Vancouver plays "Big Mother" with food cart fare

Post by Mike Klassen in


Foodie blogger Mark Busse downing a Japadog – but is it healthy?

In yet another front page story by Vancouver Sun's Jeff Lee we learn that Vision Vancouver is considering staff recommendations to enforce "high nutrition standards" on the bourgeoning food carts program. Lee has already dubbed Vision "Big Mother" for their apparent high-handed social engineering of what is essentially the epitome of capitalism: the street food vendor.

Vancouver, once dubbed No-Fun City, is quickly getting different monnikers. Cartoonist Harrop coined "The Big Spoke" over Vision Vancouver's determined expansion of bike lanes. Now comes Big Mother.

...standing behind me at the take-out saying "Now Jeffy, I'm not going to let you have that extra helping of mayo" or "Say, sonny, wouldn't ya really like a mung bean burger" is really annoying.

You get the feeling that the Sun's City Hall reporter isn't gorging on alfalfa sprouts nearly as much as Hollyhock's own Sadhu Johnson and Andrea Reimer. If the City of Vancouver is going down the road to ensure that we don't succumb to the four main food groups of the North American diet – starch, grease, wood shavings and beer – how on Earth are they going to police the PNE?

Yes, Hunky Bill's would suck if they lopped low-fat sour cream, or a soya-based alternative, onto my perogies. What would replace the mini-donuts? Perhaps steamed zucchini sprinkled with seaweed flakes.

You laugh, but the City runs the PNE and the City doesn't want us to be eating this stuff.

Back to the carts. They've not exactly been a shining example of Vision's competence so far. In fact, they've barely got off the ground and now the city wants to slap a bunch of regulations. It might be worth taking a step back and asking ourselves what the point of the food carts was in the first place.

I don't remember much discussion about high fibre, nor low sodium content. The food carts are meant to make life on Vancouver's streets more interesting. The carts also are meant to fill voids – perhaps providing grub on the run, or in sections of town where choices for sit-down meals are limited.

The biggest problem food carts face is what any small business does: staffing, staying ahead of cash flow, and making sure suppliers have what you need when you need it. Doing food well on carts is rarely a cheap proposition. Perhaps we should focus on what people want to buy first.

Coun. Andrea Reimer disagrees, saying:

"If somebody wants to sell a deep-fried Mars bar or whatever, that's their prerogative. But when you are using public streets or public space or land to sell food on, I think you should be using to promote the goals of the public body and one of our goals is around nutritional outcome," she said.

Having a nutritional goal might be laudable, but it certainly wouldn't be a top priority if your expectation is to succeed. Going back to the PNE, if the marketplace is any indication candy floss would probably win hands down. We can certainly do better than that, but we don't need Big Mother to tell us how to eat.

What do you think? Should the City of Vancouver put requirements like low sodium content high on its priority list?

- post by Mike

See more about Japadog's in a post by Mark Busse.


The carts are supposed to provide food where there isn't much choice? Funny, I don't travel around Vancouver much, but the two places I've seen them are outside the Granville Future Shop and about a half a block from St. Paul's.

I guess there aren't any places to eat around there?????

What I love are all the pictures that appear with Councilor Heather Deal standing in the carts of one of the "winners", Roaming Dragon, when in fact Roaming Dragon was not chosen first time out, but negotiated their own arrangement with a "winner" that was ill prepared to move forward on their application.

Incompetence, bad planning, lies, and more incompetence (not to mention, taking credit for something for which you had no part in creating). Yep, that's Vision Vancouver.

I wish this Visionless Vancouver Council would get take their hands off my lunch plate and stop telling me how to live and eat already. Aren't there more pressing concerns in this city right now that they should be focusing their attention on?

It's almost like Vision Vancouver is doing everything possible not to win the next election. This is social engineering at its best. Aren't they supposed to be dealing with potholes and stray dogs?

I heard on CKNW this morning their stupid $20,000 homeless shelter for backyard chickens is on hold for now. So perhaps their is some sanity in their group?

Some say it's a fowl decision
Janet Brown | Email news tips to Janet

A shelter for homeless chickens in Vancouver is on the back-burner, for now.

