In one of the rare instances that politicians actually agreed on something, the Los Angeles City Council
unanimously passed a year long moratorium on new fast food restaurants in South L.A. The measure, which now needs only the Mayor's signature to become law, is intended to combat obesity in a particularly destitute area of the city by luring in establishments that may offer healthier alternatives.
For the purposes of this law, fast food is considered any restaurant chain with a pre-set menu of pre-prepared items that does not offer table service. That means Subway
is still in while McDonald’s
is out. One consultant likened the ban to “not allowing anyone to sell Chevys because we want everyone to drive Mercedes.”
This may seem like a bold move but there are some bold statistics behind it. Nearly 30% of the population of South Los Angeles are overweight. Of their neighbors on the West Side--and this is possibly skewed by Beverly Hills’ image conscious celebrities--only 14% are obese. The 500,000 or so Angelenos who occupy the 32 square miles affected by the ban already have more than 400 fast food restaurants, but few grocery stores. Many in the neighborhood don’t have cars and feel their choices are limited to what is available in walking distance--given the obesity rates, that’s not a very wide radius. Others have become hooked on the low prices, eating off “value menus” sometimes 2 or 3 times a day.
While everyone can agree that there are problems that need addressing here, not everyone is so sure that this is the right way to go about it. The California Restaurant Association
is weighing (no pun intended) its legal options. CKE Restaurants
(who own Carl’s Jr. and Hardy’s) suggest the problem lies with what customers are eating, not where. Other industry reps are quick to point out that they have made an effort to present healthier options on their menus, offering fruit instead of fries, yogurt in lieu of ice cream and bottled water as a substitute for soda.
The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
at Yale states that even in areas where cost is a factor, diets will improve where there are healthy alternatives. Residents seem to back up this notion, saying they would welcome an influx of more wholesome eateries. Many interviewed outside fast food establishments lamented that much of the time they feel they have no choice but to settle for McMeals that while cheap an convenient are bad for them.
Even the city council admits this ban is not a long term solution. The moratorium can be renewed for a maximum of one more year. The hope is that in that time residents will embrace the healthier establishments they hope will materialize, and that the number of fast food joints will shrink along with some waistlines.