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CHOICE IS NOT ON THE MENU
Submitted by KAT on Wed, 09/12/2007 - 2:28pm.
On the West coast, we have legislators looking to ban new fast food outlets in a neighborhood where junk food is often the only option. On the East coast, a federal judge just struck down a law that required fast food restaurants to include calorie counts on their menus.
But neither of these efforts to discourage junk food consumption would solve the problem of what people are supposed to eat, instead. Are we also going to pass laws requiring that for every KFC, there has to be a Jamba Juice? Are city agencies going to give grants to mom-and-pop health food shops or crunchy granola cafes that would bring healthier choices to underserved communities?
Residents of South L.A. have the highest concentration of fast food joints in the city, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times, and far fewer grocery stores than other L.A. neighborhoods. Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents South L.A. and proposed the two-year moratorium on new fast food outlets, told the Times, “"The people don't want them, but when they don't have any other options, they may gravitate to what's there."
Not surprisingly, South L.A. has the highest rate of diabetes in the county, and obesity levels are greater, too. Residents have become addicted to the cheapness and convenience of junk food in a community where you need a car to drive to other neighborhoods if you’re looking for more wholesome options.
And that’s a missed opportunity for entrepreneurs as well as folks seeking healthier foods. According to the Times, a 2005 market study found that South L.A. “loses more than $400 million annually in general merchandise, grocery and restaurant sales to outside areas.”
So, evidently, there’s the potential for a win-win situation here, whereby businesses could grow their own bottom lines while helping folks fight their ever-expanding waistlines. If it takes an ordinance against fast food joints to get this better-food-chain-train in motion, then so be it.
Of course, the restaurant industry in L.A. objects to this proposal as strenuously as the New York restaurateurs opposed the requirement to post calories. And let’s not forget the Big Food-financed, oxymoronic Center for Consumer Freedom, which is always happy to fight for Your Right Not to Know. From the Chicago Tribune:
Yes, and they’re even more concerned that when you provide consumers with more facts about the foods they’re about to choose, they start to make healthier choices, as the success of New England supermarket chain Hannaford’s “Guiding Stars” program proves.
The FDA, recognizing the need for better consumer information, held a preliminary hearing on Monday to consider whether it should establish some kind of national ratings system that would simplify choices for consumers. As it stands now, food manufacturers in the U.S. and abroad are devising their own standards, which are inconsistent and may leave shoppers befuddled.
That’s why Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is hoping to push legislation that would require the FDA to establish a single system. Harkin released a statement that read, in part:
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has also filed a petition asking for a national front-label symbol system. Referring to Britain’s “traffic light” system, which ranks foods by their fat, salt, and sugar content and gives them green, yellow or red lights, CSPI’s executive director, Michael Jacobson, said:
The anti-regulation “Nanny state” naysayers insist that it’s unfair to force food manufacturers to provide consumers with so much guidance. After all, isn’t it pretty obvious that some foods are healthier than others?
Well, actually, no, sometimes it’s not. Brian Lehrer, who hosts a call-in show on WNYC, our local NPR station, did a segment on this subject today with Marion Nestle and Diane Brady, who writes for Business Week, and a woman called in to tell the story of how virtuous she felt about her menu choice till she read the fine print:
Another caller said she always reads the labels when she shops:
This is the challenge we face today, in a nutshell; how do we get people to literally stop drinking the KoolAid, even if it’s sweetened with organic high fructose corn syrup?
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