On any day of the week, hungry residents and visitors of Los Angeles can take a stroll down Wilshire Boulevard and sample the cuisine of Korea, Senegal, India, or Brazil. Returning the next day, they might instead find gourmet hot dogs, nachos, and cupcakes. No, Wilshire Boulevard isn’t a restaurant district full of the world’s flightiest landlords and leasers. It’s one of several areas across LA that hosts a daily parade of food truck vendors.
The food truck movement is currently picking up traction across the country. In a recent episode of the Fox sitcom Bob’s Burgers, “Food Truckin’,” the titular Bob abandons his burger restaurant for a food truck, and becomes a huge hit after his pretentious customers are misled to believe that his prosaic burgers are “cruelty free,” “organic,” “bison,” “grass-fed,” and “pair well with an IPA.” In the 2012 film The Five-Year Engagement, Jason Segel’s character Tom is a disillusioned sous-chef who rediscovers his passion after opening a specialty taco truck. The proliferation of food trucks in pop culture shows how trendy they are right now, and both Bob’s Burgers and The Five-Year Engagement showed that food trucks are particularly popular with young, hip, and mutable. Food trucks cater to a society that is increasingly desirous of new experiences. Food trucks provide cultural exposure and novelty. They provide a service that is accessible and affordable, thereby blurring the barriers of ethnicity and class.
The transformation of city curbs into ad hoc restaurant districts calls to mind what Burgess termed “succession,” the process by which communities expand into outer zones. The designated food truck curbs, like Miracle Mile on Wilshire Boulevard, are typically inner city geographically. The curbs were not being used, and so food trucks found a use for them. Beyond the curbs of Wilshire and other main thoroughfares, food trucks can be rented out to serve individual businesses and events, and then reconvene at the curb in an endless number of configurations. The forces of globalization and localization are currently increasingly influencing American cuisine, and food trucks are at the forefront of both. The communion of food trucks on the curb is what Burgess calls “a telescoping of several local communities into a larger economic unity.” Food trucks, roaming the cities freely but broadcasting their locations via Twitter, appearing en masse and then dissipating with their patrons’ appetites, are a very literal example of the “centralized decentralization” that is essential in the evolution of cities.
The advent of food trucks has not arrived without a hitch. Indeed, food truck proprietors have been repeatedly rebuked by city ordinances and bans that have threatened their existence. According to Burgess, this disorganization is endemic of populations in flux. So far, food trucks have managed to persevere, buoyed by popular demand—this perseverance is in keeping with Burgess’s position that “disorganization points to reorganization and makes for more efficient adjustment, [and therefore] disorganization must be conceived not as pathological, but as normal.”
Burgess defines mobility as the “pulse of the community.” The literally mobile food trucks are ushering in a new wave of metabolic growth in Los Angeles. This growth is being fed—by the abundant produce made available by California farms, by the rising pedestrian and bicycle traffic on Los Angeles roads—but also by the “mobility” of Los Angeles restaurant-goers and restaurateurs. A person’s “mobility,” Burgess explains, is defined by the person’s “mutability” and “the number and kind of contacts or stimulations in his[/her] environment.” Los Angeles restaurant-goers were early adopters of the food truck trend, and are much like the restaurant-goers lampooned by Bob’s Burgers in their pursuit of foods that meet certain trendy qualifications. Lampoonable though they might be, the trend-chasing are certainly mutable seekers of new contacts and stimulations.
Mobility is associated with the growth of the city, but it is more viscerally associated with “adventure.” The aspect of adventure represented by food trucks is apparent through their appropriation as plot devices in Bob’s Burgers and The Five-Year Engagement (the heroes of both stories are portrayed as being enthralled and invigorated by the possibilities of mobile kitchens). A visit to Wilshire Boulevard at lunchtime is an adventure in itself—sidewalks that once merely provided conveyance and parking are now multicultural bazaars providing windows into the cultures of the world.
Blevins, Aaron. “Food Trucks Occupy Too Much ‘Space’.” Park Labrea News Beverly Press [Los Angeles] 5 Apr. 2012. Web. 30 May 2012.
Burgess, Ernest W. “Growth of the City.” The Blackwell City Reader. Ed. Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 339-344. Print.
Molyneux, Lizzie, and Wendy Molyneux. “Food Truckin'” Bob’s Burgers. FOX. 15 Apr. 2012. Television.
The Five-Year Engagement. Dir. Nicholas Stoller. Perf. Jason Segel and Emily Blunt. Apatow Productions, 2012. Film.