If you’re going to San Francisco, don’t expect a toy in your Happy Meal. The city has become the first major U.S city to stop giving children toys with unhealthy meals. For meals to be sold with toys they will need to have less than 600 calories, contain fruit or vegetables and have a drink without lots of sugar.
The decision is an attempt to address the childhood obesity problem. San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar said ‘Our children are sick. Rates of obesity in San Francisco are disturbingly high, especially among children of colour’
McDonalds’ spokeswoman Danya Proud said “We are extremely disappointed with today’s decision. It’s not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for.”
Kids are big customers in fast food. In the US more than $520 million is spent on toys and marketing directed at children, according to the US Federal Trade Commission report (2006). When combined with how much is spent targeting children by other food and drink companies, it totals $41.6 billion. In a recent Which? survey 38% of 8-11 year old said McDonalds was their favorite chain because of the toys in Happy Meals.
Although advertising during children’s TV is banned in the UK, advertisers are coming up with more sophisticated routes into children’s psyches. “Don’t play with your food”, parents used to say. Marketing campaigns have convinced at least some parents that playing with food is fun. Some retailers in the UK sell McDonald’s Play sets for 3 year olds and above. These 3 year olds can play with plastic nuggets, hamburger ingredients, cookies, fries and ketchup.
One mother’s online review of the McDonald’s Play set said: “i bought this for my son’s birthday because he loves McDonald alot. When he opened it, I can see his eyes lighting up. He was so happy and play with them everyday!” (sic)
Video games are another way to target children. In the popular Sims game, where players control virtual communities, players are rewarded for running a virtual McDonalds Kiosk. In this virtual world characters eat food and earn credits for “hunger” and “fun”. Associating fast food with fun and play is one way to create long-term relationships with unhealthy food.
15% of American children are overweight according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Comparatively in the Scottish Health Survey 2008, a third of children (33.6%) were out with the healthy weight range, an increase from 29.8% a decade before.
The Scottish Government has established a National Indicator to reduce the increase of children out with a healthy range by 2018.
If you believe everything you read, our eating habits have gone into a steep decline. This time last year, your average Brit was walking home from the farmers’ market chomping an a fluffy organic roll stuffed with freshly roasted pig and apple sauce. But then this nasty credit crunch business came along and pushed many of us away from the hog and towards the Big Mac.
When Jamie Oliver first made his cheap salmon fishcakes in the Sainsbury’s advert, the idea of ‘credit crunch cuisine’ was not yet fully formed. Many of us foodies still sneered at supermarket bargain ranges and headed for the now dwindling organic aisle. These days however, more and more of us will be throwing a few tins of cut price tomatoes into the trolley.
But doesn’t look like us foodies are quite willing to give up our gourmet fishcakes just yet. In response to this week’s news of rising profits for McDonald’s and Domino’s, and the expansion of KFC, The Guardian’s food blog declared the situation to be “utterly depressing. Penny-watching consumers are turning away from conventional restaurants and slobbing out on the sofa at home, not with a bowl of hearty, homemade soup, but with a whopping great bucket of fried chicken or a calorie-laden pizza.”
Have these people not embraced the true spirit of credit crunch cuisine? Why do they not pinch their pennies bycooking sensible healthy meals from scratch? And eat out occasionally at their locally owned and run bistro which serves fashionable, cheap (but still delicious and healthy) cuts of meat at reasonable prices? Because apparently they prefer “slobbing out” which, though cheap, is not fashionable.
Before, many of us could afford to eat premium quality foods if we liked. The buzz words were ‘fresh’, ‘organic’, ‘ethical’, ‘local’. But did we want those things because we believed they were better for us, or because they were de rigueur?
Now the doom and gloom has struck our wallets and our trolleys. And the word on the street is ‘cheap’. The diehard foodies have dusted down their slow cookers, but it may well be that some of us have fallen off the home cooking wagon, decided eating out is too expensive and landed comfortably on the sofa with a Domino’s.
For all of us, what we eat has become firmly associated with a need for cheapness and value. For some that will come from their own kitchen, and for others it will come from KFC. Because if you want to talk about calories and fat, even a home cooked pizza can provide ample quantities of both.