JANE: The Good Humor Man led us to ice cream trucks, and from there we went to coffee vans. Tell me, do you folks have food trucks there?
ALAN: Yes, we do – there’s a particularly famous one known as the White Lady which turns up in downtown Auckland in the small hours of every morning to save the lives of starving drunks. It’s been doing that since 1948.
JANE: And a noble cause that is indeed.
Food trucks seem to be undergoing an evolution here. In one sense, they’ve always been around. However, their appearance tended to be tied to specific events: fairs, sporting events, and the like.
One of the things I find interesting about the new incarnation is that, like the Good Humor Man of old, these trucks stalk their potential clients. They don’t just show up near the ballpark, or buy a vendor’s slot at the fair, they’re alert to opportunities.
As soon as the kiddie soccer leagues begin practice on fields near the library, food vans offering a variety of snacks and treats start showing up. No kids playing soccer (complete with bored siblings who need to be bribed to behave or parents dying for a hot drink), no trucks.
ALAN: That’s clever of them. I’m not quite sure what ours do (I don’t have much experience of them) but I do know that the White Lady is always in the same place at the same time. It’s never seen anywhere else.
JANE: An ambitious food truck vendor recently realized that out where Jim’s office is now located, there is nowhere to buy food other than a golf course snack stand. These people came visiting and did very well by the staff – many of whom don’t have transportation and are bored with brown bagging.
ALAN: Brown bagging? What does that mean?
JANE: Carrying your own lunch. The term comes from the cheap brown bags that were the usual means used to carry lunch by almost anyone who had outgrown the colorful lunchbox used by children. Do you folks have a term?
ALAN: No – we’re very boring by comparison. We just take our own lunch. It’s very common for children to take their own lunch to school. Sometimes they don’t approve of what their mother has lovingly packed for them and they just throw the contents away. Jake and I go for our morning walk close to a school and one day he came across a ham sandwich, an apple and a slice of cake. Best walk ever! He still sniffs that same spot hopefully every day, but we’ve never had that much luck again…
JANE: From what you’ve said about Jake, he’d probably have eaten the brown bag, too.
Even where there are restaurants available, such as downtown, the food trucks do good business with office workers who don’t have time for a sit-down lunch, but don’t want a fast food burger.
ALAN: I assume from what you say that these trucks don’t serve burgers and the like? Ours are really just mobile burger places with vast vats of bubbling grease for deep frying. They sell cholesterol on a stick to anyone in need of hard arteries.
JANE: I’m sure those are out there, too. However, these days, food trucks offer cuisine that is a lot more varied and interesting.
ALAN: So what kinds of food do they serve?
JANE: I did some research and learned that Southwestern food is, unsurprisingly, popular, especially dishes like burritos and tacos, which are easy to eat without utensils. You can also get pizza and a wide variety of barbecue and smoked meats.
More ambitious food truck vendors venture into specialties. There’s “Cheesy Street” which specializes in cheese dishes – including a homemade tomato soup with cheese. Europa Modern Kitchen promises a European dining experience. I found a listing for a food truck that specializes in Argentinean cuisine as well as several offering a wide variety of Asian foods.
A friend of mine was telling me that in San Francisco, there’s a food truck that serves nothing but various types of crème brulee.
ALAN: Wow! We don’t have anything like that. However, we do have food halls in shopping malls and the like. A food hall has a large number of small counters, each specialising in a different type of food. So you’ll have a choice of sushi, or curry, or Chinese, or Thai, or pizza or… The quality of the food is amazingly good. It’s all delicious and they always do a roaring trade. Your food trucks sound like mobile versions of our food hall counters. Do you have food halls?
JANE: Oh, yes… Here they’re called “food courts,” and have been around for decades. Maybe you’re just catching up with us.
Back when you mentioned coffee vans, a thought occurred to me. I don’t claim it’s deep philosophy, but I do think it says something about a shift in culture, a shift that may go all the way back to the Good Humor Man.
ALAN: In what way? Tell me more…
JANE: It seems to me that all these coffee vans and food trucks reflect a shift toward not only a desire for instant gratification, but an almost childish refusal to plan to have that gratification met. Farewell to the picnic basket or thermos bottle. Food and drink shall appear wherever one goes, ready to cater to every whim.
When you think of it, the food court (or hall) is part of the same trend. Taking the family shopping, maybe to a movie? No more need to compromise as to where you’ll eat. Little Jimmy wants sushi. Fine. He can have sushi. Annie wants pizza? She can have it.
What do you think?
ALAN: I think you are on to something there. A lot of people that I know tend to do things spontaneously rather than planning for them. So once you have decided to do something on that basis, you simply don’t have any time to create food or drink or indeed anything else. I hate that – I’m a careful planner and I’m decidedly uncomfortable with spontaneity, but clearly I’m in a minority on this one.
JANE: I have a whole bunch more thoughts on this, but I think I’ll save them for next time.