New York Post curmudgeon Steve Cuozzo is trying to ignite a feud with the food trucks of New York City and one of their most high-profile supporters, Anthony Bourdain. In the pages of the Post today, Cuozzo argues that mobile restaurants are smelly road obstacles that detract business from actual brick-and-mortar operations, peddling food that is often “meh at best.” Even though carts and trucks are supposed to be inspected by the authorities annually, they don’t receive DOH letter grades, and Cuozzo is worried about “the flies, bird droppings and unpalatables you can’t see.“
The critic balks at a campaign to get the city to allow more vendor permits, even thought it could curb the black market for vendor licenses and help regulate hygiene standards at these businesses. Cuozzo sucks Bourdain into his rant because the author/TV host appeared in a video for the non-profit group the Street Vendor Project encouraging the city to add more licenses.
The critic also takes Bourdain to task for helping to popularize street food culture in general:
Since Bourdain first romanticized it on TV, street food has become the Holy Grail of gallivanting chefs who prowl the third world in search of obscure, peasant-wrapped dumplings before bedding down for the night in five-star hotels.
To true believers, street food stands for authenticity, diversity and solidarity with the masses — whether of impoverished Ecuador or wealthy Hong Kong. Bourdain’s great and deserved popularity infected New Yorkers with a craving to track down their own favorite street epiphanies.
The headline for Cuozzo’s screed: “Blame Anthony Bourdain for ruining New York.”
Cuozzo is no stranger to controversy — as matter of fact, he offers up a scintillating new rant about food, politics, or real estate about once a month. Oftentimes, these are humorous articles, more playful than cruel, that also contain sharp observations and amusing anecdotes. Cuozzo is the master of the newspaper rant. And while today’s missive is a fine example of the critic’s ability to stir shit up, it’s also an atypically (and perhaps unintentionally) mean article from the Cuozzmeister.
By slamming food trucks, Cuozzo is taking aim at independent businesses offering inexpensive, freshly-prepared food to a wide array of New Yorkers who rely on them regularly for meals. The breakfast kiosks, street meat stands, taco trucks, and hot dog/kebab carts are not trendy or glamorous, but they are an essential part of the New York City ecosystem. And the proliferation of food carts and trucks — there are between 8,000 and 10,000 of them, as Cuozzo notes — suggests that there’s real demand for these kinds of establishments, letter grades be damned.
Cuozzo points out that some vendors — like the Arepa Lady, Biryani House, and Hallo Berlin carts — offer delicious food at great prices, and he admits that he gets a kick out of “watching rich Wall Street guys stand in the cold for 20 minutes to buy lukewarm tacos.” But perhaps it would be wise for Cuozzo to take a note from Bourdain, and continue to look at “who’s eating what.” Then he would surely find that the people waiting in line at the food trucks throughout New York City aren’t just Wall Street bros and food critics.