Wednesday, August 20, 2008

LA's Fast Food Ban: Good Intentions Or Racist Overlording?!?

Those of you who live out West know the unique food you can only get in SoCal. I'm of course talkin' about M&M's Soul Food, Jack In The Crack, Carl's Jr., FatBurger, In & Out, El Pollo Loco, and my personal favorite, Roscoe's. Except for the Scoe's special[1], most of this food is pure crap, but that doesn't stop me from indulging everytime I hit the left coast, for the pure novelty if nothing else.

That said, I'm smart enough to know you can't eat this crap everyday. Eating a reasonably well-rounded diet, in addition to exercising regularly is the key to life. So, when I see that the fine folks of Los Angeles just announced a ban on new fast-food restaurants in South Central Los Angeles, I'm wondering if this is yet another case of the gubb'ment overreaching.

A law that would bar fast-food restaurants from opening in South Los Angeles for at least a year sailed through the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday.

The council approved the fast-food moratorium unanimously, despite complaints from representatives of McDonald's, Carl's Jr. and other companies, who said they were being unfairly targeted. The ban covers a 32-square-mile area for one year, with two possible six-month extensions.

The area contains about 500,000 residents, including those who live in West Adams, Baldwin Hills and Leimert Park.

The law defines fast-food restaurants as "any establishment which dispenses food for consumption on or off the premises, and which has the following characteristics: a limited menu, items prepared in advance or prepared or heated quickly, no table orders and food served in disposable wrapping or containers."

A report released last year by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health found 30% of children in South L.A. were obese, compared with 25% of all children in the city.

Still, several fast-food workers told the council that the panel was ignoring the good things their franchises accomplish. The workers argued that fast-food establishments provide residents with job opportunities and, in recent years, nutritious menu options.
On the surface, this doesn't seem likely to make much of a dent in the public health crisis the LA County Health Department (which I've done some work for) is trying to solve. No restaurants will actually be closing, this is little more than a moratorium on the opening of new ones. So, nobody who wants the pleasure of partaking in a double cheeseburger from the McDonald's Dollar Meal will be denied that right.

The City Council says they want to use this as the impetus for making it more attractive for more higher end grocery stores and healthier dining establishments (ie: Panera Bread, Subway, Baja Fresh, etc.) to open in the area, which I suppose is a good thing. The only problem is, most people who partake in crap at McDonald's and Carl's Jr. do so because the food is cheap and quick. Nutritional value is usually a distant afterthought. So simply introducing "better" options might make some different franchisees richer, but prolly won't solve the obesity crisis either. After all, McDonald's already has a boatload of affordable and "healthy" choices (salads, fruit, grilled chicken) itself.

The City Council seems to either be completely ignorant to, or simply sidestepping the real issue here: culture. From the cradle to the premature grave, African American culture is steeped in largely destructive habits. The legacy of "soul food" handed down from slavery still serves as the backdrop for many a family gathering. Black folks in general lead more stress-filled lives and exercise less. Many black communities lack well maintained parks and rec centers. Add this all up, and you're facing an inter generational set of obstacles far bigger and more complex than a simple zoning ordinance.

So, while I respect the Council for trying to do something, I'm looking at them with a side eye. Some murmurs also seem to indicate a concern that this ordinance is little more than the precursor for widespread gentrification. By making the areas more attractive to higher quality establishments, they could also be setting the table for eventually pricing folks out of their homes. Anyone even remotely familiar with the bloated prices of SoCal real estate can't help but wonder about this.

I'm just sayin'.

Nice try, LA. Now try harder.

Question: Do you think the LA City Council's moratorium will result in healthier residents? Is this an underhanded stab at making South LA more attractive for gentrifiers? Is this institutional racism at it's worse or are the city's genuinely good intentions simply misguided?

Council bans new fast-food outlets in South L.A. [LA Times]

[1] Yeah, it's an angioplasty just begging to happen, but what's a trip to LA without some chicken and waffles?

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