Friday, January 14, 2011
Canadian first: Nutrition rules for street food
Health-conscious standards proposed for new vendors in Vancouver
Battered fish and chips may be Vancouver's favourite comfort food, but you won't find those deep-fried golden slabs with tartar sauce at any of the city's street food vendor stands. At least not without fruits or vegetables on the side.
That's because Vancouver is about to become the first city in Canada -- and quite possibly North America -- to apply minimum standards for what it considers wholesome, nutritious food that can be bought on the street.
A staff report proposing the expansion of street food vendor licences to an eventual 140 from the existing 80 also recommends that all new vendors offer items that aren't going to cake a person's arteries or cause a heart attack on the street.
"Our goal is to provide more diverse, healthier food options on the street," said deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston. "It's not just about providing healthy foods, it's about diversity, improved food access and affordability."
Along with forbidding things like stand-alone chip stands and not approving any more hotdog vendors, when the city opens the door to new street food licences next month, it won't look favourably on proposals to sell items that are high in sodium, fat or sugar.
But if vendors want to throw on some healthy extras like vegetables, fruits -- even sauerkraut -- that balance out that cholesterol-laden gourmet beef patty or other high-fat food, they may just get past the city's food police.
Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer sees nothing wrong with the city acting as Big Mother.
"If somebody wants to sell a deep-fried Mars bar or whatever, that's their prerogative. But when you are using public streets or public space or land to sell food on, I think you should be using it to promote the goals of the public body and one of our goals is around nutritional outcome," she said.
City staff are recommending to city council that it expand the number of street food vendors by 60 over the next four years to a total of 140. The expansion would include 20 new licences for mobile vendors -- similar to ice cream trucks or bicycles -- offering a range of non-prepackaged foods.
The city's move toward better street food choices began last year when it approved 17 pilot food stands that offered anything but hot dogs. With the vast majority of the city's previously existing 60 licences devoted to the dog, the city wanted diversity.
The new initiative gave life to street burritos, dim sum, elk burgers, satay, even southern barbecue. But every one of those had to meet minimum standards as set by community nutritionists at the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.
That rigour is now going to be applied to all new licence applications. Johnston said he isn't ruling out the possibility of a fish and chips stand making it to the street. But if it does, it will be because it has included healthy options that make it more palatable.
"It is all of the deep frying that makes it an unhealthy choice," he said. "Just like there is a healthier way to do hotdogs, there is a healthier way to do fish and chips. I would wager you will get some pretty creative solutions. This is a very creative food town."
Johnston said the new diversity of food on the street helped convince at least six hot dog vendors to change or expand their menu, and he's hoping that as time goes on, the number of hot dog stands will decline. But he says the city has no agenda to get rid of all the hot dog vendors.
At least one new street food cart approved last year does offer a version of fish and chips, and even poutine. Fresh Local Wild operates a cart at Robson and Granville and on its menu are unbattered salmon and chips and a "chanterelle poutine."
But for diehards determined to eat battered fish and chips while sitting on a park bench, there are still -- for now -- some seasonal places. Joyce Courtney, a spokeswoman for the Vancouver park board, says the city's concessions stands in Stanley Park, Spanish Banks, Locarno Beach and New Brighton Park still have fish and chips on the menu.
But the park board menu has already given way to some healthier choices. It now offers paninis and some gourmet foods. It has also switched its concession deep fryers to canola and the fish meets the Oceanwise label for sustainable fisheries.
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