Mobile Food Misfire 

Oakland shuts down yet another mobile food event, while Berkeley hosts the "Occupy Your Plate" conference.

Despite operating on a private lot, a small rotating food truck market at 21st Street and Webster was shut down last week by the City of Oakland. A $2,000 fine was levied on Hisuk Dong, owner of the event's vacant lot space (he also owns nearby Mua).

DanVy Vu, owner of the Streatery food truck, ran this erstwhile popular food truck event. Too tiny to really be called a food pod, 21Web brought in just one truck for two hours each weekday at lunch. "We were so small, and we were operating on private property, so I thought the city was going to leave us alone," said Vu, who launched the event in October.

The official reason for shutting down 21Web was the lack of a permit to sell fast food, Vu said. The vacant parcel was zoned for cafes but evidently someone in City Hall didn't think that was sufficient. Vu suspects this smackdown was the direct result of a complaint from neighbors. Though there are few restaurants in the immediate vicinity of 21st and Webster, large office complexes like Kaiser Permanente have their own food-service facilities.

"I think one of those cafeterias felt threatened and called in a complaint," Vu said. "If it hadn't been a fast-food permit, the city probably would have found some other issue."

Gail Lillian was about to park her Liba Falafel truck at 21Web for the first time when the event was shut down. Lillian, who helped develop Oakland's recently approved interim food pod ordinance, said a lot of her customers have been asking, "Why does Oakland hate food trucks?"

"I don't think it's a matter of hate," she said. "I just don't think the city can get it together. They don't want to keep food trucks out, but they don't have a leader who knows how to keep us in."

In related news, another lunchtime food truck pod recently launched on a private Uptown lot. Shoot me an email if you'd like to know the location before its near-inevitable closure. Officially sanctioned food pod events will likely not commence before March.

"Occupy Your Plate"

Dozens of progressive students from across North America converged on Berkeley this weekend, bearing cardboard name badges, vegan recipes, and bright-eyed ideas about how to shake up their college food-supply systems. With a rallying cry of "Occupy Your Plate!" the Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive hosted a boot camp to help students create their own on-campus co-ops.

Organizer and self-described "chief evangelist" Yoni Landau said most of the fifty-plus attendees were starting co-ops from the ground floor, and came for a weekend of networking and self-education. I spent a couple of hours at UC Berkeley's Cloyne Court co-op Saturday night, chatting with attendees and checking out some guest speakers.

Most students had been involved with their campus Occupy movements, like Sam Shain of Haverford University in Pennsylvania. Shain and friends launched a granola cooperative out of a student apartment this fall. She called this "Phase 1," the gateway operation to eventually launching a cafe and grocer on campus. "We're starting small, and will keep growing incrementally," she said.

To launch the granola operation, Shain and friends rode a carbon-neutral bike fleet to the farmers' market, using micro-grant funding to purchase ingredients for a vegan feast. Another student organizer, Elli Pearson of UC Davis, told proud stories about her fledgling co-op's bicycle-powered blender and a recent "Funkraiser" they held.

Though the ideals were noble and the enthusiasm infectious, at times this gathering veered towards self-parody (Landau led attendees in a freeform improvisational movement session before their tamari-and-tofu dinner).

Luckily Nikki Henderson, executive director of the People's Grocery in West Oakland, showed up for some straight talk over dinner. Henderson referenced cult favorite TV show Portlandia, a spot-on satire of leftie subculture. She suggested that food activists be aware of the image they can present to people outside their movement (case in point: mainstream media portrayals of Occupy protesters). "I like yoga and Pilates and turning on the love light just like you," she said. "But when you're inviting outsiders to share dinner at your co-op, you might want to dial back the love light thing ... it's too easy for us nice crunchy folk to get abused."

Henderson also entreated the predominantly white crowd to head into underserved communities near their campus for outreach opportunities. "Throw a dinner party, and try to make sure the faces are less than 50 percent white," she said. "You have the power to become a hub for a very diverse community."

The Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive has raised more than $110,000 since its founding in fall 2010, which it plans to use in support of 35 student-run food co-ops.

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