Food trucks are only the beginning

Jean-Pierre Thimot

Of course the city of Buffalo should find a way to allow roving food trucks to become legal and widely available dining options. That’s what we call a “duh” here at Spree central. But we’re not too worried. It will happen … eventually. What bothers us is that this is only one of many stumbling blocks inhibiting WNY’s ability to become a truly contemporary and innovative community, at least as far as food and drink is concerned.

For example, why did it take multiple debates in Buffalo’s Common Council to allow growing food on empty East Side land? And why were over thirty community gardens held up by the city’s “planning” department? Bugs, blight, drought, and bad luck are things gardeners have to accept and conquer; inexplicable statements from City Hall like “Some people think of it as a garden in a community and some as a garden of the community” go far beyond. Look, we understand if office-bound bureaucrats find the impulse to nurture products of the soil incomprehensible. But we do ask that they kindly get out of the way of those who think producing fresh food in the country’s third poorest city is a really good idea.

New thinking about not just freshly grown food, but also freshly prepared food, is desperately needed here. More shared professional kitchens—permitted and inspected—would greatly help food entrepreneurs who want to sell their products. Instead of bearing the costs of setting up their own facilities, they could share those costs with others as they get their businesses off the ground.

New York State winemakers recently won the right to ship their wine to out-of-state customers where such shipping is allowed. This is a great first step, but the complex web of liquor regulation in our state could still use some unraveling. Accompaniments to good wine, like cheese, cured meats, olives, and other foods, can never be sold in a wine shop. On the other side of the equation, specialty food shops and supermarkets can’t offer wine for sale. This seems counterintuitive to the idea that wine and food should always go together, which is the healthiest, most sensible way of thinking about wine consumption.

Small plates of interesting food, which go so well with a glass of wine, are still far too rarely found in area restaurants. Diners here are routinely confronted by huge entrée courses, served on plates that can barely encompass their burden of protein, starch, and vegetables. This writer’s recent experiences at forward-thinking restaurants in Seattle and Chicago demonstrate that it is possible to spend a long time and have a lively, enlightening experience with food, drink, and company—without feeling uncomfortably full or needing to bring half the meal home. In Buffalo, there are a number of restaurants that recognize satiation shouldn’t be the only priority, but we need more of them. There are other important ingredients to a great dining experience besides feeling replete. They include surprise, sustainability, entertainment, and—most important—fresh, honest ingredients prepared in interesting ways.

Most of us see a food truck as just one type of dining option in—ideally—a large array of choices. We’d love to see food trucks on the menu. We’d also like to see better, more local, and more interesting menus throughout WNY.


Update: A public meeting regarding food trucks in the City of Buffalo will be conducted on Thursday morning. Those who wish to show their support for the food trucks and their right to exist within the city limits under fair legislation should show their support in at least one of the following ways:

Sign the online petiition

Attend the public meeting on Thursday, September 29th

If you are a small business owner, call of write a letter of support to your common council member.




This article appears in the October 2011 issue of Buffalo Spree. Elizabeth Licata is editor of Buffalo Spree.

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