Food Trucks and Anti-Gay Chickens: An Update

Photo: courtesy E. Leaven

We were talking last night to another food writer who noted ironically that she had gotten into writing about food to get away from politics. Not this week! Here are some updates on the essentially political stories that dominated this week of food. First of all, the food truck ordinance passed 45-1, so what now? No one really knows whether the ordinance will prove a boon to a more regularized food truck biz or bureaucratically burden them out of existence. The best thing we’ve seen is this map by the My Streets My Eats initiative, showing how much of the Loop and West Loop are off-limits to food trucks because of the 200-foot rule. Essentially it shows that food trucks have just been outlawed from the areas of heaviest customer density— something we doubt will sit well with thousands of Loop workers who have just been de facto denied a choice they’ve enjoyed over the past couple of years. If the ordinance is an organic, growing thing as some of its supporters tried to reassure opponents, then supporters need to mobilize that denial of choice and the anti-competitive nature of the ordinance to encourage its, uh, growth and organic evolution.

But belated public opposition isn’t the only challenge the ordinance faces now. The lone vote against, Alderman John Arena, tells Louisa Chu at WBEZ that he believes the bill is so one-sided it can’t withstand a court challenge. “It’s restraint of trade. [Rich] Melman can plunk down a million bucks to open a restaurant anywhere. But that’s not how small guys operate. This ordinance favors big guys with big bucks who can withstand the losses.”

As a counterexample to the restrictions on trucks that basically deny them the densest-population areas of the city, Arena points to Fischman’s Liquors in his Jefferson Park ward, which holds food truck nights. “It’s a party in the street every other week. And this is a guy who’s building a restaurant. He asked me to put a food stand in front of his restaurant. This is a guy who gets it.”

Meanwhile, on the anti-gay chicken front, Mayor Emanuel and Alderman Joe Moreno seem to have been surprised by the degree to which local voices have argued, as we did, that city government really shouldn’t be deciding the life or death of businesses on political issues. And they haven’t been shy about calling out hypocrisy, noting that a day after saying Chick Fil-A didn’t represent “Chicago’s values,” he was heaping praise on Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has made anti-Semitic remarks on many occasions (and is no fan of gay marriage, either).

Richard Roeper in the Sun-Times:

Moreno is attempting to deny Chick-fil-A the right to do business in the 1st Ward because he doesn’t like [owner Dan] Cathy’s religious beliefs, and that’s just wrong.

Do these same rules apply to business owners that are Muslims, Jews, Catholics, and Jehovah’s Witnesses? I mean, what the heck happened to religious freedom?

Eric Zorn in the Tribune:

Those who are cheering on these pols ought to imagine the jackboot on the other foot - reactionary public officials in some backwater town denying an entrepreneur the right to operate an ordinary business simply because he’s an open supporter of Obamacare, abortion rights or even marriage equality.

Such a hypothetical should make it easy to see how it plainly offends the spirit of the Constitution - and sets a horrible precedent - for public officials at any level to punish otherwise legal forms of speech with arbitrary exercises of government power.

And a number of commentators, mostly on the right, have noted that the thing Emanuel says is against “Chicago’s values” was also, until very recently, the law of the state of Illinois and the policy of the Obama administration… during the entire time that its Chief of Staff was one Rahm Emanuel. (A hypothetical that occurred to us: what if the Chick Fil-A had been under construction at the time that the law in Illinois changed? Which set of “Chicago’s values” would the company have had to meet to be allowed to operate, the one before or after June 1, 2011?)

Will either of these incidents lead to City Hall backing away from trying to microregulate our food lives and letting us, the customers, decide for ourselves what we want? That, even more than the future of food trucks, remains to be seen.

Food Trucks and Anti-Gay Chickens: An Update