New York City Councilman Joel Rivera (representing the Bronx) wants to change the zoning laws to restrict the number of fast food restaurants. The Times notes that Calistoga, CA has a similar law on the books banning chain restaurants from its historic downtown, for aesthetic reasons. Mr. Rivera’s reasoning may be aesthetic as well, though he would surely defend it as hygenic: he thinks New Yorkers are too fat. He’s probably right about that, but his proposed solution seems of dubious utility, in addition to being a gratuitous restriction of his constituents’ right to do what they please. And now let’s hear one of the least compelling defenses of the nanny state ever offered by a well-intentioned politician:
“We have 8 million people, and 8 million people should have options,” said Mr. Rivera, 27, who at age 22 became the youngest elected official in city history. “Right now, there’s a lack of options in a lot of communities.”
So, by restricting their options, we’ll deal with that pesky lack of options that—what now? All right, it’s easy to laugh at this, but…but…hmm, my powers of higher Broderism are fading in and out. (I hope John didn’t bring that damn red kryptonite paperweight home again, because it puts a real cramp in my otherwise nigh-invincible Silver Age blogging powers.) No, here we are, an actual question: are restaurants that offer healthy alternatives undercut pricewise by fast food restaurants, in reality? (I am setting aside the question of whether it’s a good idea to force poor people to pay more for food; the answer is “no”, by the way.) I could imagine that they are, as the economies of scale available to McDonald’s enable them to offer food very cheaply. Additionally, fresh vegetables are perishable in a way that the fixings of a Big Mac are not.
The most obvious response to this type of dietary do-goodery is to say that people just don’t want to buy these purported healthy alternatives, because if they did, there’d be somebody selling them to them already. The fact that mom-and-pop restaurants in many poor neighborhoods run overwhelmingly to the “Chinese food, wings and pizza” type confirms this notion. The only reason I have any sympathy at all for the impulse behind this (obviously stupid and illiberal) idea is that people in poor neighborhoods are subjected to paying more money for worse produce than people in richer ones. Crappy supermarkets with sad carrots and iceberg lettuce, or expensive bodegas with limited selection: these are not good choices, and do seem like a market failure. To this end, the attempt to move farmer’s markets into poorer neighborhoods seems good, as does the idea that opposition to big grocery stores in urban neighborhoods should be dropped.
It isn’t healthy to eat fast food all the time, but it’s not the government’s job to tell people what to eat. Them’s the breaks. Also, America, those jeans make you look fat.