NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Citing health concerns, the city is considering a ban on taco trucks and other mobile food wagons that dot the busy streets in Nashville’s immigrant neighborhoods.
But critics say the proposed ban has more to do with cultural differences than health.
“There’s a resounding feeling that these actions are driven by racism,” said Loui Olivas, a business professor at Arizona State University. Nashville is one of several cities with fast-growing Hispanic populations that have tried to restrict food trucks recently, he said.
“Folks weren’t pointing fingers or speaking loudly with traditional hot dog vendors or bagel or ice cream vendors,” Olivas said. “That’s always been a part of growing up in America. Why the concern now?”
Problems with insects and rodents are worse in food wagons than in restaurants, said Jerry Rowland, director of food protection services for the city Health Department. Inspectors have also found wastewater from food truck sinks running out onto the ground.
Some vendors also prepare much of the food at home, which health inspectors have no way of regulating, he said.
Tommy Bradley, one of three city council members sponsoring the ban in Nashville, said the proposal was prompted by legitimate health concerns and was not meant to target Hispanics, who operate the majority of the 70 or so mobile vendors in the city.
He points to a city health department inspection of 31 mobile food vendors this summer. Their average sanitary score was a 67 out of 100, compared to an 83 average for restaurants.
The 31 trailers were chosen for inspection because they operate every day throughout the city, health inspectors say.