Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this (food) wall!

Street food is in the news again, and it’s annoying. It’s annoying because it has been so bungled up and delayed that it has invited ridicule and scorn from the usual shrill and right-wing-populist corners of the city (making it far too easy for them), and lives up to whatever Soviet-style imagery they want to evoke. It’s more annoying because we find ourselves agreeing with these folks. Back in February, Dylan Reid had the following to say here on Spacing Toronto:

It’s not often I find myself in complete agreement with Denzil Minnan-Wong, but the way city council has managed to unnecessarily complicate what should have been a slam-dunk, the expansion of Toronto’s street food beyond sausages, has put me in that unusual position.

I have long felt, like I’m sure most of our readers, that a diverse city like Toronto should have far more food available on the street than sausages (even if there are several kinds). So I was strongly supportive when councillor John Filion started a campaign last year to loosen the provincial regulations and enable a wider variety of food to be sold from stalls in Toronto.

It doesn’t seem that it should be complicated. The province loosened the regulations last year, so all Toronto needed to do was to start licensing carts that sold stuff other than sausages. People in Toronto have been thinking about how this might be done for years, and given the wide range of cultures and inventiveness of our citizens, no doubt Torontonians would have come up with a wide variety of interesting proposals.

In the Star yesterday the Preston-Manning-of-Toronto-Danforth, Case Ootes, complains that “we have to micromanage everything,” and for once, we agree. Today, Royson James does not look this gift horse in the mouth, and lays into the folly:

What a great idea. Why is the city bent on messing it up?

Councillor John Filion should be commended for trying to add spice and variety to Toronto’s street food fare. Put a little jerk in the chicken, add some bite to the dog, and toss in some salads for the vegans and crepes for the sophisticates.

But oh, how they’ve wrapped and trapped the spring rolls in red tape and bureaucracy at city hall.

You’d have thought this to be a simple matter: Change provincial laws that prohibit the sale of anything but pre-cooked meat; establish testing and inspections; announce the new regime; watch enterprising vendors enter the marketplace. And Torontonians are smiling in their samosas and crying in their hot curry.

But no, too easy. The meddlers had to engineer it into delay and confusion. First, the city wanted to borrow $700,000 to buy 35 carts and lease them out for $450 a month. Why not just set the cart standards and leave it to the private sector to provide and sell? Because the city wants to block “conglomerates” from taking over this new venture.

The solution is easy. Forget about this centralized cart-leasing scheme. Issue permits to individual human beings, and then let them decided what kind of cart they will use. Establish some general cart guidelines, but that’s it (“no towering neon signs,” that sort of thing). Maybe some of them will tap into Toronto’s vast design talent and get a unique, locally built cart. Then let them serve whatever they want. Then send around Toronto’s great food inspectors, who enforce some of the world’s toughest food hygiene laws, and see if they’re up to code, just like we do with restaurants in this city. If they’re clean, they would have lineups of austerity-weary customers immediately.

There would be no delay in getting new kinds of food on the street because the creative entrepreneurial spirit in Toronto can move at the speed of light — all that creative city stuff we keep hearing about — but only if we let it happen. Toronto would be better off if the bureaucracy simply made sure it was done right, just by enforcing rules already in place, and meddling no further.

Photo by tracer.

10 comments

  1. I know! There I was yesterday, agreeing with Case Ootes. (Twice, if you count the target-shooting thing.) For a minute I thought the world was ending.

    This whole thing has been unbelievably annoying.

  2. I feel sorry for the bureaucrats who are being blamed in some ways for the process running slowly. Council (or maybe just Filion) was paranoid about retaining control, so they structured things in a heavy-handed way. Closer oversight slows down the process, almost by definition. You can’t blame the bureaucrats for being bureaucratic.

    (I only know what’s been reported publicly, so maybe I’ve gotten the wrong impression.)

  3. Shouldn’t it have been:

    MR. MILLER, TEAR DOWN THIS (FOOD) WALL!

  4. Using phrases like “creative entrepreneurial spirit” almost makes one think you actually believe in such a thing, and yet this item is chock full of pissy little remarks about right wingers. What’s with the compulsion to attack people even when they are correct, and what exactly does it accomplish?

  5. But I actually believe such a thing, and the right wingers in question have a long, recorded history of pissyness for the sake of being pissy. If you subscribe to some ideology — left or right — those two are probably mutually exclusive….but I don’t.

  6. Give a politician a simple $5 project, and he/she/it will find a way to make it cost $50,000,000 and so complex that even a rocket scientist can’t figure it out.

    This whole thing could have been done simply, require that food must be initially prepared in a proper commercial facility such as a restaurant, catering kitchen, banquet hall, or government inspected food preparation facility. Then remove the requirement to sell sausages only. City council could have dealt with this in under 5 minutes at no cost to the city.

  7. I always liked the sausage carts where they served grated cheese – fully illegal. Sometimes they move the cheese under the lip of the cart, but got it out when I asked and they remembered me. I don’t want to be “food poisoned”, but let’s face it, any cheese I pack in my lunch is unrefrigerated for four hours or so. My bag lunch never poisoned me either

  8. Well that’s nice to know you don’t “subscribe to some ideology” and I realize it’s just some cheap laughs to fill out space and bolster your urban blogger bona fides, however it’s possible the cheap shots, especially ones that are so peripheral to the topic at hand, could leave the opposite impression. And let’s face it, with the monumental dumbness of the city’s street food plans, the cheap laughs write themselves.

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