Add “Supersizing Urban America” (by Chin Jou, currently a professor of American history at the University of Sydney) to your reading list this Summer. The book connects the dots between fast food, race politics, economic policy, and urban economies.
This NPR article provides some highlights:
* “Jou’s book chronicles how policies put in place by the federal government actually made it easier for minorities to open fast-food franchises in their neighborhoods than grocery stores. Today the landscape of urban America reflects this history. There’s a fast-food restaurant within walking distance in many low-income neighborhoods, but nary a green leafy vegetable in sight.”
* “African-American consumption of fast food today is not a function of any longstanding preferences for fast food,” Jou told NPR in an interview. She says that it’s a consequence of “targeted relentless marketing,” as well as historic developments like the Small Business Administration loan program and high unemployment rates among African-Americans.”
* “In the late 1960s, the unemployment rate for African-Americans was 5 percent higher than for whites. Jou writes that in 1969, there were 22 million African-Americans in the United States, yet they owned just 163,000 businesses, or 2.2 percent of all businesses in America. Many banks refused to give loans to aspiring black entrepreneurs (an issue that continues today).
* “To rectify the situation, the federal government began pushing the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide Equal Opportunity Loans (EOL) to minority entrepreneurs. In roughly a decade, Jou writes, the EOL program “disbursed about $25 million in 1,560 individual loans to entrepreneurs opening franchises.” Many of these new businesses were fast-food franchises.”
* “Fast-food companies, which had saturated their original markets of roadside stops and suburbs, needed expansion in order to grow profits. Reaching out to potential African-American franchisees was their roadmap to success. In fact, fast-food companies couldn’t open restaurants in many urban areas without them.”
* “But why were fast-food franchisees so frequently the recipients of these SBA loans, rather than grocery stores or independent restaurants? One is that profit margins for fast-food can be as high as 6 percent, compared with 1 percent for grocery stores, as Jou writes.”