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Sacramento’s At It Again

by  David A. Lehrer

March 6, 2012 | 4:39 pm

In-N-Out Burger catering truck at a wedding in a canyon above Malibu, California. Photo by Wikipedia/Ross Berteig

KogiBBQ, Coolhaus, and Canter’s mobile food trucks are not a usual topic of interest to The Wide Angle blog. We don’t opine on which of the food trucks are better or more accessible or offer more variety—- that’s not our thing.

But a report in The Los Angeles Times over the weekend piqued our interest. The Times’ Sacramento correspondent reported that Assemblyman William Monning of Carmel has authored legislation (AB 1678) that will ban mobile food trucks from “sell[ing] or otherwise provid[ing] food or beverages within 1,500 feet of the property line of an elementary or secondary school campus from the hours of 6:00 AM and 6:00PM, inclusive on a day that school is in session.”

The predicate for this draconian bit of legislation is the author’s view that “mobile food vending diminishes participation in the school nutrition programs, reinforces the stigma associated with eating school meals, and jeopardizes the fiscal viability of school nutrition programs at the local level.”

In the press release published by his office, Monning facilely rationalizes his plan to limit the public’s access to food trucks,

mobile food vending poses a threat to student safety as well as student nutrition. Mobile vending near school campuses incentivizes students to leave school grounds, which increases students’ exposure to off-campus hazards such as heavily trafficked streets. Creating a buffer zone, free of mobile food vending around school campuses will decrease student’s access to unhealthful foods; help bolster school nutrition programs; and help protect the safety of students.

If Monning were a shill for the restaurant owners of California his arguments would make more sense than the rationale he proffers for the bill. Restaurant owners don’t like food trucks for obvious reasons—-the competition and their sudden popularity. If that were the “threat” that animates Monning’s legislation so be it.

But to argue, as he does, that today’s food trucks are a threat to “student safety and nutrition” is bizarre. The notion that the mere presence of food trucks within five blocks of a public school will cause students to leave school, expose them to dangerous traffic, diminish school nutrition programs and stigmatize school food programs is absurd. He assumes causal relationships that are arguable at best and then takes his assumptions to illogical conclusions.

It’s as if there were no McDonalds or convenience stores or drug stores or mini-marts or car washes with snacks in the world of 2012. Enter Hollywood High School in Google Maps and see how many fast food joints, convenience stores, and other sources of junk food there are within the 1,500 foot perimeter that Monning would ban food trucks from.

The bill also belies a notion of food trucks that is antiquated; as if they were the greasy spoon “roach coaches” of yesteryear. Monning writes that food trucks as offer “food and beverages that are calorie rich, nutrient poor, and contribute to negative health outcomes like being overweight and obesity.”

The most serious issue with Assembly Bill 1678 is really not its limitation on food trucks and its antiquated assumptions, troubling though they are. It’s the underlying mindset that the route to better nutrition and health for our citizenry is through limiting choices and regulating our lives as opposed to encouraging greater choices and more education.

The concept that there is a silver bullet emanating from Sacramento that will solve the problems of kids and traffic, kids and achievement, kids and poor food choices, and kids and obesity is nonsense. There are no quick fixes to any of those problems and the presence or absence of food trucks within five blocks of a school may be the least likely solution.

Hopefully, the legislature (and if not them, the governor) will think better of over-regulating one of the most creative and exciting new areas of cuisine in California by succumbing to a silly notion of how to help our kids.

 

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