What Starts with F, Ends with Uck? Our Love/Hate Affair with Food Trucks


We’d rather live near a taco truck, than a Taco Bell. Sure. And summer wouldn’t feel the same without the occasional Mr. Softee/Frosty Treats/ or Tactical Ice Cream Unit soft serve indulgence.

But at some point this whole thing gets a little ridiculous. First there’s all those disposable plates and utensils – though some trucks use only compostable ware, provide receptacles and recycle their frying oil into biofuel.

Then there’s the fact that street food is supposed to be affordable, simple, and accessible. But with the cool factor off the charts, people sometimes wait hours for a small portion of very expensive food that they then have to scarf down while perched precariously on a urine soaked curb. Is it that good, really?

Then there are all these trucks driving around and sometimes idling in parking places all day and spewing out noxious fumes along with the emissions caused by their refrigeration systems, stoves, fryers, and grills.

In New York, the city council just moved forward on its first anti-food truck law due to idling and parking issues.

Not to mention complaints from non-mobile restaurants.

Though some trucks are greener than others, there is a real lack of discussion overall about the environmental impact of the explosion in food trucks. This how-to article doesn’t mention it at all.

Thankfully, there are food trucks heading in the right direction. Here’s our list of 10 mobile vendors and one futuristic pop up restaurant that are curbing the use of excess resources.

1. Kickstand Coffee in Brooklyn NY uses bikes to transport its coffee and even uses bike power to fuel a portion of the brewing. If they don’t use disposable cups or plastic lids, they’d get extra points in my book, but their website doesn’t mention it. Hey Brooklynites! Are they totally green or not?

2. The Green Pirate Truck Juice Truck in Brooklyn NY runs its truck on biodiesel, composts all organic waste and works with farmers to get it to farms in upstate NY. They also use compostable cups.

3. Green Trucks in the LA area power their trucks on vegetable oil and biodiesel, make their food in a solar powered kitchen, use green packaging (though they don’t say what kind), and have a lot of organic vegetarian choices. They still serve meat of the slightly more humane variety, though it’s not grass-fed from family farms and “sustainably farmed” shrimp. To me these look like compromises to stay in business and keep their price points reasonable, which is understandable.

4. Liba’s Falafel Truck in San Francisco and Emeryville, CA serves a totally organic, vegetarian (mostly vegan) menu, recycles its frying oil into fuel, and uses all compostable packaging while providing the necessary receptacles to customers.

5. On the Fly in DC vends organic, local foods from their specially designed, American made zero-emission plug-in”smartkarts®“. They also use eco-friendly packaging, though they don’t say what kind.

6. Austin’s Soup Peddler has been around since before the current mobile food trend grew wheels. Soup Peddler started out delivering soups by bike in his Austin neighborhood. The business has grown to include entrees, and other foods and, while some deliveries are still done by bike, customers have the option to pick up as well. Hopefully at least some of them are on two wheels.

7. Steubens Food Truck in Denver is still in development but founders say its solar-powered, biofueled, locally grown goodness is coming soon!

8. DC’s Sweetflow Yogurt is a truck designed to run without a generator so it uses less fuel. They also use local and organic ingredients and 100 percent compostable packaging.

9. Fresh Local in New Hampshire is run by actual farmers. The products are all sourced from local family farms, the disposables are biodegradable and they feed any kitchen scraps they don’t compost to their very own chickens.

10.  Clover Food Lab runs trucks in Boston and at MIT. Founders are nuts about compost and are working toward a zero waste operation. The trucks are run on biodiesel, and the food is local and organic. Their blog, which documents the process of getting the business up and running, provides a fascinating window into what it takes to start a green food truck.

The whole scene in Portland is greener from an emissions point of view because many of the carts are stationary and in pods concentrated in downtown areas easily accessible by bikers and walkers.

And here’s the future of the pop-up restaurant – somewhere between a stand-alone business and a restaurant on wheels, the solar powered, foldable, moveable Muv Box may be the biggest future trend yet.

This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate, on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.

Image: ricardodiaz11

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.