The Burger Buck Stops Here

Lots of back-and-forth about the Los Angeles moratorium on new fast-food restaurants. If you’ve missed the scuffle, the New York Times has a good summation of it. Basically, the Los Angeles City Council has decided to ban new fast-food restaurants from opening in certain low-income neighborhoods for one year. More than 45 percent of the 900 restaurants in these neighborhoods, says the Times article, are fast-food chains. And, the city council reasons, that’s led to a rash of obesity and accompanying health problems.

For the purposes of the moratorium, a fast-food restaurant is defined as “any establishment which dispenses food for consumption on or off the premises, and which has the following characteristics: a limited menu, items prepared in advance or prepared or heated quickly, no table orders and food served in disposable wrapping or containers.”

William Saletan in Slate argues that the law treats poor people like children. In a riposte, Slate’s Amaka Maduka writes that “it’s deliberately ignorant to suggest that poorer neighborhoods currently have real choices in what they eat.” But Saletan comes back by noting that the law limits choices, it doesn’t expand them. The New York Times article fears that some healthy food choices might get caught in the law’s squishy verbiage, citing as an example a hot dog vendor who offers pasture-raised meat with fresh grilled onions. And an editorial in the Los Angeles Times says, “The real health problems in South L.A. are the result of long-standing food preferences influenced by culture, pocketbook imperatives and the dearth of supermarkets in the community that offer healthy, affordable produce.”

The idea of fast-food moratoriums seems to be appealing to politicians. Support is growing for a similar bill in New York, and San Jose, California, just formed a committee to study a version of the bill, which might also ban new fast-food places being built within 1,000 feet of schools.

Not surprisingly, the National Restaurant Association opposes such bans.

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