In the last few years the food cart scene in Portland, Oregon has exploded. Multnomah County estimates that roughly 300 carts are licensed to operate throughout the Portland Metro area. Empty lots and parking areas have spurned the emergence of clusters of food carts, called “pods”. And the pods have become social gathering places for neighborhood residents and business communities all over Portland. Unlike restaurants, which provide isolated tables for patrons with very little group intermingling, street food promotes a shared sense of space and enables conversation and interaction with other people on the street. This photo essay is a look inside the Portland Food Cart scene. It explores the the urban landscape, the vendors and owners (mostly independent entrepreneurs), the work environments, localism, and how street food reconnects people to the places we live and to each other. All of the photos were made between 2010 and 2011.
Photos by Drew
Drew contributed photographs, writing, and research for the recently published book produced and edited by Kelley Roy and Kelly Rodgers, “Cartopia: Portland’s Food Cart Revolution”.
Here’s a short excerpt from the book:
“Street food has existed all over the country for decades in the form of hot-dog vendors, taco trucks, and the like. What makes Portland’s street food scene so distinctive and appealing—is the way vendors continually push the genre’s traditional boundaries, so that today, entire food cart villages have laid down roots and offer increasingly sophisticated and varied cuisine. After all, how many other places can you sample white truffle sea- salted fries, salmon fettuccini, perfectly seasoned Pad Thai, and the city’s best espresso—all from a street vendor selling out of a bicycle, a truck, or even a World War II military mobile kitchen?
“Artisanal, quirky, independent, and an exceptionally good value, the food carts are in many ways the perfect symbol of what Portland is all about. They bring the local community together with the lure of good food, and the pod system has enabled vendors to create a strong cooperative ethic among themselves. It’s fair to say that the food carts both stem from Portland’s famed livability and contribute to it, forming a virtuous cycle of sorts.”