by Anya Vincent
It is almost impossible to drive a mile in Los Angeles and not see a street vendor selling food on a sidewalk. They are an essential part to the city’s food culture, and if they were taken away there would be a large gap in its place. The food there is almost always guaranteed to be delicious and inexpensive. Types of food can range from fresh fruit, sold by fruteros, to street hot dogs, found after sporting events, to tacos and pupusas. When visiting most vendors, one can often find a full meal or large portions for five to ten dollars; these often should be double or triple the price that is charged. Street vendors are an essential part to Los Angeles, but this pandemic has hit them hard and the survival rate of their stalls has dramatically decreased.
In order to understand what the vendors face, I visited one recently and talked to them about their business. The one I visited is on W 36 St and Vermont, in between the post office and Smart & Final. I have seen them multiple times when driving around the area, and I finally was able to try their food. The cart is run by a woman and man, and unfortunately, I did not ask about their relation to each other. In their cart, they sell tacos, pupusas, quesadillas, and hot dogs, along with drinks. The majority of the food was five dollars or under and was very filling. When I asked them how long they had been there, they mentioned that they had been in that location for 8 months and work from seven in the morning to four in the afternoon. I was shocked they started during the pandemic, especially since a lot of food vendors have been hit extremely hard. They said that there had been less business than usual because there were no students, which led me to think they were around USC campus earlier but in another location; however, I did not have the chance to ask them that by the time my food was ready. I purchased two pupusas with beans, cheese, and chicharron to share with my friend, and they were absolutely delicious. I definitely will be visiting them again, especially during the pandemic.
It is extremely sad that so many of the street vendors have had to close down during the last year. As mentioned in the article in Food and Wine, many vendors had to shut down due to restrictions, and cannot afford to open up again. Those that have remained open have lost around 70% of their revenue as they have less customers. However as restrictions begin to loosen, they can be essential for helping our economy and our cities. As John Rennie Short mentions in his article, they boost small business, provide safe, socially distanced ways to get food, and additionally make cities livelier than they previously were, as foot traffic can help it out. They also provide income for many immigrants and low-income workers. However, in order for this to occur, Los Angeles county needs to help them. Even though street vending has been decriminalized, it is extremely hard for them to meet the impossibly high standards imposed by the city. Just to get set up with permits and health inspections with the carts, costs vendors a sizeable portion of their yearly income. While these steps are very important, the city needs to lower prices and expectations, so vendors can actually sell their products and make a profit. Until then, the most we can do is help them fight for more rights during city council meetings, while also visiting their stalls. The city cannot risk losing their street vendors because losing them will also make the city lose a large portion of itself.
Bautista, Nidia. “Los Angeles Street Vendors Already Had It Tough. Then the Pandemic Hit.” Food & Wine, 24 July 2020, http://www.foodandwine.com/news/la-street-vendors-on-the-toll-of-the-pandemic.
Short, John Rennie. “La Venta Callejera Hace Más Vivas, Seguras y Justas Las Ciudades, Por Eso Pertenece a La Escena Urbana Post-COVID-19.” The Conversation, 26 Jan. 2021, theconversation.com/la-venta-callejera-hace-mas-vivas-seguras-y-justas-las-ciudades-por-eso-pertenece-a-la-escena-urbana-post-covid-19-143869.
Villafana, Jannette, and Ross, Jack, “FINES AND CONFISCATION: EXPLAINING L.A.’S ARBITRARY STREET FOOD CART LAW THE COUNTY USES TO CRIMINALIZE STREET VENDORS.” L.A. Taco, 15 Mar. 2021