This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors and management of Nation’s Restaurant News.
It should come as news to no one in the restaurant industry that government programs and grants have long been channeled toward goals associated with healthier eating habits and increased physical activity. Many industry players have embraced efforts over the past four years by first lady Michelle Obama to do exactly that through her Let’s Move! campaign. Anti-hunger and physical fitness charities receive copious funding from the foundation arms of many restaurants and food manufacturers.
But beyond these initiatives are flows of money and academic support from the federal government to groups with more radical anti-business agendas. Just up the road from the headquarters of several national restaurant brands — as well as the world’s largest soft drink maker — the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention increasingly is acting as if it were a left-leaning charitable foundation rather than a taxpayer-funded government agency tasked with promoting public health and safety.
Just last fall, CDC funds intended to promote “racial and ethnic approaches to community health” ended up in the hands of Colors New Orleans, a yet-to-open restaurant modeled after troubled Colors outlets in New York and Detroit. Colors is the utopian “worker-owned” restaurant concept developed by Restaurant Opportunities Center, or ROC. Colors New York has a checkered history with both its worker-owners, who filed suit for back wages, and the city’s health department. Seems an odd investment of government dollars, but who are we to judge?
Another notable foray by the CDC into the restaurant business has come in the form of innocuous-sounding “health impact assessments.” The CDC defines an HIA as “a process that helps evaluate the potential health effects of a plan, project or policy before it is built or implemented.”
The “project” aspect is what has allowed activists in cities as diverse as San Francisco and Houston to use HIAs as the latest weapon to stop restaurant and retail development. HIAs currently are being employed to guide comprehensive planning toward “healthy environments,” e.g., eliminating “food deserts.”
Once characterized as urban areas without ready access to standard grocery items and fresh produce, the food desert concept has been co-opted by unions and public health activists to prevent the expansion of nonunion grocery stores and fast-food outlets. An HIA may filter out a quick-service Tex-Mex chain in favor of a locally owned vegan bakery or cause an organic supermarket to be built instead of a nonunion regional grocery chain. And the arbitrary standards used to determine the presence of food deserts have broadened to the point that the posh Los Angeles enclave of Brentwood and farm towns across the Midwest are now considered areas of concern.
Ingeniously, HIAs are presented as locally grown movements to protect communities, when in fact many of the same forces behind paid sick leave and living wage efforts — national unions and liberal think tanks — are funding and organizing them. Left-leaning foundations and progressive colleges have long funded the goals of public-health and anti-business activists. And these instances are certainly not the first examples of the government betting against business. But those who provide the government its revenue — businesses and individual taxpayers — should note the increasingly egregious actions of the CDC.
Joe Kefauver is managing partner of Parquet Public Affairs, a national issue management, communications, government relations and reputation assurance firm that specializes in service sector industries. Parquet’s clients include Fortune 500 corporations, trade associations, regional businesses and nonprofit organizations. For more information visit www.ParquetPA.com .