Friday, February 4, 2011

P365 - Day 34 I object (3/2/2011)

Today I lodged an objection with the local council in relation to a planning proposal for a 24 hour fast food restaurant and drive-thru on this site.

The site is near the Woolworths supermarket and across the road from the Willow Court, built in the 19th Century and formerly the site of the Royal Derwent Hospital.

An old cottage formerly on the site was recently demolished, despite objections on the grounds of its history, but the hedge bordering the property has had to be retained. I understand that it has some heritage value.

The proposal to build this restaurant, which is not named, but is believed to be the golden arches, has attracted criticism, support, and criticism of the critics.

The general tone of the objections has been that the restaurant is not in keeping with the surrounding area, which includes heritage-listed buildings, it would severely impact on local family-run food outlets, it would attract more anti-social behaviour into the area, the 24-hour nature of the business is inappropriate for an area right next to a residential area and it will create additional litter, noise and vehicle emissions in the area.  I understand there have also been arguments to the effect that the community doesn’t need more outlets for unhealthy food.

Those in support of the development believe it will create much-needed jobs for local young people who won’t have to travel out of town to find work, that the town desperately needs an economic boost and that if the objectors don’t like the food, they don’t have to go there, but why should they prevent people who do want to eat there from doing so.It is also claimed that the presence of such a restaurant will bring more tourists into the area.

First up, I don’t seriously think people would choose a holiday destination based on the availability of fast food. However, I get the jobs argument. I get the ‘if you don’t like what’s on TV change the channel’ argument.

But still, I find it sad that some people think the only way for a small town to move forward is to bring in a multinational fast food chain that will change the landscape of the town forever, and that we need to jump at the first opportunity that presents itself. I’m sure there must be other ways to boost the economy. I can’t believe this is the only way. What is done cannot be undone, and I hope that the council seriously consider this when deliberating on the issue.

When you lodge an objection to a planning proposal, it has to be on fairly restricted grounds related to the planning scheme. So my objection was fairly basic, covering some of the issues I’ve just mentioned, and mainly to do with the proposed development not being in keeping with the surrounding area, pedestrian safety and increased noise in a residential area. I for one would be really pissed off if any kind of 24/7 business opened up across the road from my house. Except perhaps for a scrapbooking shop ;)

But what I really think about this proposal is not relevant to council planning by-laws, and goes to a much deeper issue, which is not going to be solved by stopping the development of one fast food joint.

What first got me thinking was a book called Chew on This: Everything You Don’t Want To Know About Fast Food by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson 

It goes into a lot of detail about how the fast food industry operates, what’s really in the food, how the industry gets people in the doors again and again and why you can get a whole meal at one of those outlets for less than the price of a burger anywhere else, and what the real ‘price’ of a fast food meal is.

It’s compelling reading and I hope to get hold of a copy of its big brother, Fast Food Nation and see what that has to say as well. While the book talking about the American industry, I doubt it is much different in Australia. It certainly reinforced my resolve not to eat food from large fast food giants.

This resolve has been reinforced the more I read about food in general. In its very simplest form, I’ve come to the view that the best food for good personal health and for the good of the planet is fresh, seasonal, locally grown, organic ‘real’ food. Not ‘food’ that has been made in a laboratory, processed to within an inch of its life, refined, desalinated, de-sugared, de-fatted, coloured, flavoured and preserved, and then shipped hundreds or thousands of kilometres to a supermarket or takeaway place.

It’s an issue that I’ve become very interested in and that I could talk about for a long time. I think it’s a huge issue in terms of public health and the environment and it’s not an issue that gets a lot of mainstream attention.

The book Changing Habits Changing Lives by Cyndi O’Meara also got me interested. Ms O’Meara is a nutritionist with quite a different approach. She argues in part that while our foods are seemingly getting healthier (lo-fat, no sugar, nutritionally balanced, hi- fibre etc), the so-called ‘obesity epidemic’ is getting worse, the incidence of lifestyle diseases, food allergies and intolerances is increasing and the population is generally unhealthier than in past generations.

