LA City Council Thinks Poor People Are Too Dumb to Make Food Choices
Better hold on to your burger: The nanny state is coming to rip that Whopper outta your hands. Begone, fatty fries! Chase away that chicken sandwich that, well, happens to be skinless and grilled, but could have a smear of mayonnaise on the bun. After all, there's a chance that consumers may be too dumb to hold that mayo, or to sub a side salad for the salty fries.
But even if you think that a government has a right to regulate healthy choices for its citizens, this might vanilla-shake you right out of that nanny state mentality.
Here in Los Angeles, the City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee pushed forward a proposal by Councilwoman Jan Perry to ban new fast-food restaurants. Not on the tony Westside, mind you, or even the solidly middle-class Valley.
No, the bureaucratic schoolmarms that be are just targeting South Los Angeles with the ordinance.
Because the nanny state says poor people are evidently too dumb to pick food for themselves.
"We have a serious problem in my district with fast-food restaurants and the increasing level of obesity and diabetes," Perry told the committee last week.
Never mind that the obesity could have something to do with the fact that it's not safe for kids to run and play in gang-choked streets. It's also a fact that low-income families can hardly feed the kids off the Whole Foods market deli and still be able to pay the rent. Fast-food joints, in addition to offering more healthy choices than ever before, also have these
things called dollar menus that have helped fill the tummies of college students and the homeless alike.
So are they saying that springing for the steak, potato, cheesy toast and all-you-can-eat salad bar at the Sizzler is healthier than the roasted chicken at KFC? Of course, the next step would be to go through salad bars and ban creamy dressings, cheese and bacon crumbles, because those poor people tempted to slop on the thousand island need a slap across the knuckles with a legislative ruler!
It's this nanny mentality with lower-income regions that keeps residents under the thumb of the government. When government tells people enough times that they know best how to run their lives, the reliance can become as addictive as a frothy fountain of Diet Coke. (Diet, yes, but who can tell if the council won't come after south Angelenos for consuming too much caffeine or useless additives?)
To see that L.A. is considering an ordinance that selectively targets one neighborhood and its demographic to take away food options -- under a vague guise of thereby offering more options from businesses that, um, aren't there yet -- is highly insulting to the region's residents (and to this Inglewood native).
Especially considering what South Los Angeles really needs: self-sustenance.
After the Rodney King riots tore apart much of South Los Angeles, former Lakers star Magic Johnson saw opportunities for residents to become franchise owners, to run businesses and build neighborhoods that would really pay off in the long run.
In 1998, Johnson entered into the first franchise partnership with Starbucks, known as Urban Coffee Opportunities. His Johnson Development Corporation had opened a cineplex that now employs 300 young people in Crenshaw three years earlier, showing that if business gave the inner city a chance the region would respond in kind.
Magic's corporation has also partnered with TGI Friday's in developing urban retail and dining hubs, and partnered with Washington Mutual to expand urban home ownership with a program geared toward local loans and education about everything from banking basics to buying a house. He's spread the same vision to other neglected urban areas crushed under the nanny state.
Of course, the council could next decide that the buttery topping on the popcorn at Magic's theater makes minorities fat, that the Cinnabon cheesecake at Friday's doesn't do the community any favors, that the frapalattetinos at his Starbucks franchises contribute to obesity. Where will it end?
The key to helping lower-income neighborhoods is not limiting development, or telling time- and cash-strapped families that they shouldn't or can't buy fast, affordable meals. If you take out the take-out, will higher-end, sit-down restaurants really move in to take their place? Will the Grand Slam really contribute to public wellness better than the Breakfast Jack?
Want to improve the health of your community? Don't kill business opportunities. Leave it to private enterprise instead of government regulation. Let the residents become self-reliant instead of relying on government to determine what's best for the community.
And then, the nanny state becomes leaner and weaker, while the community feasts on the fruits of its labor.
Chew on that, City Council.
Bridget Johnson is a columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News.