Taking Back Burger King
By Lee West
Big news in the world of food this week: First, a new study has shown that high school students whose schools are within a block of a fast-food joint are more likely to be obese than students whose schools are more than a quarter mile away. The study of over a million schoolchildren establishes the clearest causal link yet between fast food and obesity.
Kelly Brownell, of Yale’s very own Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, suggested one interesting policy implication that these findings could have. “Zoning laws that prohibit fast-food restaurants near schools are absolutely indicated,” he said.
These sort of laws already exist for alcohol in many places, including here in New Haven, where package stores aren’t allowed within 1,000 feet of a school. What if we did the same thing for fast food? The health effects of fast food are now, thanks to this study, arguably as bad as those of alcohol.
It’s not so implausible.
But what would we do with all those Burger Kings right outside school?
This brings me to the second big piece of news this week: the Senate’s passage, last Thursday, of a bill to expand national community service programsThe bill would more than triple the number of positions in national community service programs, from 75,000 to 250,000, and would make positions available to retirees as well.
An abundance of volunteers and a sudden proliferation of vacant spaces near schools. What will we do in this brave new world? Why, start a community garden, of course! Imagine your local Burger King, opened to the air, vegetables sprouting inside and out, converted in a matter of weeks to a community garden. Potatoes in the playplace. Beets in the ball bin. Grapevines gradually obscure the letters on the Burger King sign, turning it into a makeshift trellace.
Grease becomes a distant memory, its odor covered long ago by the mingling aromas of mescaline greens and arugala. The garden is tended by volunteers, young and old working side by side — food bringing people together! High schoolers stop by during their lunch break to pick up a bag of fresh spinach. A paradise, really, facilitated by benevolent legislation but built by the eager hands of men and women, young and old, looking to do something good for their community.
Far off? Perhaps. But maybe not as far as you think.