Bravo San Francisco

It’s not easy to stand up to big food corporations. So bravo to San Francisco (isn’t that a song?), which this week became the first major city in the US to forbid restaurants from offering bribes free toys to children to get them to buy unhealthy food.

Now, restaurants will only be able to offer these incentives if the Happy Meal or (insert other brand name) fast food meal package meets certain nutritional standards (less than 600 calories, less than 35% of the calories from fat, fewer than 640 mg of sodium) and includes at least a half cup of fruit or veg.

The bill still has to pass a final vote next week and won’t come into effect until 2011 but it’s a victory for parents, food activists and educators who believe that we all have a vested interest in the health of our children.

Opponents always go on about how it’s a parent’s responsibility to monitor their children’s food, and how this is just more evidence of a nanny state, blahblahblah. But I don’t buy this individualistic argument. The fact is, it’s not just parents who pay the price when their children eat junk. The international obesity epidemic, the rise in diet-related illnesses like certain cancers and diabetes are society-wide problems that require society-wide solutions.

I think this is only one of many challenges to the “triumph of the individual” approach to food that we’re going to be seeing over the next few years. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that we thought cigarette smoke and seatbelts were solely about individual choice.

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