Monday, January 28, 2008

Trading Up

Just when I'd given up looking for a distress deal on one of the older model trailers recently booted off the grey and pleasant lands of Mississauga, I found what I was looking for. Well it looks like one - or maybe its only my high school portable. Yes thats it, stuck on what the old delivery entrance of the ROM.

Guess one man's eyesore is another man's aluminum siding. But the new owners are so very proud of their Tilt-A-Whirled mobile home that they've given it a fancy name and stuffed it full of their best loved collection.

They want people to stand back, way back - out of the black hole, bereft of ancient lights, so they can marvel how spiffied up is the old place. They have even "invited" the street vendors to take a hike, apparently fearing that someone visiting the venerable ROM might have a childhood flashback to more linearly constructed days of old - when a flotilla of popcorn vendors could be found floating around its much grander old primary portal.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Toronto Cafeteria Matron

Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor v1. London. Griffen, Bohn and Company, Stationer's Hall Court, 1851, which I was commended to read almost 30 years ago in a university level "humanities" course, lists the pret a manger fare of the "The Street-sellers of Eatables and Drinkables" in early Victorian London.

Even then Mayhew reports that London streets were alive with willing sellers and willing purchasers of fried fish, hot eels, pickled whelks, sheep‘s trotters, ham sandwiches, peas’--soup, hot green peas, penny pies, plum “duff,” meat-puddings, baked potatoes, spicecakes, muffins and crumpets, Chelsea buns, sweetmeats, brandy-balls, cough drops.... such constituting the principal eatables sold in the street; while under the head of street-drinkables may be specified tea and coffee, ginger-beer, lemonade, hot wine, new milk from the cow, asses milk, curds and whey, and occasionally water.

I can vouch that I have survived eating and drinking most of these items, which are still sold from the curb in some London boroughs.

In its role as Head Cafeteria Matron, the City of Toronto has wriggled out of Victorian food safety shackles and now offers modern Torontonians: hotdogs, sausages, chips and soft drinks.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Locally Produced and Diverse*

Ontario's Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, George Smitherman, was right in saying "Ontarians are at our best when we embrace the diversity of our people and our culture".

His Ministry's bold initiative to amend the Ontario Food Premises Regulation to allow expanded menu options for street food vendors was heralded thusly "By expanding street menus, we are making it possible for our food options to reflect our multiculturalism. We are also helping a new group of entrepreneurs showcase their culture's culinary contribution to their cities."

Yet, as interpreted by the the City of Toronto, Smitherman's well meant changes seem to mean only fifteen new entrepreneurs!

In keeping with its conservative and paternalistic approach to lunch nosh oversight, I hope that the City will use as much care and concern to ensure that what is sold on the streets is locally produced.

They only need to listen to wordsmiths, Oxford University Press, to know that we have all become locavores - and its not just lip-service that made it Oxford's word of the year. Not to mention that is also is a food sourcing policy enshrined in Toronto's Food Charter.

* Egg and spam
Egg, bacon and spam
Egg, bacon, sausage and spam
Spam, bacon, sausage and spam
Spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon and spam
Spam, spam, spam, egg, and spam
Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, spam, spam, spam and spam
Lobster thermidor aux crevettes with a Mornay sauce garnished with truffle paté, brandy and with a fried egg on top and spam
Spam, sausage, spam, spam, spam, bacon, spam, tomato and spam

© Monty Python

15 Carts Merge from Slow Lane

The Financial Post and the Toronto Star recently reported that the City of Toronto Executive Committee has been urged in a report coauthored by staff from five city departments to roll out 15 street-food carts into parks and public squares this summer as a pilot project.

Five city employees, one executive committee and two years might get you 15 carts.

And we wonder why Toronto founders as a tourist destination.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pickle Over Push Carts

© Gerald San Jose foodite

New Yorkers recently celebrated the 7th Annual International Pickle Day! But pickles weren't always welcome on Lower East Side streets.

Suzanne Wasserman's (Metropolitan Studies, NYU) paper, The Good Old Days of Poverty: Merchants and the Battle Over Pushcart Peddling on the Lower East Side posted on the Business History Conference website describes that 1920s New York Lower East Side merchants, together with city officials, developers and city planners sought to bannish push carts on the basis that they were a nuisance and an embarassment.

The merchants, clothed as altruistic reformers, wanted to replace them with more "conventional prosperity".

Thomas A. Edison found the Orchard St. push cart debate so newsworthy he made at least two nickleodean actualities of the area, one called "Move On" which depicts the very cold shoulder given to street vendors in the area.

And despite Mayor LaGuardia's support of the merchant's cause, through obsessive opposition to street peddling, Ms. Wasserman points out that within twenty years, the East Side business community sought a U-turn on cart removal; having found that it was the push carts that created the character that attracted custom. In effect, they had thrown the pickles out with the push carts!

