Interesting piece on food trucks in the Times. A couple of thoughts.
1. The complaint from restauranteurs about a loss of business when food trucks pull up is mostly absurd. I say mostly because if a food truck is never there and then is suddenly there one day, it probably does take a bite out of your business for that day. However, that they “hurt the community” is ridiculous–cheap, interesting food where people interact on the streets sounds ideal for community building. I guess if we equate “hurting the community” with “hurting business owners pocketbook” that might make some sense. But I certainly don’t think cities need to go out of their way to protect restaurants from food carts.
2. That said, there is clear need for regulation of food trucks. First, the issue of public health is real. They sound all cool now, but there are serious limitations to what standards you can adhere to in a mobile truck. Everyone loves them now, but the first time they lead to a salmonella outbreak, the resulting hipster public health crisis will be real and nasty. Second, they shouldn’t be allowed to pop up literally anywhere. In business owners’ defense, there is a legitimate concern in knowing who your neighbors are and where they are going to be.
3. My personal gripe with food trucks is the exclusive hipster bullshit that comes with them. If good food should be as universal as possible, the whole idea of insider knowledge of where the food truck is going to be on a given day, knowledge only available on Twitter or whatever new technology comes around that limits access to a small group of people is a bad thing. I hated this about Austin–I could find these food carts but I knew that if my parents were around or if I was poor, I could not.
4. To some extent, the same cooler-than-thou attitude extends to the food itself. The difference in food carts between Portland and Austin is palpable. In Portland, the food cart scene is quite diverse but is dominated by ethnic food purveyors. This makes sense given the food stall cultures of Asia and Latin America. This is also somewhat ironic given the extreme whiteness of Portland and of food cart customers. Austin on the other hand did have some pretty good trucks and stalls (I might particularly point out this Honduran cart with a superb baleada), but there was pretty significant cultural segregation going on among them. The Latino carts were in the Latino part of town with a Latino clientele and the hipster carts were in the hipster parts of town with a hipster clientele. And what do the hipster carts sell? A lot of cupcakes. Snocones. Wraps with rock and roll themes. I know I’m being unfairly bitchy here, but as a former Austin-area resident, this drove me up the wall.
All this said, food trucks have an almost universally positive impact on communities. It has allowed entrepreneurs to create cool small businesses with low overhead, sometimes coming up with interesting foods along the way (the Korean taco phenomenon comes to mind). Just about anything that gets people on the streets and creates as much of a walking culture as possible is good.