The food police division of the California General Assembly is at it again, and this time the fella who knows the least about culture and food in blossoming metropoles is having the loudest say. Assemblyman Bill Monning (D-27) has declared food trucks an enemy of the state, a destroyer of schools, and buster of belts.
Monning hails from the hamlet of Carmel, which is known as much for its food trucks as it is for its hip-hop massage parlors. You can't swing a dead cat in downtown Carmel without hitting a soap store or a charming B&B. Monning hates your tastebuds. He has crafted an idiotic piece of nonsense called AB 1678 that seeks to ban food trucks from setting up within 1,500 feet of public schools. That is a perimeter only 500 feet smaller than the one imposed on dangerous child molesters. Monning's explicit motivation? "California's children face unprecedented levels of obesity," he's written, and by banning food trucks, he is simply "engag[ing]parents, students, school personnel and mobile food vendors in shaping a solution."
Food trucks have proliferated out of necessity and convenience. I cannot tell you the sheer joy of walking a screaming newborn and coaxing a reluctant bulldog around the block while starving and sleep-deprived with engorged breasts threatening to geyser—and then having the good luck of running into a food truck. There is something inherently healing about a chorizo-and-egg taco, hot sauce running down your tired chin when your sanity and will to brave an entire sit-down meal have left you.
The luscious lure of delicious on-the-go chow is an old one, and the explosion of the food-truck culture is hardly mysterious to anyone whose palate has been challenged by something truly adventurous and inspired from within the corrugated walls of a rolling eatery. Whether it's cupcakes, humbow, Vietnamese/Mexican fusion, vegan, or grilled cheese, cooks and connoisseurs have taken up the challenge in places ranging from Los Angeles to Seattle to New York to Miami. Food restrictions are nothing new, especially in the land of totalitarian school czars who banned whole milk and Gatorade from cafeterias almost a decade ago, and a state where trans fat and Robitussin have been categorized as Class 1 drugs. Who knew food truck operators were the new playground drug kingpins, mainlining corn syrup and lard into unwitting young veins?
Well, they're not. Food trucks are a prime example of a free-market reflection of creativity and culture. As everyone fancies themselves the next Tom Collichio, Wylie Dufresne, or Anthony Bourdain thanks to the popularity of shows like Top Chef and No Reservations, we all want to try something different and stretch the limits of our mouths, man. But who has the scratch to drop $700 at Craft?
(Article continues below video: "Taco Truck Takedown: Why Is the LAPD Hassling Food Carts?")
Gourmet food trucks allow you to nibble on crafted morsels under the stars and reward mobile tinkerers for their vision and vittles. They let you support local economies and add good grub to your lives. And they have come a long, long way from 19th-century chuckwagons rolling over unpaved, unsafe trails. Nowadays, the trucks and their chefs de cuisine are brave enough to roam the mean streets of white suburbia and dish up Korean pork-belly tacos that Kim Jong-un will never comprehend. The evolution of food trucks is the equivalent of Jack In The Box turning into the French Laundry or Chez Panisse. Vizzi's has truffle flavored popcorn, Umami will make you want to punch an old hobo for one of their port-and-Stilton burgers, and let's not get started on the fetishists who turn up their noses at the Kogi truck as they obsess over Korean barbecue. This stuff is creative, relatively inexpensive, and super competitive. It's got to be better than Waffle House grits at 2 a.m.
So why on earth would anyone stand in the way of gastronomical progress with silly, poorly conceived legislation aimed at saving kids from access to good food?
Because assembly people are bored and useless as pee-flavored lollipops, and they feel the only way to earn their salaries is to write new bills that waste time, money, and kill industry in the name of lookin' out for the fat kids. "We can move to protect our children and the public heath of future Californians now," frets Monning. "Or we can all pay for it later." But this type of heavy handed food intervention never works, and it eats away at a liberty more basic than speech: the freedom to choose what we put in our bodies. Or let our kids put into theirs.
There is no more sacred relationship than that of the stuff which crosses your vestibule by your own choosing. Why is some kook from Carmel telling you not to enjoy your delicious, intoxicatingly inspired ingestibles if they are hawked less than 1,500 feet from any public school? I don't know if you've been to San Francisco, L.A., or Orange County lately, but there are a ton of public schools. Some are empty not because the kids are out chasing the Bollywood Bites truck but because they're bad schools with crappy teachers who've let themselves become chattel to an oppressive union.
If losing children to food trucks is that big of a problem, I'd invest a little more time and energy in figuring out the glitches and holes in public schools. Or, better yet, encourage school choice and charter options across the board. Encourage prosperity and ingenuity, don't smother it with the dry and fussy teat of big, ineffectual government. Coq-au-vin-blocking mobile meal units does nothing to protect children and stave off childhood obesity (note that Monning's ban doesn't shutter brick-and-mortar convenience stores). It does, however, discourage yet another fledgling sector from thriving in California, a state headed for a fiscal meltdown faster than flaming Athens, and one that's flying to hell on a hand cart loaded down with the highly regulated and super-fatty food served up in the Golden State's K-12 cafeterias.
At least whatever they serve in hell has to be better than what they're forcing on these whelps in school.
Kennedy is host of 98.7 FM's Music in the Morning in Los Angeles.