Do Toronto archives illustrate a similar exodus? Are we now experiencing a reversal?

At least one neighbourhood across the pond (St Mary Axe / St Marks Bevis) has taken steps to have their Gherkin noticed and secure for the future.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Kernel Knowledge

© Carl Derrick []

Any street-eats staulker will tell you about the powerfully addictive qualities of Elote. Reading like an indictment on a culinary controlled drugs list charge, who could resist corn, butter, salt, lime juice, chili, cheese and mayonaise on a stick or in a cup?

You don't have to love Bacon (Francis) to admire what Carl Derrick captures in his Elote Triptych, above.

I cannot see any reason why Toronto City Council would not want these sold on the street, except perhaps the corresponding need to erect barricades to control the ensuing stampede to the nearest vendor.

Ontario produces a bounty of corn. Perhaps when Toronto was only knee high, eating local produce on the street seemed unsophisticated. But now that we have built it, they should come.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cart, Food and Vendor

The trinity of cart, food and vendor and the meaning and importance of street food are being re-examined. Those who believe that mustard, ketchup and relish are the way to nirvana are being challenged.

Whilst Toronto City Council ponders Ontario's new street food vending regulations and the exciting cart vending projects and other initiatives seeking greater food diversity are underway, lets not forget the guy or gal behind the grill.

I am grateful to Jennifer Bain, Toronto Star Food Editor, who today mentions in her column a short documentary about Marianne Moroney, who has run a hot dog cart outside Mount Sinai Hospital for nine years. Watch this video and ask yourself if street vending is an important element of city life and urban planning.

It may be a little premature, while we are still fed only a strick diet of pre-cooked meat on a bun, to commence awards similar to the Vendy Awards, held by Sean Basinski's (lawyer and former Mexican food vendor @ Park Avenue and 52nd Street) New York based Street Vendor Project.

I am hopeful that when we come to recognize a greater diversity of both cart and food on Toronto's streets, that the individual vendor and his or her unique contribution to our streetscape are not forgotten.

Photograph above © Michael Fletcher []

Re-inventing the Cart Wheel

Okay, okay - street vending didn't start with a lemonade stand.

I am grateful to the National Charrette Institute for explaining the meaning and origins of the word "charrette". While being French for "cart", it also can mean the final deadline beating efforts of architecture students, referring as it does to the cart sent around in 19th century schools to collect final drawings.

So it is apt that the design competition (charrette, as it were) to herald in the new street vending regulations be of a - street vending cart!

As part of the Street Food Vending Project, Multistory Complex, in partnership with Professor Lorella Di Cintio of Ryerson University, Faculty of Communication and Design, has convened a Vending Cart Design Competition for Toronto street food vending carts.

The jury is presently evaluating the submissions and the results and prizes will be announced at the 2007 Food Festival, styled Arts and Ideas Festival - FOOD - Local meets Global, presented by Alphabet City. The research on street vending will also be published in Alphabet City's FOOD anthology, due out in October, 2007

Extremely helpful to anyone who has entered the competition are two video webcasts of Snack Chats (hosted by Multistory Complex and Ryerson University), called The Designing of a Vending Cart and the Vendor’s Experiences and The Role of Street Food and Vending in the City.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Toronto Chestnut Vendors Marooned

© David Morgan-Mar []

Whether they are Chestnuts or Marrons, it seems they are not getting roasted on Toronto street corners.

I recall seeing them on Queen Street close to Simpsons many years ago. Their appearance on the streets of New York, Paris, London and Rome each autumn is surely an endorsement for the return of chestnut vendors to this city.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Taking it to the Streets

© Erich []

If you cannot make it to a farmers' market (see posting below) why not have the market come to you. These sumptously laden carts are a good example of what fruit vending carts can and should be.

Unfortunately you will have to go to Manhattan to find one.

After all isn't this what street vending should be all about, offering seasonal, fresh and nutritious food which is locally produced ?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Coffee Addict Den

© Succession H. Matisse

Is not coffee best taken in a semi-recumbent position after having been poured expertly from a great height? Shouldn't the imbibing ritual be performed idly? Would it not be better for the guest to decide when the coffee ceases to flow to the cup?

If all this is true, then please tell me why would we line up to purchase a specific portion of coffee, through enforced use of the vendor's coffee idiom, only to be ushered to another line after making considerable advance payment, to sort and retrieve the coffee from where it may have been left, and if sussessful, seek to retreat to the nearest corner of the premises not overflowing with last weeks newspapers ?

Coffee drinkers unite - demand coffee cart baristas !

Dickee Dee Come Home

Picture a full moon on a summer night, with the intervening image of a tri-cycle push cart passing by on its way to another galaxy.

