Burger with FriesSix months ago, South Los Angeles enacted a moratorium on new Fast Food Restaurants in effort to bring healthier choices to the neighborhood’s low-income residents and curb the high rate of obesity there. Councilwoman for L.A.’s 9th District, Jan Perry, spearheaded the action and spoke recently on KCRW’s Good Food about the legislation’s impact at mid-year.

When the moratorium took effect, 73 percent of South Los Angeles restaurants were fast food, compared to 42 percent in West Los Angeles. The measure simply restricts any new development of these restaurants, defined as any stand alone restaurant with “a limited menu, items prepared in advance or prepared or heated quickly, no table orders, and food served in disposable wrapping or containers.” Made to order restaurants without drive through windows such as Subway or Pastigina remain exempt. By limiting fast food to the already established outlets, lawmakers hope to provide a window in which to attract restaurants that serve healthier foods and quality grocery stores. Because the ever-convenient fast food can be offered more cheaply than healthy foods, the moratorium offers alternative purveyors a leg-up on the competition in the hope to bring more variety to the food climate of South L.A.

Emphasizing the ban does not in fact, outlaw fast food, Perry stressed in her radio interview. “It’s not about banning fast food, it never was,” she iterates. “It’s about capitalizing on a window of time to insure that the land we still have left to develop is developed in a strategic manner that speaks to the need for a greater diversity of food choices for the people of the community…To provide the community with some planning and some strategic choices which would lead us closer to you know, full service restaurants and more grocery stores.”

Perry went on to give a progress report and announced plans for a new grocery store going in at the intersection of Adams & Central in her district. The new Tesco outlet, currently under contruction, will be completed within the next year and will be the first grocery store to locate south of the Santa Monica Freeway in several decades.

Additionally, the initiative has garnered attention for neighborhood farmer’s markets. The farmer’s market on Central Avenue at Washington Carver Middle School, though smaller than the popular Santa Monica market, has become a Saturday destination. In addition to vending fresh foods, the market plays host to events for children and adults including healthy cooking demonstrations, tastings, Spring into Health activities and live music. Added to this, they also accept EBT/foodstamps and WIC coupons.

The measure certainly has faced some criticism. Some inside the restaurant industry say the blanket ban seems punitive and could lock out even healthy purveyors of to-go foods, while conservative critics have called it insulting, by implying individuals from the District cannot make their own decisions about what to eat. The residents, however, seem mostly optimistic about the ban, expressing outright their awareness of and discomfort with so many fast food restaurants but too, an unwillingness to travel great distances to seek out more healthful options. They see the move by city officials like Perry as a positive step to improve their community.

Personally, the ban seems well-directed; with an expiration date, it leaves room for error in case McDonald’s overpopulation is not the cause of the neighborhood’s health issues, but makes a good faith effort to limit this dangerous factor in the public health equation. By creating incentives for other businesses to move in, the city has has simply orchestrated a project of urban planning to target a public health issue. Cooperation among city initiaves? Sounds like an interesting idea to me.

Image Credit: ebruli under a Creative Commons License