Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Healthy = Happy, But it Doesn't Work the Other Way Around

I heard news yesterday that McDonald’s has decided to change what is included in its Happy Meal.  The main course (burger, cheeseburger or McNuggets) will now be accompanied by a much smaller portion of fries and a package of apple slices.  Health activists everywhere are celebrating their victory.

But I say, hold on just a second, oh proponent of proper eating.  Not so fast you lunch room lobbyists.  Remove that congratulatory hand from your own back and vigorously pat a different demographic on the back, a group of which I am a proud member: lazy parents.  Yes, we of the Lunchables and the prepackaged serving sizes made this all possible and I’ll tell you why.

McDonald’s did not change their Happy Meal line-up in the interest of making our children healthier.  Nobody in their offices woke up and exclaimed, “Holy crap!  We’re making kids fat and need to do something about it!”  No amount of pleading the case regarding the prevention of American obesity (see this month's poll to your left) could motivate the McDonald’s corporation to do anything.  Rest assured that if they received money based on the weight of the customers rolling through their restaurants every day, they would be sprinkling protein powder onto the burgers and their fries would still contain animal fat, as would the Diet Coke.

McDonald’s, as any successful corporation, is motivated by the dollar.  If a decision makes business sense, that is to say, if it will make them or save them money, then they will choose it.

Up to this point, McDonald’s had been selling convenience just as much as it had been selling food.  They produced the product that you chose to buy at the lowest possible cost so they could make the most money.  Even if the food quality or customer service has increased, it is because increasing that quality points toward more return customers, thus better sales, thus more money in the mind of the corporation.

So I say again, the credit belongs to the lazy parent.  For a time, we woke up and became a little less lazy. We started straining our backs picking up our four-year-olds, we became nearly deafened by the heavy footfalls of our toddlers as they ran through the house and began cringing in disgust at our own waistlines as we saw what eating our children’s unfinished fries had wrought. So, we lazy parents lowered the priority of convenience and decided that we would start purchasing healthier food options for our children.

We decided enough was enough and maybe we ought to eat a little healthier for long enough to make McDonald’s notice.  At some point McDonald’s (and/or the outside consulting agency that they hired to investigate) determined that they would make more money if the Happy Meal was a little healthier.

Notice I say “a little” healthier.  That is all that has happened here.  Your kids are still getting French fries.  They are still getting a greasy burger.  They are probably still getting a Coke or some other beverage laden with high fructose corn syrup.  But now they have some apples too.  Someone in an office somewhere said, “Put in apples and take out enough fries to make up for the apples.  Charge a little more, though.  Healthier stuff is supposed to be more expensive.”  And thus you have a healthier Happy Meal.

Go ahead and rejoice in your victory all those who feel they had a hand in affecting change.  But you parents out there, lazy or not, should take a valuable lesson from what has happened here.

Remember this: The activists don’t feed your kids.  McDonald’s doesn’t even feed your kids.  You do.

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