Food carts in Portlandia: you gotta get outta there!
The amazing IFC Channel series Portlandia ran for six episodes and has been picked up for another ten (hurray!). We've featured several clips here on CityCaucus.com, simply because the absurd tone of the program feels like life in Vancouver under a Vision government. There is even a rumour going around that Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein modeled their mayor figure after our own Gregor.
What seems to parallel Portlandia and Vancouver politics are the cycling aggro and trendy gestures around surrounding food, such as knowing the name, breed and upbringing of a chicken served at a restaurant. Then there's food carts, a Portland fixture, which serve as a background in this odd scene. Of course, the City of Vancouver is also trying to get more street eats onto select blocks around town.
However, like Vision Vancouver's mishandling of the social and market rental housing at the Olympic Village, where the units were encumbered with a requirement to put unionized police and teachers before anyone else, the heavy hand of social engineering has reemerged.
Vancouver Sun City Hall reporter Jeff Lee has two blog posts – here and here – about what appears to be a revolt by food cart selection committee members against the requirement by vendors to source organic and/or fair trade food stuffs for their cart businesses. Nineteen new carts are being licensed, and instead of the ridiculous lottery system that resulted in heavy criticism by foodies last summer, an expert committee was organized to judge which vendors should be approved.
Vision's social engineering of food businesses ties politically into what we reported earlier: the party's quest to turn the City of Vancouver into the Farm of Vancouver. Former juice king Gregor Robertson must see a big future in imported mango/banana smoothies or locally grown wheatgrass shakes for all citizens.
The organic/fair trade imperative was dubbed "Big Mother" by Jeff Lee. It looks like Big Mother has become another Big Headache for Vision as two of the cart selection committee members have up and quit. Foodies James Tabbert and Amy Eagen until yesterday ran a blog called vancouverstreeteats.ca, which was promoting the food cart cause. But as this "That's All, Folks" post shows, they've packed up their bags and left frustrated with the City's requirements.
In a blog post rant that has since been removed from the site, Tabbert stated:
“The food cart program has become an incestuous relationship between organic food suppliers, high end culinary collectives and faux overpriced “farmers’ markets.” I am disgusted with the correlations I found just by searching the panellist’s information online and cross-referencing it with the shortlisted 52 vendors.”
Oh my. Lee received an email from the vancouverstreeteats crew, and they explained their frustration with the process.
Many were hoping the current selection process would be an improvment over last year’s lottery. Upon being selected to the panel, we reached out to local street food lovers and vendors alike and asked them about their hopes and concerns. We agree with what we heard.
The overwhelming majority were opposed to organic and fair trade menu choices being factors in the selection process. No one was against the idea of fair-trade organic. The apprehension was with it being a criteria for street food menus. In essence, it could very well force prospective vendors to either alter their business plans accordingly or face the likelihood of not being selected. Food politics aside, most agreed that cart owners having little choice but to adhere to these guidelines could increase operating costs and some would have to pass it on to the consumer.
So convenient, tasty and affordable appear to have been trumped by organic, fair trade friendly and politically correct when it comes to Vancouver's new food carts.
Perhaps it was a mistake by City staff to put entrepreneurial types on the committee altogether. If your goal is to impose a political standard for food carts as an overriding objective, then it would be smarter not to invite business people to the table. It seems that the vancouverstreeteats folks misunderstood the goal of the exercise:
We feel the present direction of Vancouver’s program counters the grass-roots, community based environment that has helped define street food in North America. The future rests with the ‘cartrepreneurs’ and ‘cartivores’ to rise above the politics and whatever else is thrown their way. People are craving good food and good company and, I know first hand that you can find exactly that, curb-side dining in Vancouver.
What a concept, eh? Let the public decide what cart food is worth buying or not.
Portlandia might be better to rename itself Cascadia and feature Vancouver as a backdrop. Seems that the absurdity is occurring north of the 49 as well.
- post by Mike. Follow @CityCaucus and @MikeKlassen on Twitter.