Pump up the palate: bring more food trucks to campus

15. ops. Chameleon. Glasser
Photo Credit: Carina Glasser

You have an hour in between lab and lecture, and you’re starving. Orange chicken from Panda Express again? The same cheese pizza from La Fiamma? That authentic sushi roll from Honor Roll? You can always branch out and try the new Subway! No matter what, you have to choose from the same bland food that has been here quarter after quarter after quarter.

What if you had to decide between Korean BBQ tacos and mac and cheese mixed with BBQ pork and caramelized onions? How about fries topped with poblano chiles and shawarma-marinated steak and Jack cheese? Dessert, you say? How do red-velvet chocolate chip pancake bites sound? Maybe you’re more in the mood for organic hand-made ice cream sandwiches. Either way, students at UCR have none of these options for food. But if you head over to Los Angeles, Orange or San Diego County you can choose from all of these thanks to their highly accessible food trucks. For instance, how about a sundried tomato and basil goat cheese grilled sandwich for only $5 at the Grilled Cheese Truck in LA.

Currently Riverside County’s food truck regulations are some of the strictest in California. But luckily newly-elected Supervisor Kevin Jeffries is looking to change the county’s regulations so we can get food trucks year round, not just at festivals. If this goes through I have only one thing to say: bring the food trucks to the UCR campus. It’s time for students to get the chance of having truly diverse food options.

UCR prides itself on diversity. We are currently ranked eighth in the nation when it comes to diversity. If we pride ourselves on this, why doesn’t our food reflect that? We have pasta that tries to pass as Italian but where’s the gnocchi? Our Mexican food? Please. Over at Habanero’s they’ve never heard of real carne asada tacos with cilantro, onion and lime juice. And where’s the spicy carrots, Panda Express? Come on, if that’s Chinese food, then Pizza Hut invented the first pizza. UCR relies on chain-style fast food, not quality. Food trucks offer specialization in a specific style of food that is truly unique. If we are looking to be diverse, then why not provide our students with food that is actually eaten in other parts of the world?

People worry about food trucks, though. Many that oppose lessening regulation say it will bring about more food-borne illnesses. But the food trucks that travel around other counties aren’t the roach coach burrito joints of the ‘80s. These are places that pride themselves on quality. Gourmet food trucks are the latest craze such as the Grilled Cheese Truck based out of L.A.

I called Ryan Allen, the director of operations at the Grilled Cheese Truck. Allen said, “Grilled Cheese Truck has never had a case of food illness in the three years since it opened.” He even discussed the differences between restaurants and food trucks. “Food trucks get more inspections than restaurants. We get inspected once a month… We are even required to keep our trucks locked up overnight in lots along with other food trucks to ensure safety.” Even if Riverside County loosens restrictions on food trucks, it sounds like there won’t be a problem with illnesses. Allen assured me that I don’t have a thing to worry about. “No place is safer than eating at a food truck. We’ve always had an ‘A’.”

The current food truck regulations are ridiculous. According to Riverside County’s Mobile Food Facility Guidelines, Riverside County food truck menus must be “non-prepackaged, non-potentially hazardous food requiring no preparation other than heating, popping, blending, assembling, portioning, or dispensing.” This leaves them serving food like popcorn, pretzels, shaved ice or cotton candy. Nothing with actual substance.There is even a ban against cooking processes such as barbecuing, grilling or frying. The current guidelines don’t even give trucks the chance to cook their own food.

People worry that the introduction of more food trucks on campus will drive out the restaurants already here. Businesses should be able to thrive under competition. Since when is it a bad thing to make the restaurants cater to us rather than us having to resort to them because we have no other food options? If this is the biggest worry then it’s time for our restaurants on campus to pack up their knives. Bring the food war on. Being in the hot seat isn’t always a bad thing. Make yourself tastier than the competition and I’ll give you the PIN to my back account.

The days of students living off Top Ramen, eggs and avocados are over. We are starting to realize that it is time to pay for quality not quantity, and food trucks are exactly the venue that offers this. Lift the restriction on food trucks in Riverside County and get them closer to our campus.

I’m hungry—how about you?

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