Opinion: Emergency food trucks – STAT!

Sechelt will soon be sifting through proposals for food trucks or “mobile food vending services” that want to set up from March 1 to Oct. 31 at the district’s three available spots: Davis Bay, Kinnikinnick Park and Friendship Park. 

Gibsons, by the way, decided last year not to host mobile vendors on any Town-owned property.

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But, despite the scarcity of opportunities to set up on public property, the Coast has built up a small corps of mobile food vendors in the past few years.

They are, however, rare sights in our downtown cores.

One reason local governments give for restricting food trucks is the lingering belief that they hurt brick-and-mortar restaurants and cafés.

Worries over the impact of mobile food vendors are so common that the Competition Bureau of Canada has dedicated an entire section of its website to addressing the question.

“The Bureau found no clear evidence that shows detrimental impacts of mobile food services on restaurants,” the Bureau’s analysis says. “In fact, some evidence suggests that mobile food services may be stimulating demand in the food service market by attracting new customers that would not have purchased food at all were it not for the food trucks.”

So, food trucks are probably good for the health of the overall business community.

But, did you know, they can also be a vital part of a community’s emergency preparedness?

For example, during the 2017 wildfire season, officials in Santa Rosa, Calif., where nearly 3,000 homes and businesses were destroyed, put out a call for “licensed and available mobile food vendors” to help feed first responders and evacuees. One local reporter described it as a “Bat Signal” that drew a “Dunkirk-esque fleet” of food trucks. 

Food tuck operators have also come together to provide meals, usually free or paid for by emergency services, during hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters.

The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services van, essentially a food truck with a mission, stands ready to fill that role on the Sunshine Coast, but it can only be in one place at a time.

Food truck vendors have been coming forward to help so often in the U.S. in recent years that Elliot Maras, the editor of the industry news site FoodTruckOperator.com, called for food truck mobilization to be included in emergency response plans. “They should recognize the great resource food trucks offer in disaster planning,” he wrote.

So, if local governments are looking for a reason to loosen up the restrictions on food trucks down the road and they don’t accept the downtown revitalization argument, maybe their potential role in an emergency might tip the balance.

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