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2016: The Year Food Trucks Can Finally Be A Thing In Buenos Aires?

By | [email protected] | October 29, 2015 5:15am

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The Food Truck movement got started in Buenos Aires a few years ago, and has been at the heart of a legislative contradiction ever since. Food trucks can legally exist (technically), but Law 1166/03 prevents them from selling their products in public spaces. Which kind of defeats the purpose, right? Food truck owners sure think so and are battling for the full legal recognition of their businesses and the right to freely rolling around town, spreading joy and calories to the lazy gluttons among us.  

But wait, what about those carritos down on the Costanera? They’re selling bondiola sandwiches all year long and no one seems to be bothering them… Well, those carritos are actually permitted by the City Government. Law 1166/03 limits the sale of food in public spaces to “candies, candy shop products, cold and warm sandwiches.” Basically, choris are legal but fruit is not. Go obesity!

The main objective behind most food trucks is to simply operate as mobile, free-standing eateries that offer healthier and more nuanced dishes than the carritos do. In reality, many restaurants have already started to get in on the action. In the latest edition of Feria Masticar, some of the most distinguished names in Porteño cuisine — Don Julio, I Latina and even La Cabrera — made appearances on wheels.

From the vantage point of the Buenos Aires Commerce and Industry Federation (Fecoba), food trucks are seen in a rather negative light. The Federation accuses food trucks of being “unfair competitors of restaurant owners who have properly established their business” in a press release published last June. The notice goes on to argue that the requirements for opening a regular restaurant are much more complex and demanding than those of food trucks. “If they operate in areas of the city where a gastronomic offering has already been established, and where businesses pay high taxes in order to function, then unfair competition is obvious.” Another accusation issued by Fecoba is that food trucks would “usurp the public space.” The release concludes on a rough note: “Fecoba believes food trucks are unnecessary.” OK, thanks guys. 

Rodolfo Cámara, president of the Argentine Association of Mobile Gastronomy, talked to The Bubble and responded to the criticism.

Working in public areas translates to giving people options. Food trucks should be perceived as a city attraction, and their operation in public plazas for example could be complemented by other cultural activities such as music or theater. It doesn’t have to be just about the food.” As for the “unfair competition” allegations, Cámara disagrees and argues that starting a food truck is not cheaper or easier than opening a restaurant. “I believe that as long as food trucks aren’t operating on the same street as a restaurant, there’s no unfair competition,” he added.

Despite the legal ban, the food on wheels movement has been gaining ground, thanks in some part to their regular appearances in private events. As weird as it might sound, the rising popularity of food trucks is mainly attributed to their constant appearance in food fairs and festivals organized by the City Government — despite being illegal outside the context of a fair or festival. On an ambiguous approach, two laws were introduced earlier this year to the Legislatura Porteña, aiming to legally acknowledge food truck activity in public spaces. So far, neither has been approved, but a public ordinance could authorize a trial run to be allowed for next year.

Rodolfo Cámara explained that a trial run would mean that 12 food trucks, selected via a public competition, would be authorized to function in different areas of the city. “Some are more attractive than others, but would operate on a rotating system, makes the whole process more fair,” he explained.

A crucial requirement for food truck owners to take part in the contest though is for their vehicles to be attached to a brick-and-mortar kitchen recognized by the City Government.

This would mostly favor trucks attached to restaurants or restaurant chains,” argued Cámara. “The association is looking to set up a ‘common kitchen’ for the 55 food trucks it is comprised of, so as they all get a chance to enter the contest.” If the trial run gets the green light, food trucks could be able to sell their products but wouldn’t be allowed to prepare them inside the vehicle. All prep would have to take place at an authorized non-mobile kitchen.

Maybe 2016 will finally be the year for food trucks, but in the meantime private, and sometimes even government-supported events, are being organized for the sake of our collective gastronomic mental health.

Get in on the action

Buenos Aires Market: A classic among food fairs and one that has gone crazy for food trucks apparently. BA Market organizers have been setting a 100 percent food truck fair in Colegiales’ Mercado de Las Pulgas. Next edition will be on the last weekend in October. We’re already dreaming of sinking our teeth into one of Mood Food’s shawarmas. We’re also excited to see La Pianca, the very first food motorcycle. See you cool kids there.