Sunday, September 24, 2006

Fuzzy Logic in the Fast Food Fight

Today's New York Times has an article about an initiative to use zoning laws to decrease the number of fast food restaurants in New York City. The article summarizes various efforts in California and elsewhere that have already done so. Pros and Cons of a Zoning Diet: Fighting Obesity by Limiting Fast-Food Restaurants (September 24). Here is a summary of reasons that some zoners give for their prohibition or limitation: "fast food ... establishments create traffic and pollution problems, contribute to truancy, tarnish the aesthetics of the area or drive mom-and-pop restaurants out of business."

WAIT A MINUTE, I SAY -- Mom and pop restaurants aren't an automatic improvement over fast food! Small diners may be trendy but what's the evidence that they are less likely to be frequented by truant children, to have better quality or lower calorie food, or that they are aesthetically pleasing?

I don't like fast food restaurants for the same reasons: quality, lack of low-calorie choices, unattractive surroundings. But I know of LOTS of mom-and-pop restaurants that are worse on all counts -- even potential to create traffic and pollution. When I'm on the road, I pick a fast food chain over an unknown mom-and-pop because I know what I will get.

Why don't the city planners put the real goals directly into the law and judge each place for its quality and so on, fast food or not?

By the way, the article cited a model town that outlawed fast food: Calistoga, a tourist town in the Napa Valley in California where discerning tourists seek the height of food and wine experience. The goal is to improve low-income neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Whatever.

UPDATE: When fattening food is outlawed, will only outlaws be fat?

First, another ban proposed: "The New York City Board of Health voted unanimously yesterday to move forward with plans to prohibit the city’s 20,000 restaurants from serving food that contains more than a minute amount of artificial trans fats." New York City Plans Limits on Restaurants’ Use of Trans Fats, September 27.

AND from the LA Times, a whole article on banning food in classrooms. The article begins: "The days of the birthday cupcake — smothered in a slurry of sticky frosting and with a dash of rainbow sprinkles — may be numbered in schoolhouses across the nation. Fears of childhood obesity have led schools to discourage and sometimes even ban what were once de rigueur grammar-school treats." Some schools have children bring a favorite book to read instead. Some just limit the number of parties with food. Some have specific prohibitions, so kids have to eat carrots. See Sorry, Cupcake, No Class For You by Seema Mehta, September 27.

October 21 -- more bizarre food ban: "THE US has banned Vegemite, even to the point of searching Australians for jars of the spread when they enter the country." See this story from an Australian news website. The reason for the ban: FDA allows folic acid only to enrich bread, not spreads. (Huh?)

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