The L.A. City Council, a city council I refuse to take seriously until it grows a spine and bans metal bats, has an idea:
"Fast food is primarily the only option for those who live and work here," says City Councilwoman Jan Perry. "It's become a public-health issue that residents be given healthier choices."
Sounds great! How do we provide people in South L.A. with more choice, Councilwoman Jan Perry?
She has introduced a two-year moratorium on new fast-food outlets in this part of the city, where small, single-family homes dominate and gangs thrive in a rough urban landscape.
Now, I'm not sure what the best response to a burgeoning obesity problem might be. But when you've got a serious health problem that correlates strongly with poverty, I would guess locking out businesses known for providing entry-level jobs is not particularly helpful. Is the assumption that a bunch of Trader Joe's and Bikram yoga studios are going to swoop in and take over? Barry Glassner weighs in (italics mine):
"We should always be very cautious about restricting food and dining options for other groups of people," says Barry Glassner, professor of sociology at the University of Southern California and author of "The Gospel of Food: Everything You Think You Know About Food Is Wrong."
He and others cite several benefits fast-food restaurants offer to those living in poorer neighborhoods: good, inexpensive food; a safe environment for kids; and fast preparation, which is particularly appealing to single parents, many of whom work more than one job.
"If a particular community wants to kick out certain kinds of food, that is one thing. For outsiders to do it is patronizing and demeaning," says Dr. Glassner. "Calling all fast food evil is just too simplistic."
Still, others hold more moderate views.
Yeah, that's crazy, Barry Glassner! He must be on some high-fructose-corn-syrup-induced high. Let's hear from that "moderate":
Kathleen Hall of the Stress Institute of Atlanta agrees that healthier eating contributes to a longer, more satisfying life. Besides food zoning, efforts must include educating youths about food, countering media influences, and promoting the importance of families eating together in quiet environments, she says.
So, for those keeping score on the food zoning debate as relayed by the Christian Science Monitor: Skepticism about fast food zoning = pro-fatty fringe. Support for zoning plus a comprehensive education program = happy medium.
The svelte Jacob Sullum reviews Glassner's latest book here.