Organic markets, yoga memberships, wheat germ shakes, nutrition gurus; healthy living has its share of proprietors, yet obesity and diabetes continue to plague our nation. Blame is often attributed singularly to one factor – trans fat, video games, culture, genetics or marketing – despite the reality of the problem being rooted in a culmination of those facets.
However, the latest move by the Los Angeles City Council evokes serious questions between personal choice and the publics well being. Last month the council slapped a cease and desist order on new fast-food restaurants opening in the city’s lowest income neighborhoods.
Championed by council member Jan Perry, the moratorium will be in place until next year, keeping the 32-square mile area of south LA clear of new fast-food establishments designated as stand alone businesses with “a limited menu, items prepared in advance or prepared or heated quickly, no table orders, and food served in disposable wrapping or containers.”
This move, not without its detractors, makes a bold statement in the relationship of health and income. Of the 900 restaurants in the area, 45 percent of them are fast-food chains. Councilwoman Perry hopes that a break from fast-food development will give city planners time to thoughtfully consider healthier options in areas designated as “food deserts”, a reference to poorer neighborhoods where fresh groceries are scarce.
“People do not understand what happens in a disenfranchised community,” said Councilwoman Perry. “The fact remains, there are not a lot of food choices in South L.A.”
Proponents of the ban insist the designation is in the same light as limiting liquor stores and heavy industry in low-income areas.
Of the detractors are concerned entrepreneurs who feel the move could be encroaching on businesses that are not detrimental to public health.
Sue Moore and Larry Bain run soup and hot dog carts in the community using quality ingredients.
“Our policy makers abhor nuance and the subtle but distinct qualities that differentiate fast food from food that can be served fast,” Mr. Bain told then NY Times.
Councilwoman Perry persists that this is not to be an infringement of choice, as the move has come under retaliation from such critics as Joe Hicks, who have called the moratorium, a “meddling into the very minutiae of what people are putting in their mouths.”
In the LA Times, Hicks wrote:
“Her assumption is that the people in South L.A. are incapable of freely making good choices on their own. The finger-wagging inference is that poor black or Latino residents need government to limit their food options or else they’ll make themselves sick. What goes unacknowledged is the ability of fast-food chains to respond to consumers’ needs. In addition to standard burgers and fries, these businesses have already added healthier options to their menus, and now most offer salads, yogurt and fruit.”
Mr. Hicks is correct to cite the offering of salads, yogurt and fruit, but most fast-food chains have offered those items for decades in the face of the increasing epidemic.
On the contrary, it isn’t prudent to pin the epidemic of obesity and diabetes solely on fast-food chains, although there’s a reason these individuals choose these establishments. But to call it choice isn’t quite fair either, especially when the options are KFC or McDonalds, and there is a limited budget involved.