Los Angeles Doesn't Want You to be Fat

Most people don't think of fat people when they think of Los Angeles. Nope, we think of the latest diet and exercise craze. We think of Baywatchable hot chicks running along the beach in string bikinis. We think of Billy Blanks and his Tae Bo studio and Jackie Warner and her "Work Out" show. Gosh, I totally want Jackie to make me her pet project (for free, of course!)

Anyway, even if you don't think of people who are fat, obese, weight-challenged, pleasingly plump or thick and sexy (whatever you wanna call it) when you think of this LA, we definitely have a weight problem here, particularly in poorer sections of the city. In fact, there's such an obesity problem in South Los Angeles that the city has put a one year moratorium on construction of new fast food restaurants. There are less grocery stores and sit down restaurants in that part of town than in other parts of the city. Trust me, you ain't gonna find a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's down in Watts. However, fast food joints are all the rage.

The lack of easily accessible and affordable healthy food impacts adults, but the effects on children are even more insane. The number of obese kids in schools is off the charts. Most schools don't have regular gym classes and cafeterias churn out a steady diet of cheap fast-food-like school lunches. On top of that, in my first year as a teacher I was a little shocked by the kids who'd bring a bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos and a huge bottle of Mountain Dew to school. They were expecting to get to scarf it down while sitting on a bench at recess. Gosh, they hated me because I made a rule that no junk food could be brought into my classroom or taken outside for recess. I actually had parents roll up, angry. "Why you won't let my baby have his snack at recess? He's hongry!" Yeah, and your baby has man boobs in the third grade. Go buy him some apples and a granola bar.

It's not that kids in wealthier areas of the city don't eat Cheetos and drink sodas by the liter because they do. Its just that they can play outside if they want without worrying about being a victim of violent crime. There's more sports leagues going on, more park space, and their public schools often hold fund raisers to get the money for a gym teacher.

Other than banning the construction of new fast food places, how else is a city supposed to tackle this? Well, I saw another news article last week about how Los Angeles might follow the lead of New York City and require restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus. Supposedly if we see the calorie count on the menu, we're not going to make unhealthy choices.

I really don't know anybody who thinks McDonald's is healthy, regardless of the salads and yogurt. And since there aren't a whole lot of sit down restaurants in poorer areas of the city, this measure must be for all the rest of us who aren't sure how many calories are in that $10 Chinese chicken salad.

Come to think of it, the last place I went out to eat was the Cheesecake Factory. It's not my favorite place because there aren't a whole lot of vegetarian options but I know how to roll along and order a salad with no cheese and dressing on the side because it has been drilled into my head that dressings come loaded with calories and fat. But, do I think Cheesecake Factory is a healthy eating paradise? Um, nope. It has the words "cheese" and "cake" in it. I'm not deluding myself. But, I do think there is definitely a certain population in this city that would never eat there again if they were faced with the reality of how many calories the salad has if you keep the cheese and the dressing.

If folks really are going to be swayed by nutritional information, then no one's ever going to order a slice of cheesecake ever again. I don't need to see the exact calorie count to know that a slice of cheesecake isn't going to do my booty any favors. How could I possibly think it's going to make me healthier or thinner when it has about the same number of grams of fat as a Big Mac? Yes, in case you didn't know, a slice of Berry White cheesecake has 680 calories and 46 grams of fat per serving.

Really, that's not so bad if cheesecake is a once in awhile treat, as in once or twice a year. But we can buy desserts and junk food at every turn, and we do. Will having the calories on the menu help folks make better choices? Would it help you? And is this really going to help the people in the most overweight parts of the city?


Anonymous said…
Los Angelista,
I sure know what you’re saying about the abundance of fast-food places in South Central/Compton. Lots of Carl Jr’s, Taco Bells and Louisiana Fried Chicken places. But if you search around you’ll find something better. There are some decent Taqueria’s and there are the better quality chains on Century, west of Crenshaw a bit (across from the Target), a decent Subway off 103rd just down from Will Rogers park (must be the quality of Jordan Downs, lol), and a local spot here and there (that seem to go out-of-business as fast as they arrive, lol).
Funny thing, the only Denny’s I’ve eaten at is on Wilmington, in the Kenneth Hahn shopping plaza and it wasn’t bad! I will admit I am partial to the Louisiana Fried Chicken place on Central, at about 91st (where the road jogs); Asians running a fried chicken joint in the ‘hood, with those double-door take-out windows, lol, I know where I’m at when I’m there!
But that doesn’t beat the time I stumbled into the Dynasty nightclub, off Manchester by Locust St…

Oh, and glad you are going to run some preliminary/build-up 10K’s and a Half Marathon. I really enjoy the 5K and 10K distances now, because I can be ready for a fairly fast one and race a number of them in a year without all the high-mileage and single-focus of the marathon distance. If a 10K doesn’t go so well (or I got sick or something), hey, in 2 weeks there is another one. But, spend 8 months prepping for a marathon, and the slightest thing goes wrong, well, I’ve had that disappointment… I sure hope your’s goes well. Remember, Train, don’t Strain (and hurt yourself).

