Food trucks and farmers markets can spell doom for affordable housing

Everyone, it appears, welcomes the arrival of recent eating places, cafés, meals trucks, and farmers markets.

What may very well be the draw back of contemporary veggies, home made empanadas, and a pop-up restaurant specializing in bánh mìs?

However once they seem in sudden locations—suppose inner-city areas populated by immigrants—they’re typically the primary salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the neighborhood. Because of this, these neighborhoods can shortly grow to be unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

Stoking an urge for food for gentrification

I reside in San Diego, the place I educate programs on city and meals geographies and conduct analysis on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent times, I began to note a sample taking part in out within the metropolis’s low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. Extra ethnic eating places, avenue distributors, neighborhood gardens, and farmers markets had been cropping up. These, in flip, spurred rising numbers of white, prosperous, and college-educated individuals to enterprise into areas that they had lengthy averted.

This remark impressed me to jot down a e book, titled The $16 Taco, about how meals—together with what’s seen as “ethnic,” “genuine,” or “various”—typically serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a big multiethnic San Diego neighborhood the place successive waves of refugees from locations as far-off as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was transformed into an outside worldwide market known as Fair@44. There, meals distributors collect in semipermanent stalls to promote pupusas (griddle muffins), lechón (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed espresso, cupcakes, and tamarind raspado (shaved ice) to neighborhood residents, together with vacationers and guests from different components of town.

A public-private partnership known as the Metropolis Heights Group Improvement Company, along with a number of nonprofits, launched the initiative to extend “entry to wholesome and culturally acceptable meals” and function “a enterprise incubator for native micro-entrepreneurs,” together with immigrants and refugees who reside within the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds nice.

However only a few blocks outdoors the gates, casual avenue distributors—who’ve lengthy offered items comparable to fruit, tamales, and ice cream to residents who can’t simply entry supermarkets—now face heightened harassment. They’ve grow to be casualties in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from enterprise homeowners and residents in additional prosperous areas.


This isn’t simply taking place in San Diego. The identical tensions have been taking part in out in quickly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles’s Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, New York’s Queens borough, and East Austin, Texas.

In all of those locations, as a result of “ethnic,” “genuine,” and “unique” meals are seen as cultural belongings, they’ve become magnets for development.

[Source Images: Archipoch/iStock, kostsov/iStock]

Why meals?

Cities and neighborhoods have lengthy sought to draw educated and prosperous residents—individuals whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed “the creative class.” The pondering goes that these newcomers will spend their {dollars} and presumably contribute to financial development and job creation.

Food, it appears, has grow to be the right lure.

It’s uncontroversial and has broad attraction. It faucets into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small meals companies, with their comparatively low price of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and avenue festivals don’t require much in the way of public investment; as a substitute, they depend on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In Metropolis Heights, the Group Improvement Company hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to “get individuals collectively round desk and meals stalls to have fun one other 12 months of neighborhood constructing.” Different current occasions have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New 12 months Lunar Competition, Soul Food Fest, and Brazilian Carnival, all of which depend on meals and drink to draw guests and help native companies.

In the meantime, initiatives such because the New Roots Group Farm and the Metropolis Heights Farmers’ Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic help within the identify of “meals justice,” with the objective of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents—initiatives which are significantly interesting to extremely educated individuals who worth variety and democracy.

Upending an present foodscape

In media protection of fixing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like Metropolis Heights, you’ll not often discover any complaints.

In San Diego Journal, the neighborhood guide for Metropolis Heights, for instance, emphasizes its “declare to genuine worldwide eats, together with reside music venues, craft beer, espresso, and out of doors enjoyable.” It recommends a number of ethnic eating places and warns readers to not be fooled by appearances.

However that doesn’t imply objections don’t exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business homeowners—largely individuals of coloration and immigrants—have, for a long time, lived, labored, and struggled to feed their households in these neighborhoods. To take action, they’ve run comfort shops, opened ethnic eating places, offered meals in parks and alleys, and created areas to develop their very own meals.


All symbolize methods to fulfill neighborhood wants in a spot largely ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what occurs when new rivals come to city?

Beginning at an obstacle

As I doc in my book, these ethnic meals companies, due to an absence of monetary and technical help, typically battle to compete with new enterprises that function contemporary facades, celeb cooks, flashy advertising and marketing, bogus claims of authenticity, and disproportionate media consideration. Moreover, following the arrival of extra prosperous residents, present ones discover it more and more difficult to stay.

My analysis of actual property advertisements for properties listed in Metropolis Heights and different gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods discovered that entry to eating places, cafés, farmers markets, and out of doors eating is a typical promoting level. The listings I studied from 2019 typically enticed potential patrons with traces like “store on the native farmers market,” “be a part of meals truck festivals,” and “take part in neighborhood meals drives!”

A 2019 home buyer guide in San Diego Journal recognized Metropolis Heights as an “up-and-coming neighborhood,” attributing its attraction to its numerous inhabitants and eclectic “culinary panorama,” together with a number of eating places and Truthful@44.

After I see that home prices in City Heights rose 58% over the previous three years, I’m not stunned.

Going up in opposition to the city meals machine

Longtime residents discover themselves compelled to compete in opposition to what I name the “city meals machine,” a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch’s urban growth machine—a time period he coined greater than 50 years in the past to clarify how cities had been being formed by a free coalition of highly effective elites who sought to revenue off city development.

I argue that buyers and builders use meals as a software for reaching the identical ends.

When their work is finished, what’s left is a relatively insipid and tasteless neighborhood, the place foodscapes grow to be extra of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that’s advanced organically to fulfill the wants of residents. The distinctions of time and place begin to blur: An “ethnic meals district” in San Diego seems no completely different than one in Chicago or Austin.

In the meantime, the routines and rhythms of on a regular basis life have modified a lot that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their tales and tradition diminished to a promoting level, they’re compelled to both recede to the shadows or depart altogether.