(This originally appeared in SF Weekly, co-written with Joe Eskenazi)
In August 2010, San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar decided that city intervention was needed to help him raise his daughter.
As Mar later told reporters, he was shocked to discover a trove of toys from McDonald’s Happy Meals stashed in her room. Mar was the one taking his daughter to McDonald’s and buying the food — but he said that the “pester power” of a preteen was simply too much for him to withstand on his own. So he proposed that the city ban restaurants from including toys with meals of more than 600 calories that lack agreed-upon amounts of fruits and vegetables.
Mar’s “Healthy Meal Incentive Ordinance” subsequently passed in November by an 8-3 vote in the Board of Supervisors — a veto-proof majority. Barring legal action, the Happy Meal as we know it will be verboten in San Francisco come Dec. 1. Eric Mar’s daughter has been saved.
Both conservative blowhard Bill O’Reilly and left-leaning comedian Lewis Black — and many, many people in-between — were left to wonder “What the hell?” in the wake of San Francisco’s ban. It’s not the first time. In recent years, San Francisco government has passed numerous laws to make us healthier, greener, and — in the city’s eyes — all-around better people. Whether we like it or not. This includes banning the sale of cigarettes in drugstores, and, later, supermarkets; banning plastic bags in large chain stores; banning bottled water in City Hall, and the sale of soft drinks on government property; banning the declawing of cats; making composting mandatory; and forbidding city departments from doing business with companies that were involved in the (pre–Civil War) slave trade, yet haven’t publicly atoned.
The city may yet ban the sale of any pets except fish, and the sale of bottled water during events on public property. Banning foie gras, meanwhile, didn’t catch on, even here. Neither did allowing the city to prosecute anyone who depicts images of animal cruelty if they set foot in San Francisco — essentially the same niche Belgium has carved out for itself with accused war criminals.
San Francisco’s acumen for imposing bans has grown so pronounced that when an anticircumcision zealot began disseminating a petition to criminalize the practice within city limits, observers nationwide didn’t write it off as fringe lunacy but, instead, saw it as just another day at the office in San Francisco.
That ban didn’t make the cut. And San Francisco does not have a monopoly on banning things. But nowhere else can you ban so much with such ease and so little political blowback.