, remember.

Recent legislation requiring 100 calorie servings caused beverage canners and snack food makers to reconfigure their packaging. This is why we now have a slew of beverage cans that all skate in at or just below the 100 calorie level. This allows them to get their products inside some school district vending machines or snack counters.

And you thought companies were just being sensitive.

The big takeaway is this: We should think twice before we try to legislate away every perceived evil, even if it is something which we truly hope would go away. Humans and corporations (and their marketers, paid shills that we are) will find a way to dodge the bullet. In the process, we/they make a mockery of our legal system. In the absence of a totalitarian regime, we must accept the fact that we are free moral agents. And with that free agency comes responsibility as well as the freedom to determine how we can cross the yellow line without actually getting in trouble.

Yes, the kids of San Francisco (and everywhere else) need to consume fewer Happy Meals, and their parents need to make wise choices. But mandating common sense never worked, and McD’s has turned this law on its side where it rightly belongs. Who among San Fran parents would even think twice about paying the extra dime for a toy, knowing that their money is going to a worthy charity?

You are as likely to see pigs fly or hear about a cold day in Hell when I raise my glass to McDonald’s, but this is that day. Watch out for porcine flyers. If you find yourself headed to Hell, carry a jacket.

And maybe take a Happy Meal.

Dr “Would You Like Fries With That?” Gerlich



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