1969 said…
New York has already taken this step and put nutritional information on the menus. When I was home and I stepped into a Dunkin Donuts to get a cup of coffee....I was amazed to read the calorie counts of the donuts and WORSE....the muffins. (A choc chip muffin had 550 clories).

I am someone that would make smarter choices if I was confronted with the info.

However, most folks in line just got whatever they normally would have gotten.

I don't think it hurts to make that information available. It will also force the storeowners to add healthier options to their menus.
Sundry said…
Have you seen the McDonalds ads featuring Olympic athletes hawking the chicken breakfast sandwhich? It's absolutly mind numbing to see any of them bite into one of these things, but they are selling the idea that it's healthier, which it isn't.

I say make 'em fess up. It might make them actually change the formulas...er, recipes.
Anonymous said…
Los Angelista,
Oh, one more thing… there is a nice, new ‘Trader Joe’, ‘Whole Foods’ style grocery store in Compton. I can’t remember its name, but it’s on Central, just north of Rosecrans, back behind the Rite-Aid, Starbucks, Panda Express plaza. See, there is stuff there, if you search it out a little…
Anonymous said…
When I lived in Venice, I got this very warped view of what people looked like. D was really "worried" about me. Rather than meet his family in my "stricken" condition, he took me to a Wallmart in the valley. I was stunned - where's the steroid jockies? What do people do in a bikini?? Don't they fall over on their roller skates??

Now, you know what a weirdo I am! :)

Growing up in So. Cal, I never had a bite of fried food until I met D. Not. One. Bite. crossed my lips. I know it's hard for you to imagine why me and his "fry is the only way to cook" don't get along!?

As always a great post.
Anonymous said…
I love you.

Not a little, a lot. My mother taught in Watts for 8 years and she used to come home and cry in her bedroom. Up until after the riots there were NO chain grocery stores there because they said the insurance was too high. I won't bore you with the details but there were economic incentives given to chains who erected stores.

It is completely unacceptable to not feed children well. You wouldn't put water in your car, the thought of putting cans and boxes of pseudo-foods into your children is both abhorrent and abusive. Neglect anyone?

The schools try to make the meals fatty and filling bc the thinking is that it might be the only meal of the day for the kids and they want to sustain them. The unintended consequence is that the kids are trained to enjoy/crave/seek out fatty foods.

It is a terrible situation and I do know one of my old professors has moved to Compton where he's starting a boys academy. Let's hope they're wildly successful and more Phds move back into the community bringing with them a taste for fresh food and a demand for change.
Jen said…
I think this is a good step, although all the old places will still be there.

A better way to emulate NYC (and maybe this is already happening in South LA) are the community gardens that are springing up in the South Bronx and Harlem and elementary schools in challenged neighborhoods, that are getting the kids outdoors and growing AND eating healthy food.

Folks from the neighborhood come into the schools and give cooking classes to kids and parents and show how easy and cheap fresh food can be. And empty lots are bought up by the city and turned into gardens.

It's not everywhere, but it's a start.
Liz Dwyer said…
I can't tell you how much time I spent in that Denny's, especially before the Starbucks down there came! And at the Subway, the Rite Aid and the Food 4 Less in the same plaza. Gosh, that little shopping center used used to be my second home! LOL about the double door take-out windows. I'd never seen that till I came to LA. Oh, I think the new store must be a Fresh & Easy. I've heard mixed reviews of those. But if it's reasonably priced healthy food, I hope it's a success. I should go check it out.

I can't even imagine the calorie counts on some of those donuts. The jelly filled ones must have crazy amounts of sugar and calories! I used to eat muffins from Starbucks... till I went on their website and saw some of the calorie counts. I figured they were up there but I had no idea how bad they were! Yeah, it's a reality check but I think most folks, if they really want one of those muffins or donuts, don't care about the calorie counts.

I've seen a couple of those ads and I've wondered if we're really supposed to believe that those athletes are fueling their gold medal wins on a diet of McDonalds! I do think it could make restaurants change their recipes but on the other hand, everybody can read what's in a bag of cheetos and see how bad it is for you -- but folks still buy them!

My sister told me she thinks I'm so much more conscious of how people look since I've lived here. I'm sure it's true, but goodness, I'm probably saved from being really bad because I've spent more time in other parts of the city than in the Westside. It really is two different worlds.

Aww, thanks for the love and cheers for your mom for teaching! I hope your old professor's academy does good things and ends up being successful. As far as food goes, I've written before about the high price of fruit and vegetables and the low price of boxes of mac-n-cheese. For a family on a tight budget those low prices start to look pretty good. Add to that the non-stop onslaught of junk food on TV and the success of advertisers in convincing all of us that total crap is just a normal American diet and you're depriving your kids if they don't eat that stuff all the time. It's such a shame. Sigh.

I think community gardens are great. There's one being constructed a little bit south of where I live and it's nice to see it happening. I don't know how many are proliferating across the city but I hope more are popping up.
Anonymous said…
Los Angelista,
Did you know the Starbucks there closed?
Liz Dwyer said…
Really? When? Why? I haven't been down there in a few months. I know all the drama with the hospital is really hitting the area hard. Such a shame.

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