A cheeseburger and apples is the worst combination since a movie screen and Lindsay Lohan. But that’s what McDonald’s new Happy Meal looks like, thanks to food Scrooges all over the country.
This nonsense started in 2002, when two fat New York City girls with irresponsible parents sued McDonald’s for making its kids’ meals irresistible to them and “luring” them in with the promise of a cheap plastic action figure that would be less entertaining to most other kids than a stick or a cardboard box. That case got thrown out of court in 2003, but the chain rebooted its Happy Meal in 2004 anyway to include the option of replacing the French fries with apple slices and caramel dipping sauce. In 2006, it stopped advertising the burger and fries option altogether and started hocking just the burger and apple combo. But even that hasn’t stopped health nuts’ McDonald’s obsession. Last November, idiots on San Francisco’s board of supervisors revived the toys-make-kids-want-hamburgers-instead-of-vegetables meme, banning toys in Happy Meals altogether. And two months later, a Sacramento woman with an apparent penchant for blaming other people and lot of time on her hands sued McDonald’s for enticing her kids to get Happy Meals with “Shrek 3” dolls. Last April, the New York City Council jumped on the bandwagon, taking up a toy ban too.
Next month, in an effort to blunt some of that criticism, McDonald’s 14,000 restaurants plan to start offering a healthier “Happy Meal” consisting of a hamburger, the option of either milk (with a burger!?) or soda, apple slices and half the current portion of French fries. The new Happy Meal will have about six French Fries. “Happy” sounds like a generous term for a meal like that. It’s more of a sad meal, really. I’d be sad and I’m a grown-up. But this is supposed to deter frivolous lawsuits and keep parents coming in for the pricier meals from which the company makes 90 percent of its $7.5 billion annual revenue.
Some see this as a smart business strategy. But calling it a “business plan” is like calling “The Change-Up” Oscar-worthy. It might help McDonald’s dodge some of the inevitable regulations against marketing junk food to kids. But nobody complaining about the content of the Happy Meal is a McDonald’s customer to begin with. Eighty-eight percent of customers have known of the fruit option since its inception according to McDonald’s own figures, but just 11 percent have ordered it. That doesn’t sound like a groundswell of demand. It’s not guaranteed to curb obesity either. A Yeshiva University study out last Wednesday found that good genes are more the keys to health and longevity than diet and exercise are.
Putting fruit in the Happy Meal might make the food police happy. But it punishes customers (God, I hate apples!) and sends the message that McDonald’s is responsible for kids’ dietary habits, letting parents off the hook too easily. I’ve been to McDonald’s at least once a week for the past decade, by the way. I’m 6’1 and 140.
Dorian Davis is a former MTV HITS star turned libertarian writer. He’s been published in Business Week, NY Daily News, XY & more. He’s an NYU graduate and National Journalism Center alum. He teaches journalism at Marymount Manhattan College.