It's tough to consider any takedown of the food delivery system so many New Yorkers, from Midtown office grunts to Brooklyn flea-market goers, hold dear. Our own Dear Leader Health Commissioner Thomas Farley declared New York 'the capital of mobile food vending' (SEXY, no?). But there are some very real, under-considered issues in play, and they don't all favor the meals-on-wheels model.
Grounds for comparison are hard to find: operating hours, approaches to service (menu variety) and traffic patterns (of customers, and the trucks themselves) vary widely within both camps, and between them, as do levels and kinds of power consumption. Brick-and-mortar restaurants use more power, but tend to be open longer, serve more people, and don't have to dole out all their product in disposable packaging, with disposable utensils.
Trucks are simpler and less energy-consuming, but have to drive hither and yon, and when set up use a generator, which creates a lot more sidewalk-level pollution (can you say asthma?) than the grid-tied power consumed by restaurants. They generate huge amounts of garbage (relative to the amounts of food they serve), in the form of takeaway packaging, and while their carbon wheelprint may seem small, many rely on backup facilities for cooking and prep, refrigeration and storage, narrowing the energy consumption gap.
Here in New York, food trucks also put a greater strain on city resources: most of that customer-carried trash ends up in corner garbage cans (I'm looking at you, overflowing Bedford Avenue baskets), where it has to be hauled away by the Department of Sanitation, at city expense. Restaurants are required to contract with, and pay for, private sanitation haulers. A two-year permit for a food truck yields a meager $200 for the city, though on the black market it can fetch $20,000 or more for a permit holder willing to break the law.
Something to think about next time you consider eating a couple of tacos out of a styrofoam clamshell while trying to keep that guacamole from running down your forearms. Me, I'll be sitting by the window, letting a table hold my book, and my lap hold a napkin.