Battle of the Bulge in South L.A.

Public Affairs Consultant specializing in Issue Advocacy and Strategic Communications

Despite working next door to Burger King and being tempted daily with the smell of charbroiled burgers, I only eat there about twice a year. I have a soft spot for Taco Bell, but I hardly ever go there either—unless there are no other options, and I’m desperately in a hurry and hungry. I was raised not to eat fast food, so I normally avoid it.

But a renewed effort at L.A. City Hall to permanently ban any more fast food outlets into South L.A. strikes me to be about as effective as banning chocolate or beer. Neither is particularly good for you when consumed in mass quantities, but many of us will find a way to buy them no matter how expensive or readily available they are.

The effort is being made in the name of fighting obesity, a noble cause. However, I think it is more effective when parents show their kids healthy foods to eat, how to prepare them, and where to buy them. It’s also on the heals of other proposals to ban trans-fats in L.A., but not lard.

Part of the obesity challenge certainly lies in the fact that nutritious foods are hard to come by in lower income neighborhoods in Los Angeles—not impossible, but hard to come by. Therefore, some of the anti-obesity strategy effort should include attracting more stores that specialize in produce and more farmers’ markets. With Los Angeles’ gross receipts taxes among the highest in the nation, certainly someone can figure out how to offer incentives in business taxes to attract stores that sell more nutritious foods.

Interestingly enough, I don’t think that fast food chains menus are any less nutritious than many of L.A.’s trendy restaurants. In fact, the portions are usually larger at most steakhouses than the supersized meals served at fast food chains—and therefore higher in calories, carbs, sugars and fat. Should we limit those restaurants too?

One reason why fast food restaurants are popular in low-income neighborhoods is because they are affordable and convenient—as are the hundreds of street vendors in such neighborhoods who lack health permits and businesses licenses while selling delectable fatty sausages wrapped in fried bacon. (As I see people eat this stuff, I realize why my health insurance has doubled in the last five years).

For me, I find inspiration in George Harrison’s friendly advice to Eric Clapton in the 1968 lyrics to Savory Truffle: “You know that what you eat you are; But what is sweet now, turns so sour.”

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