The Vendy Awards are moving their annual awards from New York to Los Angeles to pit bacon-wrapped hot dogs vs. tacos in a battle royale that promises to decide the best L.A. street food vendor. The event will be held on May 15th, in MacArthur Park, and your $50 admission gets you all the food and alcohol you can drink between 4-7 PM. The event has already begun garnering some buzz, but for those of you who care about the larger social issues surrounding street vending, we hope to provide you with a bit of background for the awards.
In August 2009 Sean Basinski of the Street Vendor Project in New York City contacted us hoping to scout Los Angeles’ street food scene for the awards. (At the time, his group was also considering Philadelphia.) In my more narcissistic moments, I like to think he came to us because we’re experts, but the sensible truth is simply that we have a website and speak English. Sean eventually made it out to Los Angeles in August and spent a few days meeting with some of the groups that have dedicated themselves to the larger social issues surrounding street food, the Loncheros Association for one. When we were finally able to meet up with Sean, he was excited about our city’s vibrant street food scene. Since everyone had to be at work the next morning, we took him to a few local spots as an introduction: Tacos La Estrella on York, and to the Figueroa Street Marketplace for some esquites. (He declined the cologne and DVDs.) Sean struck us as altruistic and dedicated to improving the plight of street vendors; He simply needed a bit of a primer on the Mexican street food that didn’t seem to be familiar to his New York palate. We sold him hard on L.A., and eight months later, here we are.
True $50 seems like a steep price to pay for admission to a three hour food fair, but consider the fiasco that ensued at the L.A. Street Food Fest: $5 admission resulted in thousands of people waiting in line who were denied admission, long lines for the vendors inside the festival, and a shortage of the more popular dishes. Tickets to the Vendys are limited, include food and drink, and are tax deductible. Also, if you’re so inclined, the festival will coincide with the end of Contesting the Streets, an academic conference on street vending hosted by the UCLA Center for the Study of Urban Poverty. I for one am looking forward to Queering el Barrio: Latina Immigrant Street Vendors Navigate and Perform Queer and Gendered Identities in Los Angeles. It just has a catchy title.
In honor of Ira Glass’ recent excoriation of Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner, we’ve decided to address a couple of recent descriptions of our neighborhood that don’t sit well with us. If you haven’t heard This American Life’s episode “True Urban Legend”, Poizner has some difficulty defending his depiction of his semester at San Jose’s Mt. Pleasant High School, which he generally portrayed as the opening scene from the Gangsta’s Paradise music video. Likewise, we’d like to call to task two depictions of our neighborhoods that seem to stand more on urban myth than reality.
First, our local Northeast paper wrote what appeared to be a well-intentioned bucolic description of a neighborhood walk. Just like the old Highlights Magazine covers, see if you can spot something incongruous:
Now I am in full view of the Eagle Rock. She looks down over treetops. I wonder will the trees soon block her from view? I stop and look here, then there, all along the way to the post office and see everything, and everything is in bloom, everything is shining. Even the homeless people near McDonald’s look shiny and new. Legs aching, I wait for the Dash bus to bring me back home. That was a good walk.
Now onto something that I can more effectively apply logic to, the travel website Wikitravel.org needs a geography lesson from the bloggers over at LAEastside. Not only do they commit the cardinal sin in their entry on Los Angeles in defining the Eastside as “north of downtown and east of Hollywood”, but for some unknown reason, they locate Highland Park and Eagle Rock in East L.A. Now, mistakenly placing Hollywood and Highland as the center of Los Angeles has been debated ad-nauseum on the internet, and to be fair, at least Wikitravel didn’t place us “east of East L.A.”. What bothers me is the warning to travellers that East L.A., which includes Eagle Rock and Highland Park, is “dangerous regardless of time of day and should be avoided altogether when walking if possible“. I don’t for a moment delude myself into thinking that brochures for Northeast Los Angeles will begin disappearing from the shelves of travel agents in Buffalo, but one of the reasons we founded this website was to accurately craft an image of our neighborhood for friends who joked about bringing their passports to drive east of the 5.
Therefore, I’d like to see a concerted effort on all of our parts to correct the Wikitravel article. Correctly defining Los Angeles’ Eastside isn’t my prerogative, but the article should at least properly define East L.A. and avoid characterizing it as somewhere to avoid at all costs. I hope to see you on their discussion page.
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This post would have been much more appropriate for 4/20; unfortunately, I didn’t discover Highland Park’s newest jewel in our street-food crown until last night: A churros cart at the Figueroa Street Marketplace. Apparently, my girlfriend has been hiding this from me for months as she’s dieting, but I’m pretty sure last night’s freshly fried dough dipped in sugar put her over her points for the day. Seven churros cost three dollars and they sell fried plantains as well. According to the owner, they’re parked next to Taco Sabroso, in front of the Food 4 Less parking lot every night until 10:30. The inevitable reprimands from your dentist will be worth the dopamine rush in your brain’s pleasure center.