South LA’s Fast-Food Showdown

South Los Angeles has fewer grocery stores and eating establishments than other parts of the city. It also has a far higher proportion of fast-food places among the eateries that are present. And it also has a 30 percent obesity rate, compared to the 20.9 percent of the county overall. What’s the link, and what’s the solution? Well, that depends upon whom you ask. The Los Angeles Times reports that some on the City Council are hoping to get the law involved, creating a two-year moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in South Los Angeles. The idea would be to attract other, healthier options for local residents.

Right now, a high poverty rate means that residents who would like to eat healthier often can’t drive to another part of town to do so, even if they have the time; they lack cars.

But the moratorium is controversial, to say the least.

Some point out that fast-food restaurants have changed: Grilled food is available in addition to fried, and fresh fruits and vegetable options have become far more prevalent, even as trans fats have been phased out by many major chains.

Others argue that it’s difficult to define what fast food means, and, moreover, that limiting fast-food options amounts to discrimination against poor consumers.

Restricting new restaurants to full-service, sit-down spots is ‘like saying we’re not going to allow anybody to sell Chevrolets anymore because we want people to buy nothing but Mercedes-Benzes,’ [restaurant consultant Dennis] Lombardi said. ‘It’s convoluted logic. If the objective is to get full-service, upscale casual dining restaurants in an area, I think the first step is finding out why they’re not coming in an area, then start addressing those, and start by incentivizing.’

In a nutshell: Restaurants want to be rewarded, not punished. Stop the presses.

The Times writer weighs in at the end of the story with a reasonable opinion: Even if you change the options, that isn’t tantamount to changing eating habits. That’s an entirely different—and much more complicated—ball of wax.