Learning How to Change: Food Trucks and New Orleans

Times change. Usually, changes in culture and business are driven by creativity and innovation, not by government. In fact, laws often need to be revised just to keep up with changing norms in the real world.

The growth of the food truck business in New Orleans and across America is a great example of this routine situation. Food trucks are providing a popular service that is perfectly legitimate, but current laws in New Orleans heavily restrict their operation in odd and unfair ways–including limits on the number of businesses and where they can serve customers. While people in town may not know that food trucks are so restricted, it is clear that people want more of them.

There is one great thing about these laws, though: they too can be changed. Like the recent legalization of pedicabs, the City Council can revise and modernize city rules to encourage the creation of new businesses and jobs that provide a real service to residents, workers, and visitors. Empowering food trucks would be a boon to capital-constrained entrepreneurs, including young people, immigrants, and people with out a college education. They would also allow the brick-and-mortar restaurants in town to expand and reach new customers. It would further strengthen our city’s healthy culinary tradition, and help the industry become a true economic engine for all New Orleanians.

So how do New Orleanians make this happen? Well…we don’t know exactly. But we are going to try and find out. Earlier this year, the Times Picayune and the Gambit covered a group of food truck operator’s nascent effort work with city leaders, other restaurants, and the public to change the outdated laws. Neighborland users want a whole parade of food trucks, so we got in touch with the business owners mentioned in the article. Sure enough, we hit it off, and a partnership was born.

Over the next weeks and months, we will support the food truck operators in their quest for popular support and a fair shake from the law. Right here in the Handbook, we will document the process for everyone out there in Neighborland. We want to make transparent the often opaque process of organizing, advocating, and negotiating a change from the status quo. If we’re lucky, what we learn will be useful to all New Orleanians looking to make their city a better place.

We are starting at the beginning. In the next installment of this series, we will inaugurate a new organization dedicated to the cause, the New Orleans Food Truck Coalition, and introduce the lovely New Orleanians involved. We’ll also talk about the nuts and bolts of speaking with one voice: creating an identity, setting up a presence on the web and on the street, and the challenge of articulating a set of clear and realistic goals.

In future installments, we will delve into the issue in greater detail, interview experts, and confront arguments against the case for change. We will also spend a lot of time exploring ways regular New Orleanians can get involved.

There are dozens of reasons to support more freedom for food trucks. Whether you are motivated by issues of economic justice, your own property values, or just the need to satisfy that craving for carnitas, we hope you will stay tuned and help spread the word.

To get up to speed on the food truck scene, make sure to check out nolafoodtrucks.com