The national discourse about health and obesity has never been a particularly cordial conversation.
In 2008, it hit a tendentious peak when a ban on new fast-food restaurants in South Los Angeles brought the term "food apartheid" to the table. The ordinance, which was implemented in a part of the city that is both disproportionately poor and obese, came as a response to the idea that there are two different systems for accessing food in Los Angeles, one with more limited options in an economically depressed part of the city that is predominantly black and Latino, and the other with more variety in more affluent neighborhoods.
The pushback was equally charged. "Opening a McDonald's in South-Central L.A. is not government-enforced racial discrimination," William Saletan argued in 2008. "But telling McDonald's it can open franchises only in the white part of town—what do you call that?"
Fast-food outlets have previously been banned for environmental or aesthetic reasons. In Calistoga, California, for example, chains were forbidden in the spirit of preserving the hamlet's small-town charm. But the South Los Angeles ban was unprecedented in that it was the first to connect a policy to the obesity epidemic. The ordinance didn't shutter existing restaurants, but it did block construction of new stand-alone fast-food restaurants in an area with 700,000 residents. (That's a population that, if separated from the rest of Los Angeles, would still make one of the U.S.'s 20 largest cities.) The effort also dovetailed with an initiative to encourage supermarkets and stores with presumably healthier fare to move in.