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City Council To Consider Legalizing Mobile Food Carts Wednesday

By Anthony Todd in Food on Sep 15, 2015 10:06PM

Every time I travel, I'm surprised to see the vibrant street food that fills the byways of other cities. Portland has its amazing food trucks, New York has its pizza stands—even Philadelphia has amazing, cheap egg sandwich stands on most corners. Chicago has ... not much, and what we do have is illegal.

Yup, all of those fruit and snack carts around the city are technically against the rules.

The Illinois Policy Institute analyzed the food cart scene in Chicago, and found that there were approximately 1,500 food carts, mostly owned by minorities, operating all over the city. Under current city rules, they are illegal. That might change soon, as an ordinance moves into the Committee on License and Consumer Protection tomorrow.

Here's the meeting agenda. We're interested in the top entry: "Amendment of Municipal Code Titles 4 and 7 concerning establishment of license fees and operation of mobile food vendors." If you want to read it, here's the whole proposal, but the gist of it that the ordinance would legalize a limited class of "mobile food vendors." These aren't food trucks (they have much stricter mechanical and licensing requirements), these are non-motorized handcarts that dispense food. There would still be requirements about proper refrigeration and heating, and a licensing system.

Unfortunately, these new rules wouldn't help legalize most of the food vendors we've seen on the roads, because of a clause in the definition. A mobile food vendor is defined, in part, as a vendor that serves "individual portions of food, coffee or other beverages that are totally enclosed in a wrapper or container and which have been manufactured, prepared or wrapped in a licensed food establishment." In other words, no fruit, no snow cones, no sandwiches.

Monica Eng pointed this out on Twitter.

The Illinois Policy Institute also estimates that legalizing vendors could generate up to $8 million in tax revenue.

There's a rally planned for 10:00 a.m. Wednesday in support of the ordinance.

We'll be following the outcome of the committee meeting, and update you with the results.