By Nicole Hennessy
While more and more people are choosing healthy lifestyles and taking into consideration the consequences of eating at fast-food restaurants – such as childhood obesity and chronic, preventable diseases – well-known chains populate almost every busy street. Most of the time, they are built and run with little to no input from the residents they aim to serve. But sometimes people speak out against them, deciding they’d rather not include them in their communities.
This is what’s happening in Ohio City, where on West 30th Street a proposed McDonald’s has spurred protests and debates. Though far removed from the Westshore area, this somewhat unique situation relates to residents here, in that fast food is something that affects every community, even if individual residents swear off the processed foods offered at the restaurants.
William R. Krause, assistant director of Westlake’s planning and economic development department, can’t remember a time when a fast-food restaurant caused a debate, mainly because all of the city’s chains have been in existence since before he took his position. But he did remember when the Taco Bell caught on fire.
Afterward, he said, residents organized via social media, counting down the days when it would reopen.
Laughing, he admits this is not a typical response.
Krissie Wells, an Ohio City resident who’s been helping to organize the protests, says a lot of people assume “foodies” protecting the area’s trendy, independent character are behind this; but she says residents and city officials of all backgrounds have united to stop the construction. For reasons like increased traffic in an already busy area and proximity to residential properties.
Of course, there are the people who are “pro-business, pro-free-enterprise,” who have taken it upon themselves to protest the protests.
“But you ask them where they live, and they say Westlake or something like that,” Wells said. “They don’t live inside the neighborhood.”
Brenda O’Reilly of the Bay Village Green Team, a group working toward environmental solutions and awareness within the community, said, “Local and healthy food is obviously a key factor to sustainability.”
And while the Green Team hasn’t worked on any projects pertaining to fast food in particular, it does encourage organic, healthy lifestyles, primarily through the community garden it maintains.
Personally, O’Reilly avoids restaurants like McDonald’s. While she realizes eating habits are a matter of personal choice, she said, “The free market hasn’t served us well in a lot of ways.”
While acknowledging that unhealthy foods are often more affordable, she recommended simple choices, such as eating brown rice rather than white, or juice rather than soda.
“I think people in the suburbs absolutely think about” healthy food options, O’Reilly added.
But it is important to consider that suburban residents have a budget that allows them that luxury. Wells also realizes this. She said people may assume cheaper is better in a lower-income neighborhood, or maybe they just see Cleveland as a bad area that doesn’t affect them. But those assumptions are not true.
O’Reilly points to another community garden similar to Bay’s, which is right around the corner from the proposed McDonald’s. She said gardens like that one help not only feed the community, but educate people about nutrition and healthy eating.
She also pointed out that 2012 is the year of local foods per Cleveland’s sustainability efforts. She expressed a desire to speak with schoolchildren about healthy eating in the future, hoping it gets as ingrained in children as the idea of recycling has.
Wells will continue working with the city to figure out what’s best for the community, something she’s grateful to take part of.
Referring to another recently built McDonald’s in Lakewood that caused controversy, she said, “It was a complete travesty, tearing down the Detroit Theatre to build a McDonald’s.” She maintained that “the difference is Lakewood’s government was with McDonald’s, and in Cleveland, Mayor Frank Jackson and a number of government officials are against this, and I think that’s what might stop it.”
Never eating at chains, O’Reilly will continue to eat locally no matter what is built where – and as for the bad eating habits Americans are notorious for, she said, “One of these days, they’re going to wake up and smell the roses.”