October 8, 2013
Although it seems like a relatively new fad, the food-on-wheels industry has been around since the 1950’s. Remember going to the county fair as a kid and getting an ‘elephant ear’ or a corndog? Business is a little different these days. Gourmet food trucks are finding their way to even the most rural of street corners. With this explosion comes a nod towards another sweeping trend. The green movement.
There are many ways a food truck proprietor can get their business in line with the eco-friendly mentality. First and foremost, obviously, is the menu. Even those who only serve vegan Asian-fusion falafel or homemade popsicles can make sure their ingredients are being sourced in season, as locally as possible. The ‘locavore’ lifestyle is no longer reserved for ecological warriors or those with deep pockets. It’s become much easier to find high quality fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy, even grains and spices, within a hundred mile radius of your kitchen and belly.
A big bone of contention in the mobile service industry is the fuel argument. I’ve heard a giant “Rolling Stove” can get somewhere around 4-5 miles per gallon when on the road. Not aerodynamic by any sense of the word. Once they find their choice locale and park, many mini-restaurateurs turn on a noisy, gasoline-guzzling generator to keep their products cooking, the lights on and so forth. The argument that food trucks require more energy or resources than brick-and-mortar establishments is a long and complicated one. There is no winner; it’s entirely situational.
Bio-diesel is rapidly becoming an easier source for fuel, changing the mobility game indefinitely. In bigger cities, I’ve even seen electronically-run food trucks, though a conversion kit to spent veggie oil seems more accessible and affordable. Solar power is another tool on the rise, combating the idling motors, screeching generators and appetite-squelching fumes. Harnessing the sun, along with using propane to cook, make serving on-the-go more eco-friendly than ever before.
Although biodegradable and recycled plates, cutlery and napkins are available everywhere these days, I imagine it won’t be long before customers expect even less waste with their meal. I ran across a truck not too long ago with actual plates, silverware and cloth napkins. They washed their own dishes and had hired a linen service, making sure their business produced almost no waste. While the essence of food trucks is a ‘to-go’ mentality, I see the ‘sit-down-and-relax’ aspect as a future trend.
Logistically, food trucks are forced to conserve their resources. The trucks are confined by their very structure and nature. They’re…little (compared to the size of basically any sit-down venue). They need almost no infrastructure to operate, assuming the roads and parking lots would be there anyway. Bureaucratic barriers and economic hoops to jump through are phenomenally lesser than the dictates of setting up a neighborhood bistro. And speaking of neighborhoods, no longer are the gentrified, upper-class sections of town the only place to get a healthy, creative meal. They’re coming to you, and they’re coming prepared for the sustainable future.
Freelance blogger and part-time equestrian Jillian Schumaker’s favorite food truck meal is Basque croquetas, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t eat a late-night chili dog.