If you hang out in Atlanta journalistic circles – or just read Twitter obsessively – you’ve probably caught wind of this whole Atlanta food cart campaign. Urbanites, foodies and food-inclined journalists the city over have worked themselves up into a frothy mess over Atlanta’s “arcane” laws regarding the allowance of chow-carts on city streets.
From Scott Henry’s recent coverage in Creative Loafing…
Under state law, “mobile food units” – be they trucks, trailers or pushcarts – can’t roam the streets. Instead, they’re permitted for no more than two specific locations, the better to track them down for surprise health inspections. Also, raw food must be cooked in a licensed, stationary, commercial-grade kitchen before it goes on the truck or cart, where it can only be reheated.
Y’all want anything from the “mobile food unit”?
But wait, you ask – what about the fried catfish for sale at last year’s Inman Park Festival? Or the pulled-pork plate from the mobile smoker at the Chomp & Stomp? Frankly, that’s the product of a long-standing double standard: Food served at special events sponsored by a state-approved nonprofit corporation is exempt from the above regulations. Vendors at festivals, fundraisers and other such gatherings can sell food under a blanket event permit – presumably because local authorities can hold the event organizers responsible if someone gets sick from tainted food.
As Henry points out in his elaboration, many other cities sport streets teeming with non-reheated food carts, cooking up regional delicacies for passers-by. And while Atlanta does not have the foot-traffic as many of the other cities cited in the CL article, there certainly are a lot of empty parking lots as well as an unmet demand in casual, eat-and-go dining. Especially downtown.
But what came first? The pedestrian or the food-cart?
Thanks to the efforts of the Atlanta Street Food Coalition and others, we may soon find out!