If you are in the South, you might know what the phrase “It’s Bo Time” means. If not, I’ll tell you: It means that it’s time to have a huge sickly sweet iced tea and a fake homemade biscuit with a piece of greasy fried chicken on it from Bojangles, a fast food joint that has stayed regional for a reason. But boy do a lot of people love it here in North Carolina. It’s part of the culture.
There’s a new one going up right across from our local high school and it kind of breaks my heart. Less than half a mile from that, there’s a Macdonald’s and a Kentucky Fried Chicken. If you’re a hungry high schooler in a hurry, those will be your easiest bets. And unfortunately, the cafeteria’s no refuge: they’re served fast-foody grub there too.
Yes, I know nobody’s forcing the kids to eat any of this stuff. But anyone that has a teenager knows that most of them are not exactly proactive about getting up 15 minutes early to pack themselves a nice healthy lunch. And parents are busy. A community that supports the health of its citizens is about making the healthier choice the easiest choice. And for the kids going to Northwood High School in Pittsboro, North Carolina, it is most definitely not.
Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that fast food proximity to schools is associated with increased fast food consumption and obesity rates among adolescents: you can read a quick synopsis of the evidence and find the citations here:
The vacant land across from the high school was a missed opportunity for our town to support a culture of health. Could we have encouraged a healthier food outlet to come in, using zoning or tax incentives, or special financing, or other tools in the policymaker’s toolbox? Could we have been brave like Arden Hills, Minnesota or Detroit and prohibited fast food outlets from locating close to schools?
Technically, we probably could have. Here’s an informative analysis on the legality of zoning laws to limit fast food in North Carolina.
In reality any lawmaker trying to enact this kind of policy will face a “nanny state” argument. They absolutely must have citizen support and a LOT of it. If you prioritize living a healthy lifestyle yourself and want your city or town to help support that value, let your policy makers know. If we all did this, our cities and towns might look different. They still can. There are lots of ways towns and cities and counties can support healthy living. Here’s an excellent guide from the experts in King County, Washington, one of the places in the US that’s been most successful in incorporating health into their planning process.
And then there are the much smaller battles. I was recently called a “health nut” for asking that Bojangles not be served at a local 5k I was helping to organize. The race was to benefit an organization called Active Chatham. The whole event was essentially about promoting community health, getting people out to walk or run and then using the proceeds to support parks in the community. Bojangles jumped right in to sponsor our event, and offered free food. We ended up with the food in the volunteer room, but not in the public areas. A small victory.
Bojangles is part of the culture here. People want it. It’s familiar, cheap and quite possibly, addictive. But cultures can and do evolve. They evolve because slowly, over time, values change, and people are vocal about wanting the places they live to reflect those changed values. The legalization of same sex marriage is a good example of this. As with all “progressive” issues, North Carolina is lagging in the back of the pack right now. But we will keep fighting for it here, and change will come, eventually.
When the 5K was over, I was walking back to my car when a couple of ladies, still sweaty from running, stopped me. “Excuse me, “ one of the ladies asked, “but can you tell us where to find the nearest Bojangles?”
Sigh. Health nuts, unite.