Is the Newfound Interest in Food Trucks a Classic Case of Classism?
Shut Up, Foodies! is a delightfully cheeky site — sort of the thinking man's Food Network Humor. It's a destination that loves to skewer the pretensions of the food world, as declared in SUF's in-your face manifesto, which reads in part:
Your chickens won't save the world and we don't want the life story of everything on the menu. We don't care what you eat — we just want you to lower the volume. Also, please stop talking about ramps.
I read with interest SUF's latest post shredding the growing, gourmet culture of food trucks, and the pampered palates who embrace these rolling gustatory wagons. A sample quote:
One thing that really irks me about the food truck thing is that it’s only become a “trend” now that food trucks are “gourmet” and run by middle class people. I grew up in Los Angeles going to taco trucks all the damn time, and since living in New York have eaten multiple falafels, pretzels, and ice cream sandwiches from food trucks.
And it’s even more irksome when you read about people like Oleg Voss, “a 28-year-old culinary school graduate and one-time investment banker.” He had to give up his lucrative job in Vienna to open his veal cutlet cart, because of “the brutal economic recession.” That is brutal!
It seems like “I opened a niche gourmet food business” is the new “I found myself.” Who needs an ashram when you can sell artisanal delicacies to people who enjoy the added flavor of self-righteous foodiness? Oh and isn’t it funny, hahaha, when people who have been working on the street for their entire lives don’t take kindly to being pushed out of business by a trend?
For years now, I've shared a similar opinion about the metro area's food truck scene, which, I'm sorry, did not suddenly mushroom into existence with the addition of Rebel Heroes, the Fojol Brothers, and the Red Hook Lobster Pound rig.
No, Montgomery and Prince George's counties have enjoyed a vibrant food-truck culture for years. But it's been virtually ignored by the non-Latino communities because the humble pupusa and taco don't have the same sex appeal as buttery Maine lobster rolls or cream-deficient butter chicken served in a Styrofoam container by a group of guys with a theatrical sense of irony. I find such street-food myopia frustrating myself.
But here's where we disagree, SUF. One street food culture has nothing to do with the other, just as the ethnic mom-and-pop eateries in Rockville and Falls Church have nothing to do with the expense-account dining found in downtown D.C. The only thing these food trucks have in common is their ability to roll to different locations.
It seems rather naive to think that middle-class foodies would curb their enthusiasm for new and better street food options just because the suburbs and exurbs in many cities have been a source for amazing Latin snacks for years. Eating is almost always about proximity. After years of suffering through a food-cart scene dominated by dirty water dogs and sodas, downtown D.C. office wonks finally have some decent street options near them. Of course they're going to be excited.
The question is this: Will that excitement translate into a curiosity for food trucks outside these eaters' immediate neighborhoods? Probably not. I don't necessarily subscribe to the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats theory, not in this economy, not when a trip to Montgomery County may require a 30-minute Metro ride and extra coinage.
But perhaps the opposite will occur? Perhaps one or two of the more enterprising pupusa trucks in Maryland will make the move into the District and take advantage of this growing culture? It'd make sense on a number of levels. But mostly it might open some eyes: Once a downtown office worker, after all, tasted Sabor Latino's tacos, they may realize just how mediocre some of the new trucks really are.