McDonald’s has been sued for a number of odd ones over the years: making coffee too hot, making people fat, and even for a man getting in a vehicular accident because he chose to drink a milkshake while driving. Now, the Center for Science in the Public Interest may add to the list: the group is threatening to sue McDonald’s for providing toys in Happy Meals (you can read one of the numerous stories about this here).
Whether you disagree or agree with the suit, their basic logic is unassailable–offering a toy makes a kid want the meal. In The Huffington Post, the CSPI’s executive director, Michael Jacobson, contends that this practice is “unfair and deceptive.” Children, he argues, cannot understand the concept of marketing and so are particularly vulnerable to corporate influence. Parents, however, cannot be counted upon to protect their children. In a piece by NPR, Jacobson says parents become “worn down” by the pleas of their children: “They don’t always want to be saying no to their children. We feel like an awful lot of parents would be relieved if this one pressure was removed from them.”
This case essentially boils down to who should practice discipline. The CSPI wants the government to take over some of the responsibilities of parenting. Some people, however, would rather keep the ability and not penalize McDonald’s for providing a choice.
While I do not have kids, I know that if I did, I would not want the government’s help in this regard. I feel perfectly capable of telling my hypothetical children they cannot have a high-calorie meal, except on rare occasions as a reward. If they pester me, my wife and I should have the courage and strength to punish them for that. I don’t see a high-calorie, high-fat meal as necessarily evil, since I myself will occasionally eat one, but something to be taken in moderation. That moderation is what I want to teach my children.
Besides, how far should this go? Should charities stop taking donations, instead receiving government hand-outs from a special charity tax? Should I not help my neighbor jump-start her car, but pay the government for a roving jumper van that helps out those who leave their car’s lights on?
As much as I dislike the idea of this lawsuit, I do realize there is another side to it. If Happy Meals are considered too dangerous, then the government may have the obligation to address this evil (Although, if Happy Meals are as terrible as the CSPI claims, why don’t they try to ban them?). The government already does this to some extent by banning products deemed harmful (such as certain medicines, foods, etc.). While I may want the ability to provide a possible future child of mine with a toy-laden Happy Meal, I certainly do want the government to stop a company from releasing a defective flu vaccine for children.
So, I open this up to the readers. Do you think the government should exercise discipline for us? Is this a poor lawsuit? Or, are Happy Meals especially dangerous and should be kept from children?