Thursday, June 23, 2011

Viva the Street Food Revolution!

Ummm...street’s fast, affordable, convenient and desirable. Whose mouth doesn’t start watering at the sight of Lloyd’s taco truck as it rolls around the corner at lunch time? Over the last 5 years mobile food vending as really taken off; an explosion of gourmet, off-beat and regional food trucks are roaming cities from NYC to San Francisco. Not just tacos, ice cream and hot dogs any more. Food trucks offer everything from waffles to fancy grill cheese. Local residents (and tourists) follow them on twitter and flock to them wherever they appear. Whole festivals are popping up across the county to celebrate their yumminess. For example, this year Sacramento and Inland Empire celebrate their first annual festivals, while San Francisco’s festival will be three this year. 

Buffalo is not behind the trend. Lloyd’s Taco Truck, The Roaming Buffalo, The Whole Hog and others are serving food at local events and across the city but outdated or non-existent regulations/permitting issues cause difficulties for Mobile food vendors here and in other cities. Buffalo’s common council will address the issue in the coming months and many others have or will pass updated mobile vending regulations/permitting rules. This challenge also presents a unique opportunity to support and increase healthy and sustainable food practices.

Food on the go doesn't have to be a health "no"!
Mobile food offers a great alternative to fast food chains. Typically, unique and made to order, this new breed of food vendors has made street food cool by responding to the demand for tasty and diverse fast food made with fresh (and sometimes organic and local) ingredients . Part of what makes brick and mortar fast food restaurants popular is not the food. Rather, cheap prices and quick drive-through service make it irresistible to people on the go. Mobile food trucks capitalize on the fast pace of city living but offer an entirely different experience. Often sold out of trucks or carts, street food is a wonderful opportunity to showcase unique local and regional foods. Street food also offers a lower risk small business opportunity for food entrepreneurs.

Good Policies Make a Difference
Many city governments are also starting to recognize the potential of food trucks (or carts) to increase access to healthy and culturally preferred foods while providing increasing economic development in underserved neighborhoods. Some cities use city ordinances to incentivize access to produce through mobile vending. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Green Cart program made 1000 permits available to mobile food carts selling uncut/unprocessed produce in underserved neighborhoods. The program also incentivizes green cart ownership with low cost loans and technical assistance to entrepreneurs for the creation of green carts in targeted areas. The City of Chicago has an ordinance that reduces the cost of vendor permits to those who sell produce on their carts. While Mobile Produce Vendors are not new – Buffalo’s Massachusetts Avenue Project has been operating a mobile produce market for years –what is new, is that city governments are starting to recognize the health, equity and economic development opportunities that mobile food presents.

Even when city ordinances aren’t in place, other city agencies have used agency specific policies and/or request for proposal selection processes to restrict the type of foods that can be sold by instituting nutritional and sourcing guidelines. For example, the City of San Francisco Department of Parks and Recreation favors permits for food vendors that source local, sustainable and minimally processed foods in city parks and Kansas City’s Departments of Parks and Recreation favors vendors who adhere to specific nutritional guidelines and allow “healthiest” vendors to roam up to 3 city parks with one permit. 

The Mobile Food Movement is here to stay and there is an opportunity not only to grow the local food economy but also to increase access to healthy and culturally preferred foods in underserved neighborhoods. It’s up to cities now to create innovative policies and regulations that facilitate mobile food as well as favor healthy vending, increased access to food and food entrepreneurship.

Moveable Feast: Fresh Produce and the NYC Green Cart Program

Mobile Food Blog
Mass Ave Project Mobile Market
Tester, J. M., Stevens, S. A., Yen, I. H., & Laraia, B. A. (2010). An Analysis of Public Health Policy and Legal Issues Relevant to Mobile Food Vending. American Journal of Public Health, 100(11), 2038. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

WGRZ News Buffalo. (2011)
City Lacks Permit Process for New Food Trucks. Retrieved at

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chicago's mayor wants win over food deserts!

Chicago's Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, wants to get rid of food deserts and he's turning to urban agriculture and food retailers to make it happen. Using planning tools like mapping, local ordinances and economic development incentives, the Mayor hopes to ensure implementation of policies aimed at increasing food access.

Urban Agriculture...
In a progressive move, Mayor Emanuel sees urban agriculture as a part his plan to "win" the battle against food deserts and plans to see food grown in the city sold in the city. He also plans to eliminate burdensome barriers for farmers and develop site guidelines for urban growing.

Mayor Emanuel sees large supermarkets as an important part of the plan to eliminate food deserts. According to the ABC news article he plans to designate certain neighborhoods as food deserts and then provide incentives for the construction of supermarkets in those areas. However, smaller markets are concerned that they may lose business if big chains come into those areas.

Don't forget corner stores...
We applaud the Chicago's commitment to increasing food access for all residents and suggest that they include corner stores in the conversation. Corner stores can be a critical piece in increased food access since they are already located in food deserts and are very accessible to residents without cars. If provided with technical assistance or other incentives, corner Stores could have a positive impact on reducing food deserts and also provide economic development in struggling neighborhoods. HKHC Buffalo facilitates a Healthy Corner Stores Initiative in Buffalo. We are working to bring healthier foods to more people by eliminating policy barriers and partnering with the economic development field to provide loans and incentives to small grocery stores for equipment purchases.

To see how corner stores can have a positive impact check out what other cities across the country are doing as part of the Healthy Corner Stores Initiatives

Philadelphia, PA

New Haven, CT

Washington DC

Providence, RI

Minneapolis, MN

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Check out the 2011 HKHC Annual Meeting presentations...

The Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities Annual Meeting took place on June 1-3. Check out the presentations and see what other sites have going on!

2011 HKHC Annual Meeting Website (click here)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cities battling sweetened beverages...

Here are some recent interesting articles about the challenges and opportunities of policies directed at reducing excess sugar consumption by targeting sweetened beverages...

LA Unified Removes Flavored Milk From Menus - LA Times

City Council souring on Nutter Plan to tax sweet drinks -

The Proposed Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages - Vermont Public Radio
(4 part radio show debating the issue from both sides)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Amazing Videos - Vote today (and everyday until 6/26)!

Two of our partners – Green Options Buffalo and the Massachusetts Avenue Project – have entered videos into the GrowWNY video contest. The prize is a much-needed $10,000. Please vote for our partners at the Facebook pages below. You can vote for two a day – perfect since we have two partners entered!

Please show your support – and share with your friends and colleagues. Get out the vote!

Green Options – Why I ride

MAP – Green Thumb-It’s Catching On: