Trends in food in Arkansas

The Arkansas Journal of Social Change and Public Service, a volunteer effort by UALR’s Bowen Law students, held its first public symposium on Friday. The topic was food, policy and community in Arkansas. I missed the macro-policy debates in the afternoon, but the morning panels amounted to a solid discussion on how to broaden access to local food.

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The 40-person audience was a mix of food service distributors, chefs hoping to get into the food truck business, representatives from Heifer International and other hunger relief organizations, folks from the Department of Human Services, the Boozman College of Public Health, the Clinton School and the Bowen Law School.

The second panel, “Food trucks in the Little Rock landscape” was largely about the relationship and friction between food trucks and brick and mortar restaurants — in other words, nothing new. Eric Tinner, owner of Sufficient Grounds Cafe and The Sports Page, represented downtown restaurants. He cited the significantly higher overhead for brick and mortar businesses, and how, on Food Truck Fridays, some of his colleagues have lost 20 percent of their business. “We need smaller businesses [filling the empty storefronts downtown] to draw people in, and food trucks are not it. They’re a temporary solution. They don’t invest in the infrastructure,” he said. Specifically, he named El Japeno, a food truck turned downtown brick and mortar, that recently closed, and All American Wings, which moved from its downtown location because, according to Tinner, “he could not compete with the lower prices [of food trucks.]” Tinner maintains that the city of Little Rock and the Downtown Little Rock Partnership have only aggravated the situation.

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