Political Food Fight Can Be Avoided

By | Calgary Sun

It was a sight to behold.

Dozens of people thronged around food trucks on the Stephen Avenue Walk last week as the idea of a quick meal on wheels struck sidewalk foodies right where it counted — in the gut.

As Calgarians embark on an experiment in street-side vending trucks, our city’s pilot project will no doubt prove invaluable in helping bureaucrats and politicians shape Calgary’s policies in this matter.

But let’s not forget to cast our eyes toward other places, where food-truck culture has been a part of everyday life for much longer, or even where the culture is developing right alongside our own.

As such, those places have been through triumphs and failures that we can learn from.

The Big Apple has seen food trucks on its streets for years, yet late this spring, bylaw officers began shooing away food trucks from their spots — and from their hungry customers.

New York City media reports suggest the ongoing fight has left a bad taste in the mouths of food truck owners and their patrons.

It turns out while one part of city government was cultivating the growth of the food-truck industry, another department — spurred on by a court decision — suddenly began strictly enforcing decades-old rules and regulations that forbid selling goods from vehicles parked in metered stalls.

Some trucks were towed. At least one confrontation led to the arrest of a food-truck operator.

Harmonize bylaws

As Calgary moves forward with an expansion of its street-food culture, it must take care to harmonize bylaws on the books to avoid this sort of counterproductive development.

On the other coast, San Francisco has seen a similarly intense interest in food-truck culture. Among the more popular events for sidewalk foodies is a roving caravan of food trucks, part of something called Off the Grid.

Six days a week, a group of food vehicles set up in a rotation of public places, creating a pop-up, open-air food court of sorts for lunch.

There are dinner stops on Thursdays and Fridays.

(It’s sort of like our Stampede pancake-breakfast caravans — but much bigger.)

Once a week, the trucks cross the Bay into Oakland, but owners have been facing legal trouble there in their attempt to woo customers.

At times, food trucks haven’t been allowed to set up because of liability issues in some public places.

At others, city councillors have had them shut down after complaining they attracted what was deemed to be an undesirable clientele.

Dispute lingers

This dispute lingers despite the attractiveness of having food trucks — not only on a cultural level but also financially, as each truck must pay the City of Oakland US$2,100 a year for an operating licence.

These kinds of issues could come up for Calgary’s food truck operators.

In Toronto, where the food-truck industry is practically as young as ours, there seems to be an obsession about hygiene.

Essentially, how do you manage a fleet of dozens of food trucks and pop-up sidewalk restaurants while ensuring no one gets sick?

Toronto hasn’t really figured this one out yet — and it’s in Calgary’s interest to see how the food truck saga turns out in Canada’s biggest city.

There is no need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to food trucks.

Others have been there before, so let’s take a few cues from their experiences, good and bad.

That way, we can simply dig in for a good street-side meal without ever having to dig in for a political food fight.