North American Street Food at the Intersection of Culinary and Urban Policy Fields

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Amy HANSER, University of British Columbia, Canada
This paper examines the spread of new, gourmet styles of street food in North America, in the form of food carts and trucks, through the lens of transnational fields of production and consumption. In particular, I place food carts and trucks at the intersection of two distinct but overlapping “fields”: The first, the cultural field of food consumption, has been simultaneously shaped by globalization and culinary “desacralization,” with the consequence that street food is increasingly viewed as an ideal object for gourmet food consumption. The second field, which might be understood as a symbolic field of city reputations, is in part organized by ideas about urban branding and the dynamics of inter-city competition. The growing cultural significance of food in North America has raised the profile of local food scenes to city “branding” efforts, and coupled with the celebration of street food as “foodie” worthy, this has resulted in is the elevation of food carts and trucks as urban amenities that symbolically convey a city’s “brand.” The (quite literally) “mobile” form of the food cart/truck has become a mobile urban policy as well, offering cities a low-investment but highly visible and cultural valued form of urban food consumption that municipal leaders believe contributes to their city’s symbolic capital as attractive destinations. In my analysis, I draw on the particular cases of Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia, though I make efforts to extend my argument to a broader set of North American cities.