An Open Letter To Councillor John Filion Regarding Street Food Carts

Dear Councillor Filion,

This morning, upon reading the news of the backtrack on the issue of funding street food carts, my husband said, prophetically, “He’s gonna fuck it up.”

While I think the idea for the city to purchase carts and rent them out to vendors is noble – that many potential vendors cannot afford the purchase of a new custom-built cart is a definite hurdle in getting this programme off the ground – I have an issue with your reasoning.

The Toronto Star quotes:

“We don’t want a repeat of what’s happened with hot dog carts,” said Filion. “We want a uniform look. We want something that’s good for branding the city as a food destination.

“We do not want a hodge-podge of carts that someone makes up in their garage.”

No. No, no, no, no. Please, can the city just once NOT look at something from a marketing perspective? Why do the carts all need to look the same? As long as they meet the safety and sanitation requirements, what does it matter if they ultimately look different? Doesn’t it make more sense to be able to tell the empanada cart from the pad thai cart at a glance?


You know who has a “uniform look”, Councillor Filion? Fast food chains where every meal is the same and the experience does not deviate whether you’re in Paris or New York or Halifax. If the push in getting food vendors onto the streets is to celebrate our diversity, then WHY would we want them to all look the same? “Branding the city as a food destination”??? Wait… I need a minute for my eyes to stop rolling around in the back of my head. You know what makes a city a great food destination? Great food!! Not the cart it comes from.

Please stop mucking around with the unnecessary details; as long as the vendors’ carts meet the safety and sanitation guidelines, the more creative they look, the better.

And finally, as for this idea about an official Toronto street food; let it be. Stop mucking with it. We have an official Toronto street food, and no matter how many carts hit the street selling noodles or tripe or kebabs, we are the city of the hot dog. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.

We at Taste T.O. have been enthusiastic supporters of the new vending cart initiative; we think it’s an important step forward in embracing our great cultural diversity, but diversity is the key word here. Your statements insinuate that Toronto needs to be Disneyfied in order to attract visitors, and that only those visitors matter in terms of street cart customers. It also assumes that visitors want some sort of bland uniformity that stifles anything unique about the individual cultures represented at the many food carts you hope to place on the streets. Can we not give both our visitors and our citizens more credit than that?

Certainly, safety and sanitation must be the priority, but beyond that, we are a city that embraces all languages, all colours, and all cultures. Why not all carts?