What Does the “Failure” of the Ban on Fast-Food Restaurants in South L.A. to Curb Obesity Really Tell Us?
“Yea, everything [is] OK…I hope all is well with you. I’m upset right now & crying because I’m starving. Have no food.”
I stared at the message on my phone. I had just checked in with 19-year-old South L.A. resident Shanique* to see how she was. I had interviewed her earlier in the summer and we had stayed in touch. Her family struggled quite a bit after the loss of her stepfather to a drive-by, the loss of her pre-teen brother to a walk-up (shooting), and being terrorized into silence by her brother’s killers, who lived nearby. Her mother’s disability — incurred years earlier on the job as a postal worker — coupled with a recent cancer diagnosis made it impossible for her to work.
And Shanique’s own promising progress in school had been halted by the trauma of a rape perpetrated against her in her own home at age 14 by the friend of a cousin. When her grades began to drop, instead of being offered extra help and counseling at her high school, she had been asked to leave. She was also shunned by her cousin’s family and friends and intimidated into dropping charges.
She was now struggling her way through a continuation school and working part-time at a grocery store. She was eager to find more work to help support her mother, as her hours were constantly being cut or adjusted, but this was made more difficult by a felony conviction. When Shanique’s best friend had called her on the day before her 18th birthday to ask if she could pick her and another friend up, she neglected to tell Shanique that they had just attempted to break into a home. Although the police could see from the surveillance footage that Shanique had not been anywhere in the vicinity of the incident, she says, the public defender told her flat-out that he was busy with murders and didn’t have time to prepare such a trivial case.
“They could have at least charged me as a juvenile!” she had fumed to me at the time.
Instead, she was stuck with three years’ probation, $5000 in court fees, and a felony strike that would have made it practically impossible for them to qualify for affordable housing when their rent suddenly jumped from $500 to $1600 (when, according to Shanique, the daughter of their landlord decided she wanted access to the property).
The combination of all these things meant that money often ran out well before the end of the month.
But I guess I still hadn’t expected things to be so dire.
Panicked, I immediately dialed her number.
The phone rang.
Finally, she picked up.
Too upset to talk, she hung up almost immediately.
She texted me that she would probably go to the rec center about a mile from her house to see if she could get food from the Summer Night Lights program there — they usually grilled hotdogs for the community. She’d done it before, she said. She’d be OK.
* * *
Shanique came to mind as I read the 7-page study on the failure of the 2008 ban on the opening of new, stand-alone fast food restaurants in South L.A. to curb obesity there and the subsequent myriad stories and think-pieces dedicated to questioning the value of the ban, pointing out that obesity appears to have risen between 2007 and 2011 (from 63% to 75% of the population), decrying the nanny state and paternalism, and wondering what made a ban seem like a good idea in the first place.
Shanique, you see, despite suffering from hunger on a pretty regular basis, is obese.