If there is one thing Stanford lacks, it is good, cheap food. Palo Alto doesn’t do anything unless there’s a double-digit price tag attached, and the Stanford campus fails to attract the type of vendor that makes quick, fast, tasty, food that maintains part of its appeal because it can only be served in a place with zero available seating.
This has been particularly noticeable since the one eatery that resembled any of these qualities, the Thai Cafe in the basement of the Psych building, was displaced at the end of last year . And with that gone, the next most relevant place on campus that does serve tasty food at reasonable prices is the Treehouse–a place compared to, as I overheard the other day, a “madhouse” during the lunch hour.
If we look at the popularity of the Treehouse’s reasonably priced, quality food economically (albeit simplistically), we can say that there is definitely a bigger demand for this kind of food than on-campus eateries are currently supplying.
However, it seems that the solution to this lack of good, cheap food we crave so badly might already exist in a mobile form: food trucks, such as the Asian food one parked behind Tressider on Santa Teresa that I stumbled upon yesterday.
I have the sinking feeling that this truck has been around for a long time and I just haven’t known about it–which probably says something about how often other students like myself frequent the truck and why everyone is piling into long lines at the Treehouse.
Food trucks are widely popular at other college campuses for just the reason that college towns (Palo Alto, unfortunately, is extremely far from being a college town even though the main street is called ‘University’) feature a plethora of low-cost, highly-delicious food options: college students love cheap food. We are a breed of hungry, less-health-conscious, cash-strapped food consumers–the perfect demand to match a supply of the type of food that can be made in a truck. The most notable examples of this cheap food supply-and-demand economic equilibrium are the Grease Trucks at Rutgers in my home state of New Jersey: a parking lot full of trucks doling out delicious (and greasy) food to a steady stream of student customers.
There is something to be said against the unhealthy aspects of a horde of Grease Trucks, but the Asian food truck on Santa Teresa seems to avoid most of this criticism. The food is not only cheap–$4.50 for most vegetarian dishes, $5 for chicken, $6 for seafood–but also fairly healthy. The dishes all have protein in them (the veggie pad thai I ordered had plenty of tofu in it, which is plenty more than I expected), and they are not swimming in grease.
This particular food truck is the only one that I have seen, though a forum on Chowhound indicates that there are taco trucks near the construction sites on campus. There are far more people in other parts of campus than at the construction sites–wouldn’t it make sense to attempt to bring these food trucks to the rest of the Stanford community? Why, then, are there not more food trucks in and around the center of campus at lunchtime?
According to a 2006 document about eateries on campus, there are no restrictions on food trucks. The document notes, however, that food truck regulation might become likely because on-campus eateries face rent that food trucks don’t, leaving the established eateries feeling like they are facing unfair competition.
The document also highlights a fact underlying the entire reason on-campus food options should be, and could be, improved by food trucks: because Stanford is so expansive and isolated, on-campus eateries essentially face no competition from outside food. For this reason, the food trucks provide a level of competition that prohibits on-campus eateries from driving up their prices. And more importantly, the food trucks provide good food–which, given how many people on campus are lunchtime consumers–is certainly beneficial to campus as a whole.
The reason for the lack of food trucks, then, is not entirely clear–there are probably a number of University restrictions limiting their presence. But I, for one, hope to see more of them soon–and I will certainly be going back soon to the one on Santa Teresa for some more veggie pad thai. Tomorrow, perhaps?