Just utter (or type) the words food and truck in close proximity, and some people freak out -- while others drool. It's the same among Chow Bella's staff, which is why when we decided to unveil our first "Point-Counterpoint" (with thanks/apologies to our sister blog in Houston, Eating Our Words) the topic was a no-brainer. Two of our smartest contributors and most experienced food truck diners -- Ando Muneno and Lauren Saria -- volunteered to go head-to-head. So here you go. Be sure to let us know what you think in the comment section.
Lauren: Ok, ok, I get it. People are sick of food trucks. BUT that doesn't mean we need to banish them forever. The bottom line is that in this horrible economy a lot of potentially great food concepts would never have the chance to materialize except in food truck form. They're a low(er) cost way for creative people to bring good and interesting food to the rest of the world.
Ando: My problem isn't that food trucks exist but that we're reaching a food truck saturation point. Good ideas are still coming onto the market, but they're having to compete with the bandwagon trucks as well. In particular I find myself bothered by businesses, even local ones, that are standing up food trucks simply to have a presence in the market. Does Chipotle need a truck? Probably not.
The other problem I'm seeing out there is that "low cost" appears to only apply to the start-up costs of creating a food truck. I thought the idea of a food truck is a democratization of classy foods? I know they have bills to pay but $10+ for a couple tacos and a soda is more than a little steep. Maybe it's unrealistic but I think under $10 for a meal should be a goal, unless you're serving something crazy like a crab bisque with lobster toast.
Lauren: But low-cost doesn't necessarily mean cheap. People need to suck it up and realize that high-quality ingredients come at higher costs. If you want to chow down on produce that's spent more time travelling than you have in the past two weeks and mystery meat, be my guest. But the hard truth is that healthy, fresh, local ingredients (all things that a good food truck makes an effort to incorporate) are probably going to cost you more.
Of course huge corporate chains don't need food trucks. Hell, a lot of people probably shouldn't have food trucks that do. But come on people, use your brains. It's a simple case of supply and demand. Don't spend your money there and they will go away. Guarantee. And on the other hand, if Chipotle's making bank serving burritos out of a truck (and for the record, I wouldn't be surprised it they did) then more power to them. Roll on!
Ando: How far do you expect people to suck? Summer's coming, they're going to stand outside, probably in a line, in 100+ degree weather to spend more than ten bucks on some food and a soda? That seems a bit harsh. And those lines are a big deal. I used to love going to the Friday food truck rally at the Phoenix Public Market but now that I'm not an unemployed student I just don't have the time to stand in line for 30 minutes just to order my food. I still love the food but the convenience is starting to fall by the wayside.
I think the magic of a food truck is that they're serving unusual food served in a mundane setting. You can step out of your office at lunch and eat something that isn't a damp hamburger or a creepy, generic burrito. A quick turnaround is supposed to be part of the food truck experience. I mean, technically most of those food trucks aren't even really supposed to be cooking on the trucks. Because of all the crazy health regulations they have to prep off truck and simply assemble things prior to eating.
I think the Jamburrito guy has it about right. He's aiming for his food to hit the "fast casual" niche, which is to say you're getting your food fast but you're getting something better than just fast food.
The tears I shed for the existence of a Chipotle truck are the same tears I shed whenever I see another faceless corporate outpost open up instead of a locally operated restaurant. It is a case of supply and demand. Vast chain restaurants are generally economically superior than a local food joint, that's why we have so many of them. But that said, don't you want a more vibrant eating ecosystem in the Valley? One where you can taste with all the colors of the wind?
Lauren: I completely agree about "fast casual" and about the long lines at events like Food Truck Fridays, but waiting in line to have to order your food isn't really something you can pin on the trucks. As I think we've all noticed, organization is key when it comes to food trucks. But on the flip side, isn't that kind of what you'd expect at any popular eatery at lunchtime?
We live in a society where everything is constantly speeding up. Well to that I dare to ask: Why? What's really so wrong with having to wait an extra quarter of an hour for a freshly baked pizza with truffle oil and local greens? What crucially important event are you going to miss while you wait patiently for that sauerkraut and swiss laden Oliver you've been craving since last week? When did we become entitled and addicted to getting everything immediately? If you want magic in your mundane setting, how about taking the time to sit down, and actually enjoy it?
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Ando: Whoa, whoa, whoa! I'm entitled because I only get 30 minutes for lunch? Say hello to the 1% for me at your two martini truffle oil pizza leisurely lunch. What's more, if I do have time to chill out for a sit down lunch, why don't I just go to an actual restaurant and enjoy good food in a comfortable setting? That's what I'm trying to say. I'm already enduring sit down prices, a sit down wait, and now you're telling me I may not actually have some place to sit down?
I've eaten street food around the country and throughout Asia. You roll around Tokyo, you're going to be able to hand the equivalent of $5-7 to a street vendor and get yourself a stack of yakitori sticks. You hit up a food centre in Singapore and you'll have 10-20 different places to choose from, serving everything from roasted stingray (delicious) to chili crab (even more delicious) to Hainese chicken (hot weather food nirvana). And you know what? That food is going to goddamn MATERIALIZE when you order it. We're so far behind the "fantastic food quickly" power curve that its all we can do to try and catch up. So maybe I am being entitled here or maybe I just believe America and by extension Phoenix, can and should do better!
And just how many of those trucks are serving up that aforementioned pizza or naan hugged hot dog? Not a lot. That's why I complained about the bandwagon. We don't just need more food trucks, we need quality food trucks that are dedicated to giving hungry office workers something to eat that isn't sad and from that crappy cantina that sits like an open sore on the side of their office building.