As much fun as it would be to see an actual food truck jump an actual shark, this question is asked in all earnestness. Have food trucks jumped the shark? Are they too ubiquitous? Is the proliferation of these trucks making the experience less enjoyable? Did I use the words “ubiquitous” and “proliferation” correctly?
Every festival, food related or not, has food trucks. Any sort of bicycle, foot, or swim competition has them as a post-race celebration. The Food Channel now has not one, but TWO food truck shows – “The Great Food Truck Race” and “Food Truck Face Off”. You know what the winner of each show wins?
A g**damn food truck.
Meanwhile, actual brick-and-mortar restaurants have branched out and put their own versions of food trucks on city streets, which means we have fully entered the Bizarro world as it used to be that you used food trucks as a springboard to getting your own actual restaurant. Call it “branding,” call it “synergy”, call it “vertical integration”, or call it any other awful marketing term that makes your balls shrink in disgust — the fact of the matter is that food trucks are so popular that even established eateries feel the need to hit the open road.
Just a decade ago food trucks were the antithesis of hip. They were nicknamed “Roach Coaches” and served only greasy burgers, barely-edible burritos, and lots and lots of bags of snacks. In fact, the only time you ate at a food truck was if you were starving or working on a construction site (or both). Now cities dedicate entire evenings to food trucks. Streets are lines with “mobile kitchens” (yeah, cause that name is way cooler) that serve soba noodles, gourmet mac and cheese, farm-to-table BBQ, and all kinds of upscale, fusion tacos. Almost all of them are really good and almost all of them – okay, ALL OF THEM – are really expensive.
Anything over eleven dollars from a food truck is too damn expensive. If you are charging me the same price for a dish I can get at a restaurant (and a smaller dish at that) and you are not even providing me a place to sit or an air conditioning to complain about then it is just not worth it. I can waste my money on overpriced food virtually anywhere. I don’t need to stand in a long line in front of a truck blasting Mumford & Sons to get fleeced.
And as with anything that hits the zenith of pop culture, food trucks are tending to repeat themselves, which is just the really nice way of saying everyone is ripping off everyone else’s ideas. Nachos made with sweet potatoes are everywhere. Mac and cheese balls are a staple on every menu. And if I see one more truck that “specializes” in kalbi tacos I swear I am going to run that truck off the road. One of the greatest truisms of life is this: If everyone is doing the same thing, that thing ain’t that special.
Plus, let’s recognize that a group of food trucks in a parking lot isn’t that cool. It’s a food court minus the mall. Unless you are six years old, no one thinks a mall food court is cool. So how is a parking lot filled with food trucks any cooler? You could argue that you can get a more diverse food at a food truck gathering than at a mall food court. That is very true. You can also get more diverse food by actually seeking out local restaurants that serve more diverse food and go to them. So let’s not use diversity as an excuse for partaking in the food truck movement. Let’s use a more honest word: convenience. Convenience trumps diversity every time.
In the end it really doesn’t matter if food trucks have jumped the shark or not because they aren’t going anywhere. They will still remain “a thing” for the foreseeable future even if other food trends come and go. But for those food truck aficionados who think that food trucks are the coolest things ever and their coolness will remain cool from now until global warming eventually does away with coolness, let me leave you with this:
Taco Bell, Sizzler’s, and Applebee’s all have food trucks.