Big Government Joins Battle Against ‘Food Apartheid’

Mary Katherine Ham, Examiner, July 14, 2008

Seriously, this is a term, now.

Citing alarming rates of childhood obesity and a poverty of healthful eating choices, a city councilwoman is pushing for a moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in South-Central Los Angeles. . . .

The proposed ordinance, which takes a page from boutique communities that turn up their noses at franchises, is supported by nutritionists, frustrated residents and community activists who call restrictive zoning an appropriate response to “food apartheid.”

Anyone want to launch a campaign to get this issue into the DNC platform? I bet we could manage it. “How can we, as a country, hope for a post-racial society when we cannot even promise the least among us post-racial potato products??? How can we integrate hope and change into our everyday lives when we segregate our health foods?”

A Los Angeles councilwoman starts by alleging that there are no food options other than fast food in South-Central Los Angeles, and goes on to allege that she is therefore forced to use government ordinances to expand choice by prohibiting an entire segment of restaurants from moving in—fast-food. The logic is lost on me, too.

As is the case with most justifications for heavy-handed nanny-statery, however, the councilwoman’s claims aren’t actually true:

(Jan) Perry quoted research showing that although 16 percent of restaurants in prosperous West L.A. serve fast food, they account for 45 percent in South L.A. Experts see an obvious link to a health department study that found that 29 percent of South-Central children are obese, compared with 23 percent county-wide.

So, a majority of South L.A. restaurants—55 percent—serve the non-fast-food options that the councilwoman claims her constituents don’t have.

An executive director of a local community group provides anecdotal evidence in support of “food apartheid,” which is also not actually true:

In fact, a Google Maps search of the neighborhood near her building reveals a Subway Subs and Salads shop about 2 miles from the Community Coalition. There are also several grocery stores (although some are mini-marts) within walking distance.

The Washington Post, not afraid to rely heavily on quotes and anecdotes, offers this observation:

“There’s no choice,” said Jessica Quintana, 15, leaving McDonald’s after a lunch of a fried chicken sandwich, fries and a soda. “It was nasty, but I ate it ’cause I’m hungry.”

There are actually several choices at McDonald’s, on the very menu from which Jessica ordered. There are 14 salads available at most McDonald’s, if you count all the salads prepared with each type of chicken, ranging from about 200-500 calories. Jessica also had the option to replace her fries with mandarin oranges and her soda with milk, but availed herself not. The WaPo also mentions a Taco Bell (9 options on a low-fat menu), KFC (6 salads), Pizza Hut and Quizno’s (5 salads, separate low-cal menu) in the neighborhood.

There are undoubtedly nutrition problems in America’s low-income neighborhoods, but they are largely a reflection of individual choices, not an unfair array of dietary choices that should be remedied by banning fast food. In fact, the fast-food industry’s shift toward healthier options in recent years has yielded a decent array of healthy choices for very low prices, which would simply be eliminated by Perry’s government overreach.

The irony in this situation is that Jan Perry has been on a years-long crusade to make healthy food more expensive for her low-income District 9 constituents:

In 2006, she backed an “ordinance prohibiting any buyer of a grocery store larger than 15,000 square feet from firing any employee in the first 90 days without sufficient ‘cause.’ Even after 90 days, cutbacks would be dictated in order of seniority,” according to an L.A. Times editorial.

Council member Jan Perry told The Times this week that the ordinance is intended to protect the “vulnerable.” Really? How about the vulnerable people in her district who would like a job? Or the slightly less vulnerable people who would like more convenient grocery shopping? After the 1992 riots, activists begged for grocery stores to do business in South L.A. Yet now the council requires giant retailers to survive an “economic impact report” before being allowed to operate in even the most blighted of neighborhoods.

In 2004, she backed an ordinance to keep one of America’s lowest-priced grocers (Wal-Mart) out of the area:

The L.A. ordinance would effectively ban big box retailers from selling groceries within a one-mile radius of “economic assistance areas,” a broadly defined expanse covering communities that have received city, state or federal funds to bolster commerce. Taken together, they could cover 40 percent of the city.

Someone should tell Perry that the last thing the people of District 9 need in their diets is more of her ill-advised laws.

Update: As I was saying . . .

The ripple effects are profound. Grocery prices drop an average of 10 to 15 percent in markets that Wal-Mart has entered, according to analysts cited by the New York Times.

Update: Baldilocks, who lives in the area, suggests a moratorium on shootings might be more effective in improving the public health, thanks Mrs. Perry:

Here’s another point: few non-franchise chi-chi restaurants are going to locate in such areas because they can’t afford the insurance and why should they spend the extra money? Who the heck would want to under such circumstances? I wouldn’t.

All such a ban would do is depress the area further, deprive area kids of jobs and make gang-banging more attractive to some.

But maybe that’s part of the social(ist) agenda of LA. BTW, salad fixings are always available in Ralph’s and Vons. Free choice, folks. Every heard of it?

[Editor’s Note: A brief account of Jan Perry’s complaint can be read here.]

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