Council allocated 20-thousand dollars for construction of such a shelter last year. Turns out there's no demand, right now.

Tom Hammel is the City's Deputy Chief Licence Inspector, "We haven't spent the money that Council allocated for the chicken coop based on the experience we've had to date. We'll continue monitoring to see whether we get more chickens or if we're not able to place them in a short time frame, then we may have to build something."

In the last six months, 15 stray chickens have been found wandering around. They're now at a hobby farm or the dog kennel.

Up next:

A new City Bylaw - allowing officers to randomly search your fridge and cupboards.


Come on. The article says 'minimum nutritional standards' not 'high nutritional standards'

What's the point of exaggerating that?

Also, pretty funny that clicking on that link to the Sun and you get a preview of a story in the top right corner for Saturday's paper showing a grossly obese person and how they're waiting for surgery to cure them.

Yeah, nutritional standards sound like such a horrible idea!

My favorite food cart is Fresh, Local, Wild on Granville at Robson.

Their smoked salmon sandwich is amazing.

I didn't realize that the Parks Board concessions at Jericho, Spanish Bank, and elsewhere were made of glass.

Wouldn't it be great if, instead of those charmless, institutional, cinder-block-clad grease-peddling outlets, the Parks Board just allowed three or four food trucks to set up around a nice plaza, on a rotating basis? Saturday, butter chicken and japadogs, Sunday crepes and fish and chips and tacos...

Those junk food bunkers must cost the Parks Board a fortune in capital/ maintenance costs, and they sure are boring (and unhealthy). It strikes me that we'd be better off if the Parks Board concentrated on designing beautiful spaces, and letting entrepreneurial mobile restaurateurs pull up and feed the public.

What do they expect. Any food being served on the side of the road 9 out of 10 times will not be nutritional.

Just taste good enough to attract a crowd.

What a great idea that CUPE would quash in a nano-second. They'll only support food carts if they impact private sector mom and pops, not unionized jobs.

60 more food carts?

Well that should make the restaurant owners happy, happier than the HST and the new booze rules they have had to deal with.

@ Fred:

Surely the happiness of restaurant owners shouldn't be the City's prime consideration when regulating on-street food carts. The City should be ensuring safety (public health) and access (sidewalk space and vehicle flow); their role really doesn't extend to protecting the market share of bricks-and-mortar restaurants.

By this logic, the City should also consider restrictions on cell phone use, so as to ensure the happiness of payphone and land line providers...

In fact, as this analogy suggests, there's really nothing preventing (I hope) a bricks-and-mortar restaurant operator from also launching a food cart. What great promotion that would be - introducing consumers to your skill/talent through quick lunch fare and alerting them to the possibility of having dinner at your 'real' restaurant.

Let's just hope they come to their senses before this turns into something similar to Toronto's 'a la cart' program.

Our food cart scene is barely out of the gates. Not the time to impose restrictions based on Vancouver coastal health guidelines.

For the record, I F*&kin' hate Quinoa. (if you ever spill some on a hardwood floor, I promise you that you will too! Plus, it's kinda bland)

Now come on guys. Last time you rightly criticized Vision for the way they gave out licenses with a lottery. Any Tom, Dick or Harry could get a license to serve food to the public. I completely backed those criticisms then.

But, this new system is definitely an improvement even if not perfect. At least food experts will be choosing the best vendors who can provide healthy and nutritious food. It won't be left to complete novices who know little to nothing about food safety or even how to run a food business. You are focussing on just one small aspect, the nutritional goal.

Instead, your article should have been how Vision has finally taken CityCaucus' advice and are doing away with the stupid lottery. That would have been a lot more credible than this latest criticism. This Mayor and Vision have done some truly stupid and idiotic things, but, this is not reakkt one of them.

If anyone truly feels this is wrong as well as the previous lottery system, then what do you suggest would be better way to offer licenses to vendors? I've not seen one single suggestion in this article or the comments.

@ ITK:

Agreed; Vision hardly has a monopoly on mis-managing street food. At least they're trying it, unlike their predecessors.

