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America’s Food Truck Craze

A little over ten years ago gourmet food trucks burst onto the scene of American cityscapes and Western pop culture. The concept however, has been around for much longer. The first form of mobile dining emerged at the end of the 19th century as American frontiersman pushed westward in search of gold and land. These large caravans of pioneers had among their ranks a personal cook who managed the chuck wagon. This kitchen on wheels was customized for food preparation, washing plates, and storing kitchen equipment. The cooks would awake well before sunrise to stoke the fires and sift dough for biscuits—all of this to support the hard-working men and women who put in long days.

The next descendent of these wagons were pushcarts, which scattered the cities of New York and Chicago during the 1920s. While they weren’t equipped with stoves or the ability to heat food, they served sandwiches and meat pies to factory workers during the middle of the day. These pushcarts were responsible for feeding workers and recharging their batteries during stringent work hours. By the 1950s the automobile had become affordable and the first food businesses to take advantage of this new form of mobility were ice cream entrepreneurs. Decked out with audio speakers which cast catchy little jingles through the streets and refrigeration to keep the ice cream cold, they had found a new way to expand their market and deliver goods. Today, these trucks still patrol the neighbourhoods of America during hot summer days, leaving a trail of happy children in their wake.

food truck
Image credit: Marina Micheli

As our professional working culture has adopted stricter time management, more streamlined processes and less time for lunch, we find long lines of hungry customers turning to the culinary expediency of our favourite food trucks. The days of poor health standards and low-quality food from these mobile kitchens has mostly disappeared, as modern food trucks are custom built and outfitted with prep stations, clean kitchenettes and run by some of the most creative and experienced chefs around. Due to the growing demand for our favourite foods on wheels, we’ve come a long way in mobile lunch since the days of the chuck wagon and pushcart.

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As populations grow and our cities and towns expand, it is only natural to believe that food trucks will continue to find ways to provide even better experiences to not only the office professionals and construction workers, but to the soccer moms and hipsters who also find comfort in getting their lunch from a big shiny truck.

Even more convincing, the concept that had originated in large industrial cities has recently spilled over into small towns and crowded suburban landscapes. During the fall, I travelled to a quaint mountain village in north Georgia to attend a food truck festival and was awed by the sheer number of people who waited in line to experience the trend that began in cities far away. It became clear to me that the food truck craze no longer had a cultural epicenter. Enthusiasts no longer need to find the most popular inner-city street corners to get tacos, exotic fish and barbecue. The gourmet food trucks of America have now taken over every town from coast to coast and show no sign of slowing down—except during lunch hours, of course.

T.J. Champitto is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer from the United States. His blog, The Blazing Nomad, has won numerous awards and offers a glimpse into Champitto’s life on the road through a humorous lens. He has been featured in publications around the globe, with interview’s in Finland’s Kulkuri and America’s Samantha En Route. Champitto has been writing his entire life and in 2013 published his first novel, One Giant Leap, under the pen name J.T. Sterling. He now resides in Atlanta, Georgia, United States with his wife and two dogs. 

Check out more of T.J’s excellent prose at: theblazingnomad.com

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