Internet and Food Trucks in Los Angeles: Does Technology Dignify Urban Existence?

November 20, 2012 Born and raised in Los Angeles, I often find myself arguing against visitors that claim, “Los Angeles has no culture”. At their claims I offer an extensive list of places to visit in Los Angeles that exist beyond the boundaries of the tourist areas.

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Yelp! And other forms of social media leap borders and reconstruct understandings of “space” in culturally diverse cities. Habitually, these technological outlets allow for residents like myself, to no only guide others, but to also venture into unknown sections of Los Angeles cultural web.

Through technology, cities like Los Angeles no longer exist within the boundaries of buildings or constrains of physical space. Instead, they become Google maps, Yelp! Reviews, Tweets, or Instagram images referencing preferred places to eat, drink and experience Los Angeles.

Standpoints and debates about “what” is the real Los Angeles are endless. Traditionally, Los Angeles is often associated with crime, riots , and the car. With the rise of technology so did new methods of comprehending and exploring the culture of the city. Serendipitously in 2007, an explosion of Gourmet food trucks began emerging onto the Los Angeles landscape  offering the best of technology, public space and cultural identity.

Visitor or not, the perception of the existing Los Angeles food truck culture is largely linked with the image of a bright colored mobile vehicle branded with a Facebook or Twitter label surfaces.

However, the contemporary food truck culture that is driven by technology undercuts its long-standing member, the Latino operating food truck, the Lonchera.

Since the mid 1970’s, food trucks in East Los Angeles have contributed to their cultural landscape and local economies. Loncheras, are food trucks, with consumer-coined names that often reflect the ethnic, immigrant and working class areas in which they do business.  Notwithstanding the history, their technology driven networking presence pales in comparison to that of the Gourmet food truck.

Location is key to not only the vendor but also the digitally inclined city foodie. The debate to be made is not are Loncheras a part of Los Angeles cultural past, but rather do the proprietors of a business with immigrant roots have equal fame as their food truck heirs?

The use of technology, such as Twitter, Yelp, etc continues to revolutionize the image of the city, by creating a list of selected spaces which are meant to embody the shared experience of culture to the visitors and residents of Los Angeles. However, the knowledge of technology is not available to all food truck business owners in Los Angeles. Driving through car-oriented Los Angeles, there is no doubt that Loncheras and Gourmet trucks are physically present in the city landscape. Debates on the best use of technological tools to further street vending are not new, however they fail to acknowledge the educational and economic differences between Gourmet food Trucks and Loncheras.

Whether be on Food Network, local television, Tumblr, or Twitter, food trucks continue to be a form of fascination to residents and visitors of Los Angeles. The Internet no longer brings a holistic representation of all residents in city; rather it screens active sectors of cultural spaces that are in need of consideration. If the culture of any city is ever to be fully understood social media should be used to connect people to spaces, rather than reinforce traditional forms of social separation.

Maira Sanchez is a Master Student at the Department of City and Regional Planning