• Last modified 30 days ago (June 20, 2024)


Can tacos get too spicy for laws to handle?

There ought to be a law. Or maybe there shouldn’t.

Marion’s city council devoted much of its meeting Monday night to talking about protecting local restaurants that lose business when food trucks set up nearby.

The discussion was about transient businesses in general. But make no mistake: It actually was about one particular local eatery and one particular transient truck that regularly sets up next door.

Just one person speaking suggested there’s nothing wrong with competition. As owner of a takeout eatery, she undoubtedly has felt the same effects as others in the food industry. But she pointed out that competition, rather than damage a business, can make it stronger by encouraging it to be more innovative or responsive to customers’ desires.

That is, after all, one of the fundamental tenets of a free market system like the democracy in which we live.

Tales offered Monday night about food trucks in other towns mentioned a few laws but seemed to emphasize more informal restrictions.

Landowners, loyal to fellow businesspeople in their communities, often forbid access if a truck seeks to set itself up as competition. Reputable trucks likewise try to avoid hurting businesses in towns they visit.

It rather quickly became apparent that most of Monday’s discussion was about a personality clash between the owners of a particular eatery and the owner of an adjacent lot that welcomes a competing food truck.

While Marion does need regulations to make sure mobile restaurants are safe and insured and pay their taxes, if the real problem is a personality clash, that’s what needs to be resolved.

Best intentions aside, an ordinance won’t do that. At some point, some misconceived provision, twisted into a loophole or a damning prohibition, will end up hurting someone unintentionally.

Encouraging permanent, locally owned businesses is a worthwhile goal whether it means protecting a local restaurant from a transient food truck or protecting a local newspaper from some distantly owned competitor or website.

But protectionism is best left to individual consumers. Patronize a locally owned food store instead of a distant dollar store because you value having a locally owned food store, not because government has forbidden the dollar store to compete.

Whatever rules exist, people will push them to their limits — just as the eatery most people are trying to protect sometimes seems to want to do with zoning and building laws. It’s human nature. We can’t fault anyone for that. But it’s interesting how all of us tend to want to slip around some laws while insisting that others be ironclad in protecting us.

The city is right to go slowly in considering food truck rules and not fall victim to populist cries to protect any particular establishment. In the end, anything that smacks of favoritism for locally owned businesses must be justified by other, logical provisions if it is not to be overturned in court.

What’s to become, for example, of the popular Schwann Foods truck that essentially competes with local food stores? Should its number of visits annually be restricted? And what of Amazon trucks that are coming closer every month to the daily deliveries they offer in bigger cities?

This isn’t an issue just of tacos from one eatery or another. It requires careful thought and consideration to be applicable to all.

— Eric MeyeR

Last modified June 20, 2024