As big backers of Los Angeles’ street food culture, we were disappointed to see our neighborhood paper editorialize against our beloved trucks. Editor Tom Topping’s first mention of the taco truck issue that has been raging in Los Angeles for the better part of a year, laments a recent trip to Cinnamon Vegan restaurant on Figueroa that reads in part:
Once seated, we had a delicious meal-all alone. The other customers were outside at the sidewalk food carts. Now, I’m all for free enterprise, but there has to be a level playing field if brick and mortar businesses are to survive. sidewalk food carts and trucks don’t pay the overhead that sit-down restaurants must pay. And, there’s the matter of health codes. when we see the letter grade of restaurants we know what we’re getting.
I say make the food carts/trucks pay the equivalent of rent and submit to health inspection-or they should go. [...] Well, if we don’t make everyone play by the same rules, you’ll have your taco trucksfood cartspaletas men, but you won’t have any restaurants in this area.
Now, Mr. Topping’s sympathy for the restaurant he was eating in is understandable, but for a journalist who works under the slogan, “to comfort the afflicted & afflict the comfortable”, it’s a shame that he relied on specious reasoning and alarmism to side against hard-working families.
The irony that Mr. Topping disparages the bacon-wrapped hot dog vendors that populate that stretch of Figueroa is too rich to ignore. We’ve always argued that most restaurants aren’t in direct competition with street food. In this instance, carne asada and hot dogs simply aren’t luring vegans away from soyrizo tacos and vegetarian tamales. When combined with the fact that Cinnamon serves fruit smoothies and offers luxuries like tables and indoor seating, Mr. Topping’s argument doesn’t hold its wheatgrass juice.
Second, the assertion that taco trucks and street vendors should be punished because they have lower overhead is ridiculous. Would any of us trade the Warehouse, formerly located where Panda Express sits, for iTunes? Should Netflix be taxed into submission so we can go back to paying $4 to rent a VHS at the Blockbuster where Figueroa Produce now exists? Street food exists in most major cities around the world, and I’m pretty sure that Beijing, New York, and London still have viable restaurant scenes.
Finally, it’s disappointing that Mr. Topping rolls all street food into one lawless flauta. This brand of misleading fearmongering is exactly the type of rhetoric that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors used in its recent attempt to effectively criminalize the loncheros. The fact is that, if Mr. Topping had bothered to rely on research over rhetoric, the trucks are subject to taxes and health inspection. Does the public really need nanny-state legislation informing customers that if you’re buying tamales from the back of a minivan, the chef might not have a business license? Pasadena doesn’t use letter-grades for restaurants, and I haven’t seen a plague of food-poisonings from our northeastern neighbor.
Northeast Los Angeles’ dining options, both luxurious and low-brow, are a reason our neighborhood is unique among the suburban sprawl of Southern California. Burbank and the San Fernando Valley exist for those who want a Shakey’s and Los Burritos on every corner. We prefer the option of “brick and mortar” and “grill and wheel”.