Making Street Food Healthy? Yes! Say Vancouver Officials

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REUTERS/Chris Helgren

Mobile food vendors and busy city streets are a perfect match and the food scene in Vancouver, BC is no exception when it comes to curbside fare. Lunch purchased from a cart or truck reflects the city’s ethnic mix, including everything from elk burgers to dim sum to satay. Now the city government wants to ensure that the food is as healthful as it is diverse by licensing only vendors who are able to meet minimal nutrition standards, as set by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

“If somebody wants to sell a deep-fried Mars bar or whatever, that’s their prerogative. But when you are using public streets or public space or land to sell food on, I think you should be using it to promote the goals of the public body and one of our goals is around nutritional outcome,” Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer told the Vancouver Sun. (More on Study: Calorie Counts in Restaurants May Not Curb Eating Habits)

The Sun went on to report:

Along with forbidding things like stand-alone chip stands and not approving any more hot dog vendors, when the city opens the door to new street food licenses next month, it won’t look favourably on proposals to sell items that are high in sodium, fat or sugar.

Instead, they will be looking for menus that include fresh fruit and vegetables and low calorie options.  The measure started as a pilot program last year, in which 17 vendors were given licenses on the condition that they sell something besides hot dogs — which are often high in saturated fat, sodium and preservatives — and that their food meet minimum nutrition standards.

[Deputy city manager Sadhu] Johnston said the new diversity of food on the street helped convince at least six hot dog vendors to change or expand their menu, and he’s hoping that as time goes on, the number of hot dog stands will decline.

Given the wide availability and low cost of mobile food vendors, as well as their growing popularity, it makes sense to have some standards. But will it work?  The Sun reports that it’s the first regulation of its kind in Canada and possibly even in North America. But they are hardly the first city to try to improve street food. For example, New York City’s 2008 Green Cart program, which licensed 1,000 fruit and vegetable vendors to city streets, has been successful enough that other cities, like Philadelphia and Chicago, are launching similar initiatives. Still, the green cart sells whole produce, rather than the quick prepared foods that many people count on for lunch each day. Even for food-on-the-go, it can’t hurt to have options beyond hot dogs and chip trucks.

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