Deregulate green carts!

by on April 19, 2012 at 6:40 am in Food and Drink, Law | Permalink

Food trucks are not the only battle:

“Green carts are a quick and nimble approach that can get fresh food out there relatively quickly,” says Rick Luftglass, executive director of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, which has provided $2 million to support green carts in New York. “And because they are mobile, you can follow the need. If sales aren’t good on one block, you can move a few blocks away. It allows the market to build around the customers.”

…Generations of immigrants to New York got their start selling on the street. In the 19th century, the Lower East Side was full of pushcarts hawking pickles, flowers, buttons and hats. But today’s arrivals are limited by strict rules for sidewalk vending. There are multiyear waits to sell those New York hot dogs and a thriving black market for permits.

That is from the excellent Jane Black.  Many green carts are starting to take food stamps.

1 Brett Keller April 19, 2012 at 7:53 am

The last part of the quote you include notes a multiyear wait for hot dog carts — but that’s not true for green carts. You can certainly make a case for deregulating all food carts (other than, say, making sure they follow the same health standards as other food joints so you can know which vendor gave you food poisoning.) But the green cart program (which is in addition to the normal food carts permitting) was specifically set up to address a shortage of fresh produce in lower income areas. They made 1,000 permits available, but several years later there are only a little over 500 carts in place (as the article notes).

DC and other cities should probably implement similar programs, or deregulate carts altogether, but that might not have the same effect (of increasing produce availability in low-income neighborhoods) as Green Carts, which specifically requires the new carts to be in those neighborhoods. That only half of the permits have been taken up in NYC indicates there is relatively limited demand for more, at least from the potential vendors.

2 Rahul April 19, 2012 at 10:31 am

How do health standards help you know who gave you food poisoning?

Unlike pharma etc. they don’t retain control samples for forensics do they?

3 Brett April 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm

When there’s an outbreak of foodborne disease they actually do respond and try and trace it to the site. My understanding (not my area of expertise) is that at least some of the food inspection stuff comes out of lessons learned from tracking all those outbreaks. It’s a way of solving the information asymmetry problem inherent in not knowing (in a commercial establishment) what goes into your food prep. Public health authorities track particular outbreaks to end them as soon as possible, but also to build to the knowledge of what causes outbreaks and how they can be reduced — it’s an iterative process where everyone ends up better off (in the sense of being less likely to get sick) but no single component (registration, rules, disease tracking) constitute a complete response on their own.

4 Rahul April 19, 2012 at 2:48 pm

I still think health-standards are more a prophylaxis than a forensic diagnostic.

5 Andrew' April 19, 2012 at 8:42 am

Until we have vacuum tubes capable of delivering sub sandwiches or burritos depending on your ethnicity TGS is still in force.

6 Bill April 19, 2012 at 9:03 am

Too bad the carts are beginning to take food stamps…..

Because, the House Agriculture Committee, tasked with the responsibility to cut a fixed amount of money from the Ag budget,

Deemed Fit to Cut only Food Stamps to Meet their budget objective, leaving every other program in place,

including commodity price supports and othe programs, which remained untouched.

Well, at least the poor can look at the higher price supported food, but they can’t touch.

7 Vivian Darkbloom April 19, 2012 at 10:33 am

“And because they are mobile, you can follow the need. If sales aren’t good on one block, you can move a few blocks away. It allows the market to build around the customers.”

The concept seems to work well for the illicit drug market, too.

8 Mark Thorson April 19, 2012 at 10:53 am

No reason one cart couldn’t serve both markets.

9 Brett Keller April 19, 2012 at 2:08 pm

True, but the point is that there are larger profit margins on less healthy food. I don’t know why the government has decided to regulate the total number of carts that can sell anything, but they have. Taken that as a given, they have increased the number of carts that can sell fresh produce to a point that that’s greater than the demand for such carts. Deregulating food carts in general would increase the number of carts overall (and there’s an independent argument for doing that), but probably not the number of green carts operating in low-income neighborhoods, which was the argument here.

10 Daniel Klein April 19, 2012 at 11:23 am

“Deregulate” here can be misleading. All this activity takes place on government property, and the idea of simply pursuing a “free market” policy does not apply very neatly at all.

Like any property owner, the government may and should set rules for the use of its property, and a pure “anything goes” policy on sidewalks is neither clearly more desirable nor more in line with the liberty principle — I would be somewhat inclined to say that it is an issue on which the liberty principle simply does not apply.

John Stossel — whom I like and admire immensely — sometimes neglects this point, as when he proposes to sell lemonade on the Manhattan sidewalk.

11 someofparts April 19, 2012 at 11:53 am

Thanks. The perfect little job to supplement my retirement income.

12 Anon April 19, 2012 at 12:22 pm

The libertarian in me agrees that these things should be deregulated. But the pedestrian in me disagrees- they will take up valuable side-walk space, probably cost more for the food they sell then grocery stores do (so I won’t use them), and will generally be annoying for me.

13 Rahul April 19, 2012 at 2:50 pm

In the limit you get something like Mumbai. We lost our sidewalks to vending. Sometimes even the curb-lanes.

14 Mark Chandler April 19, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Which is more important: more economic opportunity for individuals or your ability to walk down a sidewalk uninhibited?

15 jonm April 20, 2012 at 7:17 am

I doubt that carts affect anyone’s ability to walk down a sidewalk uninhibited, but they certainly interfere with one’s liberty to do so.

16 Rahul April 20, 2012 at 2:37 pm


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