May 29, 2004

It Gives One Indigestion Just Thinking About It

IT IS NOT OFTEN we read an argument which causes us physical pain, but then it is not often we read something which goes so strongly against certain bedrock principles we hold very dear. You see, we were following various links about this morning, looking for interesting things, and we noticed a British blogger who has called for a ban on junk-food advertisements in that nation. They're inconvenient, you see.

Yes, that is the rationale offered. The blogger advancing this argument, who goes by the sobriquet of "Harry," explains as follows. We've made a few changes, in parentheses, just for clarity's sake:

Then there are the burger chains particular(ly) McDonalds who use the oldest trick in the book for bribing kids - they offer them a free toy. My daughter once confessed she doesn't actually like hamburgers or chicken nuggets but still when she sees the golden arches she demands we stop.

So on the one hand we as parents are getting all this information and encouragement to choose the healthy options and yet we allow the enemies of a nutritious diet to beam their propaganda into our homes, through children's television channels ...

... These (Government-run) educational campaigns are only a waste of money if we allow them to be outflanked by those who spend millions on encouraging kids away from a healthy lifestyle.

Is it not now time for the junk food dealers to be given the same treatment as those who trade in alcohol and tobacco?

It is high time we had a blanket ban on advertising unhealthy products to kids.

What do you think?

Now, we cannot generally complain with Harry's tone here, as he lays out his argument in a straightforward and modest manner; so modest, in fact, that one might even call it milquetoast. Well, OK, not milquetoast. The "enemies of a nutritious diet" bit sounds like war propaganda. Our point is merely that we do not agree with his position -- but we couldn't really argue with the tenor of the post, you know? It was polite.

But then we saw Harry's response to those commenting on his stand, and we felt rather apoplectic all of a sudden. Awful feeling, that; it wears on the nerves and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And so, with the fires of Hades at our backs, we decided we would have to offer a public condemnation of the offending response, along with rebutting the substance of the argument itself.

For when one reasonable respondent pointed out that Harry could tell his daughter No when she asked for various unhealthy food items, Harry's response was this:

I do. But why should I have to?

Oh, well, because you're a man, that's why. Why should I have to indeed. Good Lord, why should we have to pay our bills and get our car's oil changed and clean the bath? It's part of life.

Now we were not alone in feeling this way; not fifteen minutes after Harry wrote his response, the same respondent made a similar point, noting that Harry was indeed a father and implying that such things were his job. At this, Harry parried, writing as follows:

Ok, forget the parenting angle for a moment and look at this way Emily. We spend millions on educating kids to eat healthy food. Yet we let those who undermine these efforts to push their products in the face of our kids.

Why? What harm would it do to ban them?

Well, we're not going to forget the parenting angle, not a bit; for it is that which is central to the discussion.

Now, back when we were growing up -- that would be the Eighties -- we grew up in a home where our parents did their very best to ensure we ate properly. A key proviso of this regime was that, in our youth, fast food was a relatively rare thing and sugary sodas were difficult to obtain. Indeed, we were alloted but one (1) can of Coca-Cola per week -- on Sundays -- and even then it was caffeine-free so it was No Fun. But even then we enjoyed it!

While our memories of that time are of course a bit hazy, we can also say that an important part of this regime was the fact our parents said No rather frequently. They did so even though we were undoubtedly horrible about the whole thing, and caused rather a fuss, but hey.

We will admit that times have changed now, and that when we eventually find a girl and get married and have children, we may eat out more frequently than we did when we were growing up. Still, we have figured out plans to ensure the kids turn out all right. The first linchpin of our scheme is that we won't take them to any fast-food restaurant unless we are in truly dire straits. The second linchpin is that we plan to hammer home Important Life Lessons While The Kids Are Younger. That way they'll actually listen to us. And the third and final linchpin is that we shall endeavor to make every moment a teachable moment, as such:

KIDS: Daddy! Daddy! We want hamburgers!

US: Hamburgers? Well, we can do that, but we'll have to go to Ted's House of Ribs. Mmmmm. Ribs.

KIDS: NOOOOOOO. We want toys!

US: Kids, remember what I said a few nights ago, when you saw the commercials on television and you wanted the toys? Remember how we talked about the way they were made?

WIFE: Oh, God, Ben. Not the Chinese sweatshop lecture again.

US: Sweetie, it's better they learn it now. They'll learn it sometime, and what if they learned about the new economic realities on the playground?

WIFE: I'll remember that in a few years.

US: Cute -- anyway, kids, it's not only that, though. Remember how we talked about how the food wasn't as healthy as a meal at home? Remember how we talked about how Daddy ate that food all the time and he didn't exercise at all and all that combined together made him unhealthy?

SON: Yeah! You were fat and had diabetes!

US: Right! (Mind your tone when you speak to your father). Now, what's another important reason to have a good sit-down meal?

DAUGHTER: You get -- yech -- vegetables.

US: Exactly! And you want to be healthy when you grow up, right?

KIDS: Yeah.

US: Bravo. Now -- for an extra quarter in your allowance -- tell me another reason why it's important for us to dine out at Ted's.

KIDS: You bought their zero-coupon bonds!

US: Yes! And I bought them at 36 cents on the dollar, and they're going to mature in just three years! And we want to make sure they mature because they're part of the aggressive portion of your Section 529 plans! Good job!

KIDS: Can we have the quarters now?

US: Sure thing. Here you go.

WIFE: Oh, Ben! Honestly.

KIDS: Hey! You only gave us fifteen cents each!

US: Did you think they'd be treated any different than your regular allowance?

KIDS: Yeah, but ...

US: Sorry, guys. Even the raises get taxed and socked away in the retirement accounts.


Now, we realize that such plans could pose potential problems: after all, what if our wife was having a bad day, and the last thing she wanted was for the kids to get upset because we had introduced them yet again to the vicious realities of the modern world of work? Then we might end up spending the night on the sofabed in the guest bedroom. But no sacrifice, of course, would be too great for our children.

As for the advertisements, we think there's a simple way to counteract their pull: namely, tone down the amount of television the kids watch and making sure they watch good television.

Back when we were very young, our parents did this by monopolizing (as was their right) the nice television set in the family room for their shows. This meant we spent more than one late afternoon watching that one channel which showed a combination of community-news announcements and stock tickers, and looking for various equity prices and reporting on their changes in valuation to Mr Kepple. Then, after a television-free dinner, it was on to the Nightly Business Report and, if it was Friday, that one talking-heads show followed by Wall $treet Week with Louis Rukeyser. Gawd, we even memorized the frickin' Wall $treet Week theme; we still know it by heart. Hence, we are living proof that such schemes work, although we don't think our parents had actually planned for such a thing to happen.

Of course, a few years later we started watching Nickelodeon and everything went to hell with adolescence.

But the point holds: we never felt any real draw to fast-food when we were young, and we still try to avoid it today. What really did us in was the lack of physical exercise; and if we had done more of it over the years, we'd be in much better shape. We don't fault our folks for this one bit -- there comes a time when one can't force a kid to do ANYTHING, and this was one thing we just didn't want to do. For that matter, we still don't. But we'll get it eventually. So will most of the kids these days, if they're pointed in the right direction.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at May 29, 2004 04:36 AM | TrackBack

I am shocked! Shocked I tell you! A merchant actually hawks his wares! What will happen next? Won't somebody think of the children?

Oh, wait. Someone has. The advice telling Harry to be a man was the best he could have received. Too bad it is wasted on a whiner.

Posted by: Mike at June 4, 2004 04:09 PM