Thursday, April 5, 2012
Why Food Trucks are Antithetical to the Food Movement
Posted by Jill E. Duffy
People love food trucks. And it's not just "foodies." Everyone seems to love them. Except me.
Food trucks sell inexpensive food, which is appealing in a down economy, but because of their business model, they can do it while still experimenting with originality. Food trucks have a start-up company feel. Anyone with a very modest budget can give it a whirl. The investment is very small compared with starting a brick-and-mortar restaurant, which means there's more room for experimentation. Staff requirements are equally small. Depending on the business, you could conceivably have a one-person show. Having two people in the truck is kind of a rarity. Three people seems ideal, from what I've observed. For a food business, that's a tiny staff.
Ultimately, they sell "fast food," or "convenience food," and that's where it starts to get ugly.
Food trucks go where there's demand, and they can change their location at will. They can go wherever people are hungry and willing to pay for a quick bite. In urban areas, and in particular in low socio-economic urban areas, people very often live on convenience food, which is one of the big problems with fast food and what we in New York would call "deli food" or "corner store food." It's convenient and cheap, which is ideal for people on a budget, but it is horrifically unnutritious.
Food trucks often sell fried, high-fat, or high-calorie foods. It's all fried chicken, grilled cheese sandwiches with pork, waffles with chocolate sauce. Sounds pretty good, right? But there just aren't enough options for healthy and nutritious foods that are also convenient. Of all the convenience food makers, I feel like food trucks are the ones in the best position to affect real change. And yet they don't. They almost never embrace the whole local-sustainable movement. There is the rare truck that does, but it's very rare. Even when the food is purportedly healthier, as in vegetarian and vegan trucks (again, rare, but a handful do exist), you'll still find out-of-season vegetables smothered in sauces and oil.
You could argue that there isn't a demand for fresh, local, sustainable convenience food, but again, isn't that the whole problem? We're in a downward spiral of getting people hooked on nutritionally devoid convenience food. The change has to come from the top, not the consumers.
Of course, I don't think all food trucks should sell local-sustainable, healthy fare either. But, I don't think people should be going ga-ga over food trucks as a trend either. Seeing as food trucks are the most start-up like of the restaurant industry (and by "start-up like," I am alluding to the tech industry, where massive innovations come from start-up companies), they are the ones in position to shake up the convenience food scene.
I see people all the time treating food trucks like they are some wonderful new invention that they have to seek out and try. I guess I'm just really loathsome of the fact that people treat food trucks like they are somehow better than hot dog carts and other decades-old mobile food vendors just because the truck people have a "passion" that the working man pulling a weenie out of a tank of sweaty-smelling water seem to lack. Why isn't this passion aligning with other food movements, like getting more nutritious convenience food to people who need it?
I know a lot of people will disagree with me on this topic, and I would really like to hear more sides of the story from you in the comments. Please help me open up this conversation by sharing your thoughts below. Thanks!