Ms O’Meara attributes this to the massive influx of highly processed foods and food ingredients into our lifestyle, many of which did not exist 30 or 40 years ago. She says even things that look like the foods people ate in the past actually aren’t the same, because the ingredients have changed. So your cake that used to be made from flour, eggs, butter, milk and cocoa is now made from flour, hydrogenated vegetable oil, egg powder, skim milk powder, flavours, colours, preservatives and a whole raft of chemicals that weren’t even invented back then.

She suggests that our bodies have evolved over thousands of years to eat the whole, raw, real foods that we used to eat and that they cannot cope with the ingredients that are contained in many modern processed foods. The result is disease and obesity. She says we need to focus on what the food actually is, not how many calories it has or how much fat, salt and sugar is in it.

I don’t agree with everything she says, and I haven’t done my own independent research to verify her claims, but it makes sense to me that eating food with a whole load of chemicals in them isn’t good for your health.

Her general rule of thumb when deciding whether or not to eat something is to look at the ingredients on the packet and if there are thing in there that your grandmother would never have heard of (or that you can’t pronounce), don’t eat it.

To link this back to the original topic of the post, of course fast food restaurants aren’t the only places guilty of selling this ‘food’ that isn’t really food. It’s all over the supermarkets as well, and one of the things I’ve been doing is trying to inform myself about the ingredients used in food products, find out which ones are the bad ones (and what they can do) and stay away from them as much as possible.

A book called Additive Alert by Julie Eady is particularly helpful for this in regard to food additives and colours.

Paying attention to what’s in the food I buy has also led me to start thinking about where that food comes from. That opens a whole new side to the story – about buying local produce, growing your own, buying organic, buying in-season, ethical production, humane treatment of animals and so on. In an ideal world, that is what I’d do. Some of that might even find its way into another post one day.

I believe that getting this sort of thing right – getting people to focus back on locally grown, fresh produce through things such as home gardens, community gardens, education on better nutrition and food preparation will become increasingly important as prices for fuel, electricity and food begin to increase, which I think is inevitable. 

I don’t know a lot about climate science and the environment, but I don’t think the way things are now is sustainable in the long term and I believe that we need to start making changes now in order to cope with what the future brings.

All of that adds up to the bigger picture of why I don’t support a new fast food establishment in our town, outside of the reasons I put forward in my objection to the council. Sure, building one more restaurant isn’t going to change the world of itself. It may indeed create more jobs and it may provide some boost to the town’s economy – and I can understand why people would support the development on those grounds.

But I really think we are in for some big changes and some big shocks in the not too distant future, and any little steps that we can take now might add up to make a big difference in how we deal with what’s in front of us.

And before you say you saw me eating pizza last weekend, or shopping in the supermarket rather than at the local fruit and vege market, and say that obviously I don’t practice what I preach, I have to say that while I think this is all really important, I also know that to put absolutely everything in place that I’d like to do all at once would be such an enormous job that it would totally overwhelm me and would set me up for failure. And sometimes the opportunities simply aren’t there. But I hope that the more people stand up and demand those opportunities to be there, the easier this will become.

Not doing everything at once is a key message of the Changing Habits approach. You do one thing at a time, and once you’ve changed one habit, you move onto the next one. And you don’t have to be 100 per cent perfect all of the time. That simply isn’t realistic.

So right now I’m making small changes to my lifestyle so that I can start to live in a way that is more consistent with what I’m starting to realise and believe.

For example, I haven’t visited the golden arches or the colonel for many years and have no intention of doing so. There are certain products I no longer buy and rarely eat. I try to source local produce, but it’s not always easy. I grow some vegetables. I’d like to grow more. Cutting out particular foods and eating more of others has made me feel healthier and given me more energy, which is proof to me that I’m on the right track.

I have a long way to go, and it will be an interesting journey.

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