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Barricading the Drive-Thru


Unhappy with Happy Meals, Los Angeles City Council tells citizens what they can, can't eat.

Government at various levels already says buckle your seatbelt, don't smoke and be sure to recycle, so it shouldn't be any surprise that the Los Angeles City Council is preparing to tell people to eat their peas.

Council members, concerned about the proliferation of fast food restaurants in a low-income area of South Los Angeles, are considering an area ban on additional fast food joints such as McDonalds (MCD), Burger King (BKC) and Wendy's (WEN).

Libertarians and other cranks might ask: Is this a legitimate role for government and, by the way, where's the legal authority for such action?

So far, government's answer is: Never mind - we know what's best for you. Hush, now.

The Los Angeles City Council says fast food restaurants lead to obesity and seeks to encourage sit-down eateries that serve salads and other healthy food to set up shop in the area. But how likely is it that Darden Restaurants (DRI) would open a moderately expensive Olive Garden in a low income area - especially when the eatey's Italian-themed menu offers ample opportunity to be naughty with pasta while skipping the vegetables?

What would the City Council say about Chipotle (CMG)? You can eat smart with chicken, vegetables, rice and salsa or, if you're feeling wicked, you can gunk up your meal with guacamole and sour cream. Perhaps the answer is a city monitor, tape measure in hand, stationed at each restaurant to quickly assess the girth of each customer and say yay or nay to piling on the guac.

Cynics would say the monitors could be unionized and become a reliable voting block for council members seeking life-time tenure in city government, but you know cynics.

Few would argue that fast food restaurants serve health food. But some states require restaurants to post the nutritional value of meals in plain sight, including calories, grams of fat and salt content. Isn't providing the information needed to make an informed decision enough? Don't citizens make their own decisions in a free society?

Probably not. Some bright, concerned member of the City Council is bound to ask: What if people make the wrong decision?

Fast food restaurants provide jobs and appear to be the only industry that wants to be in the low-income area of Los Angeles. How does limiting employment, especially for young people who are learning how to balance outside responsibilities with school, benefit low-income residents?

Don't ask. The all-knowing City Council probably has a ten-point program for that, too.

Those same philosopher kings also appear ready to take on the weighty problem of plastic shopping bags. A ban appears likely, which is sure to upset environmentalists because someone has to cut down trees to make eco-friendly paper bags. Anyone who takes out the trash will be certain to curse the council, because paper bags get soggy and the bottom falls out. Perhaps this unfortunate circumstance requires community classes teaching folks how to mop the kitchen floor - and be happy about it.

The possibilities for "good for you" government intervention are endless. There's always chatter somewhere about banning cigarettes and other merchants of coffin nails, never mind the legality of tobacco products or the unhappy experience with Prohibition in the 1920s.

But maybe it's simpler than that. If you're a Los Angeles City Council member, why worry about inadequate public transportation, building in canyons prone to wildfires and mudslides or even potholes when you can preen and bellow about fast food?
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