I’m sure the City Council is sincere about wanting to improve the diets and health of the residents of South Los Angeles. But they also have to know what will come of the proposal to impose a moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in that area of the city: A gig for every major lobbyist in town.
McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Jack-in-the-Box and all their franchisee organizations will all want to strangle this idea in the cradle. They will pay whatever it takes. From a legal standpoint, I don’t know how you distinguish a fast-food chain restaurant from an ordinary restaurant, or what careful balance between unhealthy and healthy menu items would qualify a restaurant for the moratorium, but they will be talking about it at City Hall for months if not years. For the lobbyists, all that talk will be billable.
When was the last time the Council tried to take on so many international corporations at one time? Start looking for a new rush of donations from franchise operators’ associations and restaurant-industry PACs.
Amid worries of an obesity epidemic and its related illnesses, including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, Los Angeles officials, among others around the country, are proposing to limit new fast-food restaurants — a tactic that could be called health zoning.
The City Council will be asked this fall to consider an up to two-year moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in South L.A., a part of the city where fast food is at least as much a practicality as a preference.
“The people don’t want them, but when they don’t have any other options, they may gravitate to what’s there,” said Councilwoman Jan Perry, who proposed the ordinance in June, and whose district includes portions of South L.A. that would be affected by the plan.
In just one-quarter of a mile near USC on Figueroa Street, from Adams Boulevard and south, there are about 20 fast-food outlets.
That particular cluster probably has much more to do with USC kids’ late-night study/beer munchies than with any other part of the neighborhood. They might want to choose another area to make an example of.
“While limiting fast-food restaurants isn’t a solution in itself, it’s an important piece of the puzzle,” said Mark Vallianatos, director of the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College.
This is “bringing health policy and environmental policy together with land-use planning,” he said. “I think that’s smart, and it’s the wave of the future.”
I think he’s right about the future. I’ve noticed lately the increasing link environmentalists are making between food choices and the health of the planet. I know I read recently something to the effect that one cannot consider themselves an environmentalist and still eat meat. Global warming is as much cow- as car-driven.
The dietary paternalism inherent in this proposal — the claim that City officials know what you should eat — hasn’t registered yet. Maybe it never will. Maybe we all see ourselves as the sheer victims of corporations, and believe it is corporations that are limiting our choices, not government. I’d be curious to see the results of an approval poll comparing the Los Angeles City Council with McDonald’s.
Perhaps the council would win. Maybe all the popularity that fast-food brands have paid so dearly for over the past 40 years will now crash around their deep fryers. But they will not go down without a fight, and in Los Angeles, that means writing a lot of checks.