Lindsay Mower – Staff Reporter
In effort to increase health promotion, some towns have adopted drive-thru bans for fast food establishments. In some communities this type of ban has been around as far back as 1982: like San Luis Obispo, a college town located on the central coast of California.
With a population of 47,526, as compared to Farmington’s population of 7,760, San Luis Obispo is characterized by small shops, happy pedestrians and open sidewalks. The community originally adopted the ban in effort to maintain air quality, preserve the town’s character, promote a more pedestrian-oriented community and to reduce the high volume of traffic. A year later, neighboring City of Pismo Beach also banned drive-thrus within their Coastal Zone, followed by Arroyo Grande in 1991 and the City of Paso Robles in 2004.
“A student group galvanized citizens to push through a project that created a cultural and social focus for this city and, in doing so, improved the quality of its government. With more citizen participation, the town’s focus shifted away from optimizing the business environment to maximizing quality of life,” says an excerpt from ‘Thrive: Finding Happiness The Blue Zones Way’ by Dan Buettner, ‘In Lessons From San Luis Obispo’ published on BlueZones.com.
San Luis Obispo can’t keep a McDonald’s establishment in business. How can a college town in California with nearly five times the population of our own college town in Maine be unable to support a single McDonald’s, albeit one lacking a drive-thru, while we successfully support a Burger King, Taco-Bell, KFC and Dunkin Donuts, in addition to a McDonalds, and have various local restaurants in town that offer delivery and take-out options? While San Luis Obispo is a pedestrian-oriented community, Farmington’s drive-thru district is not. The bulk of our drive-thrus are located only in driving distance, making them a common option for busy people passing through who are most likely short on time to prepare a meal for themselves.
With Franklin County being one of the more unhealthy counties in Maine, at first glance it would seem like an obvious solution for Farmington to adopt a ban like this in effort to promote healthy lifestyles among the population.
Community Health Professor Maurice Martin admits he has never considered the implications of a removing the drive-thrus at fast food establishment in the name of health promotion. “I think if Farmington were to adopt the ban there would certainly be a boom to the area small businesses, which when the area small businesses are doing well, the general community health improves: on all levels, not just physical. If this were the case, that would be a huge benefit,” said Martin. “As far as whether or not people would curb their eating of fast foods, yeah, I think so… I can say for myself, if I want fast food it’s the drive-thru. I never go inside, because the idea of fast food is, ‘I’m hungry, right now.’”
Drive-thru ordinances may be inconvenient, especially to communities like Farmington, although their effect on overall population health has quite the silver lining. According to Buettner, as a result of the of the ordinance in San Luis Obispo they “gained a more aesthetically pleasing downtown, with less traffic, less pollution, more gathering places, projected green spaces, a farmer’s market, thriving arts, and an environment where it’s harder to do things that are bad for you (smoke, eat fast food) and easier to do things that are good for you (walk, eat vegetables, recreate in nature, and bike). The result is arguably the healthiest and happiest city in America.” San Luis Obispo has also adopted an Anti-smoking Policy.
Anthony Lewis, UMF English Major with a concentration in Music and Writing, doesn’t see drive-thru bans turning out as successfully in Farmington.“I don’t know if it would solve the problem here, it might help to alleviate the issue at hand, but I don’t even think it will happen,” says Lewis. “The government moves very slowly, everybody loves a good drive-thru and companies like McDonald’s make tons of money on them, so they will never want to give them up.”
The manager at the Farmington McDonald’s establishment was contacted but declined to be interviewed by the Farmington Flyer.
Martin suggests that, for health purposes, it may be a good idea for Farmington to put into effect a moratorium on drive-thrus, meaning no more can be added to the community than what already exist. “I don’t think that you are going to see the fast food establishments agree to a ban, nor do I think that the general population would agree that they should eliminate drive-thrus. Even though I would agree, they are here, and to roll back the clock is difficult.”