Why You Should Thank That Hot Dog Vendor

Street Food By Julia Burgi

Street food is naturally part of an urban environment, proven by thousands of years and dozens of cities. Mobile vendors around the world provide customers with inexpensive, tasty dining options: mafe, a peanut-based stew, in Dakar, Senegal, or falafel sandwiches ("Extra white sauce please! Only a little spicy.") in New York City.

Despite the immediately apparent value of food vendors, there are people out there who want vendors off the street in America. Such people claim that vendors have an unfair advantage over property-based businesses, that vendors do not pay their taxes, that vendors foster criminal activities or are criminals themselves, or that vendors create unnecessary congestion on the already crowded city streets.

These concerns are understandable, but not exactly valid. Mobile vendors, of all types, do not have the same advantages as property-based businesses - they can't have seating or enclosure from the elements, for example. Also, a report by the non-profit the Street Vendor Project, 96% of street vendors do pay taxes. And as a bi-product of being on the street, vendors actually - surprise! - create a safer and more business friendly environment!

Street vendors provide the safety of witnesses on the street - crimes are much less likely to be committed if there is someone watching. The reason why street vendors do cause congestion, not usually on a constant basis, but at certain times of day, is because there are so many people who rely on them and value them. Furthermore, a study of a neighborhood in Chicago in the 1990s showed that removing street vendors had a sizable impact on the property-based businesses: their revenue dropped significantly.

Why might this be? Street vendors, and street food, are not just businesses. Rather, street vending is a culture, a life of their own. The character that vendors give an area is a major attractor.

I grew up in a Chicago, a place where mobile food vendors are struggling today to run their businesses - and the downtown area is lacking in a conspicuous way relative to similar areas in New York. Don't get me wrong - I love Chicago and there are many neighborhoods with great vibes, but I think the downtown area could benefit a lot, business-wise and gustatorily, from mobile food vendors.

Mobile food vending is a legitimate business enterprise that has benefits not only for your stomach, but the whole community!