Perhaps this is what happened to Dickie Dee (tm), Canada'a erstwhile mobile (and stationary) ice cream brand vendors. Where did the approximately 1500 pedal carts go?

One theory, posted on Wikipedia, is that Dickie Dee was sold to Unilever and became a division of Good Humor Breyers, which maintained the brand until roughly 2002. But then what?

On a sweltering summer day last week I wrote to Unilever demanding to know the past and likely future three-wheeled trajectory of Dickie Dee. My suspicions were confirmed when I received this prompt written reply from Unilever:

" Thank you very much for contacting us. We have not heard any news about Dickie Dee at this point. Thank you"

These pushcarts may be peddling & peddaling amoung us disguised as independant frozen treat vendors or...

All Toronto sighting reports welcome.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Farmers' Markets - Beauty at a Lower Price

"The Babylonian Marriage Market" by orientalist Edwin Long

To my knowledge, Toronto has never had an outdoor wholesale marketplace such as Les Halles, the traditional central market of Paris (RIP 1971). But it presently has no shortage of retail Farmers' Markets, which usually set up camp one day a week, typically Saturday.

The City of Toronto publishes a list of Farmers' Markets operating within its boundaries. A more detailed market finder appears on the Farmers' Markets Ontario website. The FoodShare website and the Friends of Greenbelt Foundation website also display an extensive list of Toronto farmers' markets, with links to some of the individual market and market friends' websites.

Of late there has been clarification and definition of the source and quality of the produce for sale at these markets. Two new farmers' markets in Toronto, branded "My Market", at Liberty Village and Woodbine Centre, bear the Farmers' Markets Ontario certification of "Certified Local Farmers’ Market". Some, such as Dufferin Grove Organic, Riverdale Farm, Trinity Bellwoods and Withrow Park farmers' markets focus on organic and free range.

My favourite is the Weston Farmers' Market , which when managed by Laura Alderson, was described by Toronto Life Farmers' Market Overview as a "gem". It often had live acoustic music to enjoy with your morning cup of coffee.

The seasonal availability of fruit and vegetables at market is described on the Foodland Ontario website.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Death or Transfiguration ?

© copyright "The Popcorn Vendor" is held by Barry Oretsky and the image is courtesy of Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York City

If you are old enough to vote, you will recall being delighted by the sight of the once ubiquitous popcorn vendors as they plyed their trade around town. There usually was a flotilla of them close to the steps of the ROM, St. Lawrence Market and the Princes' Gates during Exhibition time.

Perhaps we were tickled by the mildly absurd notion of someone navigating a huge glass box of fluff across the city. Like bassist Tommy Potter bebop-ing down 44th Street "with his most unwieldy bass...about to angle over to the south side of the street" in Billy Collins' poem Man Listening To Disc, these bulk popped-cargo freighters shared something both loud and confidential to sidewalk amblers.

Like the ambivalence to the painted trucks of Pakistan, India and South America, what does Toronto's abandonment of decorated sidewalk food transport say about our culture?

Recent amendments to the Ontario Food Premises Regulation (O. Regulation 562) seek to "help street food vendors be more creative in their menu offerings".

But who is going to help them bring back the jewel case on wheels?

Why Weiner Wagons ?

© copyright "Lucky Dogs on Bourbon" held by Terry Gardiner

Probably the most widely known public hot dog vendors are Lucky Dogs (c) of New Orleans, Louisiana. The fictional Ignatius J. Reilly had a spell of work as a Lucky Dogs vendor in John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, for which the author posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize. Managing Ignatius: The Lunacy of Lucky Dogs and Life in New Orleans tells the story of author, Jerry Strachan's 2o year experience managing Lucky Dogs and their fleet of seven foot hot dog shaped hot dog stands.

Being a photo opportunity for almost sixty years on Bourbon Street, Lucky Dogs makes sense. Toronto's bland version of street meat vendor is disappointing. I guess our street vendor heritage is more Manhattan pretzel vendor. Look at Raeanne Rubenstein's album cover photo for Steely Dan's Pretzel Logic and you get the idea.

Send us a photo of an exceptional Toronto hot dog vendor or just tell us theToronto coordinates and we will track him / her down.

Click here to see more of Terry Gardiner's art.

It All Started With a Lemonade Stand

Whether you were buyer or supplier, your fondest childhood memories might include the summer lemonade stand. The sidewalk supplied your first market exchange and maybe some healthy refreshment.

Never mind that the Peanuts cultural compass pointed to Lucy's need to dispense a different kind of aid. When the weather is fine, we become kids again. But has Toronto grown up?

What fare do Toronto boulevards, parks and fairgrounds offer us ? Tell us about your favorites.