Almost as long as government has been around, there has been a politician right behind that thinks they know best. Many times, their proposals start as well-meaning ideas–the latest example, in Aurora, is a so-called Healthy Kids Meal ordinance.
Let’s start with something I think we can agree on – we should all make healthier choices in the food and drink we consume. Unfortunately, some feel the need to compel those choices. Many supporters of this ordinance have spent quite a bit of time trying to argue that it doesn’t really do anything–doesn’t take away choice, won’t make sugary drinks more expensive, etc.
If that’s truly the case, why the need to pass it?
The proposal before the Aurora City Council would create a new ordinance that would require bundled kid’s meals (meals that include a beverage in the price of the meal) have the following default beverage options: Water (still or sparkling) or Dairy Milk (or milk substitute). As always, the devil is in the details.
First, as the ordinance reads, “shall make the default beverage sold with said children’s meal.” It goes on to say: “Nothing in this section prohibits a food establishment…to sell or the customer’s ability to purchase, any other beverage.” When taken together, the eventual outcome is obvious: bundled kid’s meals will include water or milk as options, and parents would have to pay an additional cost for a drink outside the default. The proponents claim parents still have the choice; they won’t acknowledge what we all know – most items ordered outside the included options with any meal come with an extra charge. Want guacamole with your chips? That’ll be $1.25. Want sweet potato fries rather than regular fries? That’ll be $2.99. You get the idea.
Second, this proposal will hurt small and family-owned restaurants the hardest. We’ve talked to several business groups and family owned restaurants and the consensus is clear–just let us run our business. Aurora City Council appoints a Business Advisory Board that represents the business community in our City – that group voted unanimously to oppose this ordinance. In today’s example of out-of-touch politician, some on Council have said “how expensive could it really be to update a menu?” To get an answer, I heard from one restaurant owner, a thriving Korean restaurant that is part of Aurora’s diverse (and delicious) food scene. Beyond the costs to re-print menus, he also mentioned the graphic designer he’d need to hire to re-do the menu layout, the web designer he’d need to hire to update his website menu and the cost to update menus with online delivery services such as GrubHub.
Last, even accepting the costs above as part of doing business, Aurora City Council shouldn’t be in the business of discussing the drinks served at restaurants in our city. For many families, going to a restaurant is a treat for good behavior or a strong report card. And many times, much to the chagrin of some in Aurora, that treat includes a soda or other sugary drink. I have two young children so I am certainly sensitive to the challenge of trying to make sure my daughters have a check and balance on their typical beverage choices. On the evening I wrote this my oldest was offered water or milk with dinner, even though the government wasn’t there to tell me that was the best choice.
In fact, many local restaurants, driven by the market, now offer healthier choices with bundled kids meal, such as the apple slices and milk that come with a Happy Meal these days. And those types of market-driven solutions are great! However, some think that government knows best.
Curtis Gardner is an At-Large City Councilmember in the City of Aurora.