I've never eaten a Happy Meal in my life. But that's only because McDonald's introduced the concept -- created by Kansas City advertising mogul Bob Bernstein in 1977 -- after I had graduated from college and had moved on to other sinful (and, ultimately, less happy) pleasures.
But if I missed out on Bernstein's creation of a gaily-decorated cardboard box containing a burger, small fries, packet of cookies and a toy, I was part of that pre-childhood obesity generation that aggressively nagged our parents for the sugary breakfast cereals that were so heavily advertised on Saturday morning TV commercials.
The lure wasn't the sugar. It was the toy.
While the Federal Trade Commission has been, historically, sour on restricting TV ads for heavily-sugared food products, California has taken the lead on garnering support for putting restraints on the Happy Meal. Earlier this year, Santa Clara County banned toys that come with high-calorie childrens meals.
This week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that will require meals to meet nutritional guidelines if restaurants wish to include a toy with the food purchase.
This was not happy news for McDonald's shareholders, who profit from selling the boxed meals to a pubescent clientele that is, according to critics of the Happy Meal, getting more obese with every french fry those chubby children cram into their fat, greedy mouths. The decision has critics howling (and mayor Gavin Newsom is expected to veto it).
Also crying foul: An Overland Park-based company, C-3, which manufactures plastic toys for Sonic and Arby's kids meals. A TV news report on the company reveals that CEO Robert Cutler paid for TV ads in San Francisco "blasting efforts to link toys to junk food."