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Taco Truck, The Roaming Buffalo, The Whole Hog and others are serving food at local events and across the city but outdated or non-existent regulations/permitting issues cause difficulties for Mobile food vendors here and in other cities.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

1 comment:

  1. We've been following the Buffalo mobile food scene, and have great hope the politicians get out of the way to let the trucks keep rolling.