Alila: Better than burritos

I think the fried-dough cart was the last straw for me.

I have lived in two cities where food carts were a popular lunch option. But the scenarios in the cities were strikingly different. During the warmer months, Philadelphia also had several carts that sold overstuffed containers of fruit salads. An extra banana would be thrown in for good measure. The fruit carts were just as popular as the other lunch carts.

In stark contrast, New Haven has no such equivalent. Instead of fruits, I see cupcake trucks and fried-dough stands, steps away from the hospital. Seriously, New Haven?

Street vendors are an integral part of the urban food landscape. They provide quick meals and offer cuisines from around the world for a low price. New York City, for instance, even hosts an annual “Vendy Awards” to celebrate its extraordinarily diverse street vendor scene.

But street vending carts also pose a serious health problem. Meals are sold in large portions, and are very high in sugar, sodium and fat, especially saturated fat. One brave kebab cart in New York posted caloric information for 100 grams of its meat, showing a range of 320 to 710 calories. But most food carts serve at least twice that amount, which puts the caloric range at 640 to 1420 calories — for one meal alone, not including accompanying side dishes! The average person needs 2,000 calories a day, so this means that up to 70 percent of the day’s allotment could be found in that one meal. In other words, to stay healthy, better kiss dinner goodbye.

Food carts are not regulated like brick-and-mortar restaurants, although in New Haven several food carts are outposts of restaurants. As such, this presents a unique opportunity to tackle the healthiness of street food. In New York, restaurants were recently required to post caloric information. The same should be done in New Haven for restaurants and their carts.

Other policy recommendations include:

1) Lobbying for healthier lunch carts in New Haven.

2) Developing a scorecard that objectively measures whether street vendors use healthy ingredients and prepare foods in a healthy manner. Currently, health scores reflect hygiene, not nutritional value. This inadvertently leads people to think that the food must also be healthy.

In the meantime, there are personal steps that can be taken to enjoy street food in a healthful manner.

1) Don’t eat all the food at once. Divide items in half, eating half for lunch and saving the other half for dinner.

2) Opt for the appetizers instead. Even on their own, the portions are still large enough to work as a full meal.

3) Go for the fruit first. In the warmer months, some of the food carts sell watermelon from coolers for only $2. This and an appetizer are more than enough. However, it would be much better if carts sold other inexpensive fruit such as apples or bananas.

Better yet, pack your own lunch. It’s healthier, you control the portion size and it saves you money in the long run.

For all their tastiness, street foods are not nearly as healthy as they seem. But with proper regulation and careful personal measures, they don’t have to be seen as the silent enemy.

Linda Alila is a second-year student at the School of Public Health.


  • Yale 08

    Why is there a call for government action?

    I am all for regulation- the kind of regulation that comes from me deciding whether I want to be fat or not. The regulation that comes from putting down the fork, or getting a salad, or going to the gym.

    Why must the government be constantly invoked in the name of protecting the citizen from him/herself???

    I refuse to consider my fellow New Havenites idiots- we are all capable of discerning whether a particular meal is healthy.

  • Wow

    So the government is going to tell me what I can or cannot put in my mouth? I suppose you use the U.S. constitution as a napkin.

  • Natalia

    Great article, Linda.

    #1: I don't think Linda is calling for governmental intervention to protect Yalies. I think she is calling for intervention to protect individuals who may not be as aware of the relationship between caloric intake, lifestyle and health consequences. Additionally, poor people buy what's cheap and plentiful. Should this food be unhealthy by default? I don't think so. Whether or not the local government should regulate portion sizes or implement a "health" score card is up for debate but I do feel listing calories per serving is a low cost, high impact measure for all New Haven residents.

    Eponymous, MSIV
    UCSF Medical Student

  • SOM'10

    Alila, what will you propose next? Forced marches? Or perhaps mandatory armbands for those who don't eat the food you approve of?

  • ^^^

    Couldn't agree more. I'm not a donkey: I'm smart enough to figure out what the hell I'm shoving down my throat. Thanks but no thanks.

  • Wow

    SOM '10-- Although I agree that what she calls for is necessary, your comparison is completely inappropriate. In so many ways.

    Mostly the problem with this piece is that it is poorly written and somewhat incoherent. Is she trying to protect the poor, or the doctors who buy food at the carts? If the former, there are much better ways of getting nutrition to them than attacking the food carts. If the latter…well, they're doctors. If they care, they are capable of figuring out for themselves what they should be eating.

    I would not oppose having New Haven require food vendors to have nutrition information available--that would be reasonable because people do (or at least, should) have a right to any knowledge which affects them. Anything beyond that, however, is simply ridiculous.

    Also, fried dough is yummy. Cupcakes are yummy. There's more to enjoying life and food than counting calories.

  • freedom!

    Why should we force the food carts to display nutritional info?

    If you don't know what's in it- DON'T EAT IT!

    No one is being forced to eat at food carts.

    The creeping nanny state our country is developing is truly frightening

  • Hiero II

    If you want to eat healthier food, go to Gourmet Heaven instead.

  • DoodleLover

    With respect to my earlier comment on line-taps, I wasn't referring exclusive to the extra-curricular lines. The point is that you need at least one upperclassman to "pull" for you. Even though many societies have a democratic selection process in place (interviews, deliberations, voting, etc.), in the end, if a current member is dead set on tapping a specific individual, he/she is probably going to succeed. This is why the deliberations get so nasty and emotional sometimes. That is also why some lines survive even in the most hostile environments. Certain varsity teams, improv groups, a cappella groups (especially Shades and Whiffenpoofs), and cultural organizations go to great lengths to ensure their continued representation in the society system.

  • Anonymous

    The liberal indoctrination continues

  • Protect Small Businesses

    Does the author have any idea how expensive it would be for the (mostly) Mom & Pop carts to acquire nutritional facts for the dozens of foods that they sell? Did the author even consider it? Judging from the poor quality of the writing, I am guessing not.

  • please

    Look, I really don't think we are going to agree. You didn't even understand that I was knocking "academic advancement" (people who feel the effect of receiving a gold sticker on their paper when they have just been exposed to some of the most interesting ideas humankind has to offer--gimme a break). You know the type: straight A's, milk monitor, studies "for" a test, never did a math problem that wasn't assigned…the kind of person that studies for standardized tests…no actual brain.

    As for supporting evidence…I am doing the same mental computation you do when you conclude e.g. that brothels are not exactly the center of analytic thought. Only a moron would double check and cross-reference lists of named math theorems and known hookers. We all see, over quite a substantial period of time, the kind of people associated with different pursuits.

    Just relax and think about it: Would a Yale sectret society appeal to Einstein or Ghandi or Plato or Newton or…any of the people whose ideas actually form the raison d'etre for places like Yale?