First They Came for the Happy Meals

San Francisco, a wonderful American city known for its traditions of tolerance and freedom, banned Happy Meals. My home county of Santa Clara already had. So this isn’t just the most far-left radicals pushing this agenda; it’s the center-left progressives who dominate the Bay Area.

Some friends have wondered why I care about this so much, especially in a country at war, with a Bill of Rights in tatters and the dollar slipping every day. It just seems to me there’s something vaguely. . . anti-American. . . about all this. This is to say, American culture has long sustained a very statist system in terms of foreign policy, Social Security, public schools, regulations, wars on drugs, gun controls, peripheral acts of censorship, corporatist subsidies, middle-class welfare, national-security excuses for eroding civil liberties, and so forth.

But Happy Meals? They are a ritual, however vulgar, tacky and easily associated with public health concerns, that is at the core of modern American culture. And I make no apologies for a society where children want little more for lunch than a lame hamburger, some soggy fries, and a cup of sweetened water, all wrapped up in a box with easy crosswords plastered on it, and accompanied by a junk piece of plastic made in China.

This is one element of living in a free society. Even a semi-free society. Parents will occasionally buy their kids fast food, and that food will sometimes come with a toy. It’s the Crackerjack thing. It’s the prize in a box of sugary cereal. It’s what it means to be an American.

Is there a health epidemic? If so, stand up to the corn lobby and end corn subsidies. If McDonald’s is really so unnatural, and maybe it is, it won’t stand free market competition. Address the horrible school lunch programs. Better yet, rethink this whole program of forcing kids to sit in classrooms for 8 hours a day. Stop externalizing the costs of health care.

But the prohibition of Happy Meals is a shot across the bow of American freedom. It is an attack on American institutions, family rights, common sense, free enterprise, and the particular meaning of childhood in our culture. Yes, there’s a thousand things worse than a Happy Meal ban, but there’s a million things worse than a Happy Meal. The war on American fun continues apace. And I ask those who think this is petty—what’s next? They are already taxing lemonade stands and banning Happy Meals. They are putting more cops in public schools and monitoring children at every turn. They are spying on students at home through their laptops, adulterating classic cartoons by purging them of images of tobacco and persecuting pupils for drawing pictures of weapons and bringing aspirin to class. Poor kids.

Anthony Gregory is a former Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent books American Surveillance and The Power of Habeas Corpus in America.
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