When you think about food trucks, the first words to pop into your head might be anything from “delicious” to “unsanitary,” but I'm guessing they don’t tend toward “sustainable” or “healthy.” But in fact, food trucks are joining the ranks of community gardens and rooftop farms in changing – and greening – the urban food scene.
As any city-dweller will tell you, food trucks have been around for ages—much longer than many food trend reporters have recently given them credit for. However, nowadays food trucks are taking a turn for the gourmet — many mobile “carts” are now offering fresh, local and often healthy foods, and cities are starting to wake up to how food trucks can positively affect communities.
Considering the perils of drive-through restaurants and eating in cars, it may seem counterintuitive but there are many environmental, economic, social and nutritional benefits to restaurants on wheels. While it’s true that many food trucks travel to different locations, emitting greenhouse gas emissions along the way, when you compare them to actual restaurants, their carbon footprints are actually pretty small. Traditional restaurants still use a ton of electricity, water and cleaning services, and in many cases import their ingredients from all over the world. Food trucks are forced by their nature to conserve resources like water, and while they may move around town, most tend to park in locations with good foot traffic and move only once or twice a day.
Food trucks also lower economic – and bureaucratic -- barriers for aspiring restaurateurs. The capital required to open even a small brick and mortar shop is substantial, and involves some serious risk — a large percentage of new eateries fall to financial failure. Opening a restaurant could cost up to $2 million before opening its doors, but a mobile vendor needs only the truck itself, food and supplies, necessary permits and leased space if in a permanent parked position. So, food trucks are good for locally-owned small business startups (witness the success of NYC’s Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, a contender on Food Channel’s Truck Wars, expected to open its shop sometime in the next few weeks), which are in turn good for local economies and cities in general. Every food truck generates tax revenue for the city and employs local residents – and doesn’t need much infrastructure or formal support. The positive impacts on the city extend far beyond economics—mobile eateries also can help increase access to healthy, culturally-appropriate foods in low-income, underserved neighborhoods. And, on top of that, they foster a more lively street scene and social awareness of food production and consumption.
The trend is gaining in power and popularity fast — evidenced by corporate trucks getting in on the trend -- and many food truck advocates are petitioning to make permits easier and cheaper to acquire. Just this summer, New York City set an exciting precedent by granting Pera Turkish Taco Truck, stationed daily at the tourist office and gift shop that was once Tavern on the Green, what is apparently the first liquor license granted to a New York City food truck. Many food carts owe their popularity and success to Twitter, which they update with their location as they scour cities for hungry patrons.
Here, a list of eco-friendly food trucks in cities around the country, offering healthier options for you and the environment. We want to hit all of them! Did we miss your favorite green food truck? Let us know in the comment section.
New York, NY
- The Sweetery truck offers an array of all natural, organic and fair trade baked goods and coffee.
- VanLeeuwen’s ice cream will help you cool off during these last hot summer days – and they promote local dairy farms.
- Green Truck on the Go (listed in Eat Well Guide and on-the-go all over the nation!) offers an eco-friendly gourmet catering option for events, parties and on-location shoots. The trucks have solar-powered production kitchens inside and run on alternative fuel. Ingredients are fresh, local, organic and/or sustainably raised. Be sure to try their signature Mother Trucker Vegan Burger.
- Also in New York: La Cence Beef Burger Truck
- Saucais a healthy alternative to nearby ethnic takeout. Inspired by railway food vendors around the world, Sauca encourages people “think global, eat local.”
- The Fojol Brothers serve up a unique culinary experience from the “lands of Merlindia and Benethiopia.” They are dedicated to helping both the planet (biodegradable containers, utensils, napkins, etc) and the children of DC (donating proceeds to youth at-risk programs). Big wins for eaters, the community and the environment!
- Also in DC: Sweetflow Mobile, La Cence Beef Burger Truck
- Garden State cart maintains the owner’s Sicilian-Jersey roots by offering an ever changing menu of sandwiches and specials like rockfish and roasted radishes, all built around hyperlocal vegetables from community-supported agriculture shares.
- Off the Griddle is a solar-powered veggie burger food cart serving local, sustainable vegan and vegetarian food.
- Native Bowl vegan and healthy fast food freshly prepared from scratch, served hot.
- Yogio uses the freshest local season ingredients available and is always looking for backyard farmers to grow produce for them!
- Portland is known as the Mecca of food trucks—so check them all out here!
- Track down MotoBenefor a slice of delicious, oven-craft pizza. Ingredients are all local, fresh and prepared on the spot!
- At Hummingbirdyou're always up for a surprise, as their local and seasonal menu changes daily.
- Grace’s Goodness partners with Slow Food for a true farm-to-cart approach to home-style cookin'.
San Francisco, CA
- Let’s Be Frank ’s hot dogs are made from 100 percent local and 100 percent grass-fed beef or pork made from animals humanely raised on family farms. All of the meat is free of nitrites, artificial flavors, colors, fillers and preservatives and animals are raised without antibiotics or hormones. Buns are locally-made using organic flour and even the condiments are organic!
- Libaoffers traditional Middle Eastern falafels and salads with unique add-ons like rosemary peanuts and olive-orange relish with thyme. Everything is made daily from scratch and ingredients are mostly organic, including California produce. Packaging is compostable and used oil gets turned into biofuel.
Los Angeles, CA
- Some great options in LA are Let’s Be Frank(also in San Francisco) and Green Truck on the Go. Still can’t get enough? Organic Authority has great references for Los Angeles organic vendors that fit every diet.
- Fresh Local sources as much of its menu from local farmers as possible and neighbors provide honey, eggs, potatoes, peppers, carrots, herbs and more. The trucks run on Simply Green biodiesel, and disposables are biodegradable or compostable.
- Clover Food Truck runs on alternative fuel and serves local and organic vegetarian fare on the MIT campus.
- Comidais a mobile Mexican feast prepared from start to finish using only the freshest local ingredients out of big pink truck named Tina.