March 8 2012
San Francisco is a famous food city. Its inhabitants are considered cutting edge food explorers; its chefs culinary trail blazers and hipster food visionaries. Food lovers from around the world embark on foodie sojourns to San Fran to experience that famous California cuisine of fresh, simple, perfectly presented food.
Supported by California’s thriving agricultural products coupled with a diverse population, San Francisco’s food industry sets culinary trends for the rest of the country. In fact, San Francisco was one of the first cities to support the latest culinary hipster trend—the food truck.
But the so-called “obesity crisis” is putting San Fran’s reputation as a foodie mecca at risk.
Recently, city legislators introduced legislation that would ban all food trucks from operating in the city (save for a few small pockets). The reason? To combat childhood obesity, natch.
But San Francisco’s reputation has been sliding for quite some time. Let’s not forget, San Francisco was the first city to ban toys in happy meals (a move so ridiculous that even the Daily Show saw fit to lampoon the move). But this proposed ban on food trucks is particularly troubling. Food trucks represent the smallest of small businesses in the restaurant industry. There are no food trucks franchises with big corporate offices and legal teams to beat back these regulations. Instead, food truck operators are a motley crew of small business owners who rely on very low overhead, word of mouth advertising, and a loyal customer base. They are usually two or three-man shops and they work nearly around the clock to bring creative and inexpensive food to city streets.
This latest regulatory measure won’t just hurt the food truck industry, it will destroy it. And it won’t be just San Fran food trucks. Measures like this are contagious. If it works in San Fran, look next to New York (who mimicked San Fran with their own toy ban last year), Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington DC (which is currently struggling with new food truck regulations).
And for what? What is the motivation behind this regulatory move?
The authors of the legislation claim it’s to keep kids away from the “junk food” and to preserve the school lunch program. Oh yes, the school lunch program—well known for its support of healthy food items like French fries, chicken nuggets, pizza and pudding cups. Yes, by all means, let’s keep kids from eating freshly made tacos, steamed pork buns, hot dogs, barbeque sandwiches, crab cakes, and other food truck fare.
The truth is, this regulation has nothing to do with kids and everything to do with promoting and preserving big government programs like the federally run school lunch program. And there’s good reason for schools to get behind this measure. Billions of dollars are shelled out to schools to operate the school lunch program. And the dollars are directly tied to the number of children eating school lunches. If more kids start skipping a school lunch for a two dollar taco at a food truck, that’s bad news for the schools that could lose millions in federal dollars.
This might be another case of “it’s for the children.” But as usual, money, not child health, talks.