Why do people eat at Food trucks ?

First let’s start with a bit of history. The whole concept of food trucks came from the United States and dates back to the 19th century. In 1866, Charles Goodnight, a Texas rancher, created the chuckwagon: a wagon used to transport perishable goods and to feed workers on the road.

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But, the modern food truck is different, it’s a large vehicle equipped to cook and sell food. Some sell ice cream, frozen or prepackaged food and others have on-board kitchens and prepare food from scratch. American-style trucks selling restaurant-quality food first appeared in Paris in 2012.

In recent years, Food trucks have started to use premium quality ingredients (such as farm, fresh or organic products) and the dishes are all completely handmade. That’s why many of these mobile restaurants target mainly well-off customers living in an urban environment who want to eat healthier, and who are a bit tired of ordinary fast-foods and are usually gather around crowded places, where workers and students can meet.

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So, we know that Food trucks are a type of restaurant, but we can also think of them as a phenomenon that offers a trendy, and unique experience that develops through social media. People are looking for a certain visibility, especially when queuing for a long time, and they want to share that experience with the city and the people around them. We now live in a world where being patient is hard, no one wants to wait anymore, but oddly enough it doesn’t seem to be a problem when it comes to food trucks. When participating in this trend, people want to show off and have experience the feeling that they were there. So queuing allows for the creation of a creation aura around something quite basic, like eating.

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At first, the defining feature of food trucks was the proximity/mobility. But increasingly, food trucks are less and less mobile. So, why do people want to buy food from a food truck ?

In La Distinction, French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu showed that taste corresponds to social status. This could be applied to food, i.e the cultural elite preferred sophisticated and light food whereas the working class appreciated heavier food. However, today, in many fields, it seems that the distinction between high brow and low brow is becoming more and more blurry. So at first glance, the food truck trend seems to reveal a uniformisation of taste across social lines. However, this trend is comparable to the phenomenon of gentrification in urbanism. Indeed, gentrification is the appropriation of an urban space by people from an upper social class from its original inhabitants. The result is the socioeconomic transformation of the area in favor of the upper class.

The development of food trucks works the same way. At first, the concept of food trucks was intended for workers on the road. Today, food trucks target white collars who are tired of eating at the office restaurant and want a different experience.

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Sociologists Annick Prieur and Mike Savage talk about a self-reflexive appropriation of culture. Indeed, the cultural elite appropriates the low brow culture but use it to create a distinction. This is what is happening with food trucks. In appearance, the upper/middle class eats the same food as the lower classes, but they refuse to have the same taste, because taste is the key to social and cultural distinctiveness. 

Food trucks can be seen as the representation of the transformation of high brow culture into something hybrid: the high casual.

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Thus, we can say that it is definitely a trend founded on a new hybride experience, street food meets quality food. However it makes us wonder about the future of food trucks as people are always looking for new experiences. We already notice that food trucks are losing their distinctiveness, as their concept is articulated around mobility, but now they are stationed at a single place. So, in the future, will they be considered as a simple outdoor restaurant?

N’hésitez pas à aller faire un tour au Camion qui fume, pour déguster leurs succulents burgers !

By Lorène Cottura (M1)

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Cet article est la synthèse d’un exposé réalisé par Alice Huot et Lorène Cottura pour le cours « Découverte de la Culture Contemporaine » dispensé par Martine Beugnet.

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