As to how to allocate spots, um, how about an auction? Highest bidder(s) get the spot. Done. How do commercial landlords decide who to rent their spaces to? In a larger setting there may be a desire to 'curate' the selection (as is done with spaces in shopping malls, for instance) so that you get complementary offerings and don't end up with only one type of food, for instance, but otherwise, let the market decide! This isn't health care or education, where concerns beyond profit (universal access, etc) are paramount, it's street food.

Kudos to Vision for embarking on this (rough) journey, and hopefully it turns out to be a good thing.


Who cares whether it is minimum or high nutritional standards - the city has no business regulating what people want to eat.


The point is he's changing the words. The very words he puts in quotations as though it's word for word when it is clearly not. I don't know why he would do that.

As for the actual story, I point out again the irony in being upset at being told what to eat while a story on obesity is the big preview for Saturday's paper. It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

Garbage in, garbage out...


As usual, you try to deflect criticism of your Vision buddies by dwelling on some detail that misses the point. The story isn't about obesity, its about whether nutrition is an area the city should be getting into. It isn't as if there is a shortage of issues facing the city that they should be focusing on.


As usual, you can't get your head around the fact that someone might question this post and not be defending 'vision buddies'. I don't know how many times you need to accuse me of being some vision lover, but it's tiresome. If you think I'm some vision spy why do you insist on replying to my posts? Feel free to ignore them.

Mike uses a word to imply the regulations are one thing, when they are not. The fact that no one seems to care says a lot.


Still ducking the issue - should the city be involved in nutrition or not?

Maybe we could start with someting simpler. I really like the way NYC publishes calorie and other info on menus. Force transparency and let the buyer decide. I don't see why we can't have 10X as many food carts in Vancouver as we do now, and license them to sell beer too. One of the things Vancouver lacks is a real street life. Buying food off street carts is a great part of life in many cities. CityCaucus tries to make everything about Vision and they often end up looking pretty silly in the process. But they sometimes bring up interesting facts and issues, stuff that any city government needs to think about.


My issue is that Mike is lying in this post. You`re ok with that I guess.

I think the all levels of government should take an interest in the nutrition of the public. You`re acting like they are depriving you of your rights here or something. No one is forcing you to buy this food, you want to live on big macs, go ahead.

Boohoo is correct - replacing "minimal nutritional" with "high nutritional standards" radically changes the meaning. I also note that apparently deep fried food will be allowed if a healthy choice is also offered:

"Johnston said he isn't ruling out the possibility of a fish and chips stand making it to the street. But if it does, it is because it has included healthy options that make it more palatable."

Once again I find myself a bit bewildered at what the hubbub is all about. We already employ "social engineering" on the food industry. We don't let vendors use sawdust as a filler, right?

We are beginning to realize the enormous economic cost that a poor diet has on our healthcare system. Initiatives like this may or may not make a dent, but it's a problem that requires setting bales of money on fire each year to address.

I also don't buy the idea low sodium, non-deep fried food would cost more to produce.

So because we regulate "sawdust" we can regulate "salt". With logic like that you can justify just about anything - we already license cars why not bicycles; we already register guns, why not knives; we already have building codes why not require houses to be painted only certain colours.

Of course you may see nothing wrong with this since it would lead to increased employment in the public sector enforcing all these new rules.

Yeah, hmmm, maybe you should read the Vancouver Sun article again, Bill. According to what's written there it sounds like you can have your salt. Repeat: You can have your salt. I know it's not as much fun, but you should try and address what is actually being proposed. Now I don't blame you - on his blog Jeff Lee misquotes his own article so it's not surprising there's confusion.

So because we regulate "sawdust" we can regulate "salt".

About that...

Sodium is a nutrient found in table salt and many other foods. While the body needs some sodium to function, too much may lead to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. Most Canadians consume more sodium than may be good for their health.

Once upon a time, we thought acceptable a little sawdust filler or MSG or red dye#9 or any of the myriad of "ingredients" that used to be in our food. Then we wasn't. Science had advanced and all that. Funny that - knowledge advances all that time which causes us to reevaluate previous standards.

I would just like to see some of these food carts set up in the still somewhat barren central square at Olympic Village. Especially one that sells coffee, since right now, there is still nowhere to go and have a coffee at the Olympic Village, while you ponder whether to buy or not!

This is not how to market a new community!

Check out!

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