Before the food-truck craze picked up speed, I never could resist street treats. County fairs, of course, brought some of my first exposure to the concept of portable meals. And even though the food never was particularly good (or good for me), it somehow tasted so much better wrapped in paper, on the go, eaten hastily with the smell of grease hanging in the air.
Fortunately, food-cart fare has gone gourmet in the past few years, and the Rogue Valley is home to a fleet of trucks that service farmers markets, wineries and special events. One of them is Fulcrum Dining, featured in this month’s Oregon Healthy Living magazine. Others that have been profiled in the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section include Fresco Mobile Kitchen and Figgy’s Food Truck.
These three, in particular, focus on using locally grown foods in delicious, affordable meals. This ethic not only ensures superior flavors and appeals to customers but helps food trucks offset some of their environmental impact.
To be fair, most food trucks when compared with restaurants, have very small carbon footprints. Indeed, the start-up costs are much less, which is why seasoned chefs are turning to opening food trucks rather than bricks-and-mortar restaurants.
But there is that niggling issue of disposable serving items. Unless it’s just sandwiches, tacos or similar items wrapped in a thin sheet of paper, food-truck meals can generate a lot garbage.
I recall the excitement I experienced ordering pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup, at one of the pods in Portland but then was astounded at the amount of garbage involved. I guess I should have expected that with soup. But the container was made of such sturdy plastic that I considered taking it home and using it to store homemade stock. Storing it in my hotel room without stinking up the place proved problematic, though.
I hear Portland since has instituted a system of reusable trays that are purchased, collected in exchange for a token to use next time, washed and redistributed to the city’s popular street vendors. I’m sure the system goes a long way toward alleviating the community’s concerns over food-trucks’ environmental impacts.
Absent something similar, there are a few ways to evaluate the eco-friendliness of your favorite truck, according to a recent story by Mother Nature Network. The most obvious is checking that packaging and utensils are either recyclable or compostable.
In addition to locally produced ingredients, organic and fair-trade products, generally speaking, are more sustainable. Composting food waste or any other suitable items is another important practice. If you’re really vigilant, check to see if trucks use biodiesel or vegetable-oil fuel, propane and rechargeable batteries or solar power. Even if they don’t leave engines idling, some may have zero-emissions systems.