In the past couple of years, we've heard a lot about food truck wars, especially between the older, classic carts and the new, gourmet upstarts. Hot dog and gyro vendors have famously waged turf wars against the artisanal invaders. "These highly visible trucks," wrote the Times, "their outspoken owners and their followers on Twitter, Facebook and food blogs, have broken the code of the streets that has long kept a relative peace among food vendors."
But long before Twitter and blogs, before everyone had the Internet even, that code was broken in a little-seen 1995 movie called Party Girl.
In the movie's subplot, Parker Posey's kooky party girl falls for a Lebanese falafel vendor. His cart is parked outside the Puck Building, at the corner of Lafayette and tiny Jersey Street. When Posey first meets him, he is staring enraged at the new pita cart across the way. He curses, "They put toothpicks in falafel!"
We get a glimpse of old Houston Street (today's BP was Gaseteria, and the Accurate Envelope Co.'s ad is now a Calvin Klein billboard) and then we see the source of Mustafa's rage: a high-tech, upscale falafel cart of the future, all silver, white, and Modernist angles. The vendors are white people dressed in white. They have digital (sort of) signage, and special sauces in unmarked bottles (artisanal fixin's?).
One of the vendors is serving toothpicked falafel from a tray. The customers, eager for novelty, are lined up in excitement for this repackaged food experience.
It's an early example of carpetbaggers taking the food of poor people and repackaging it for the affluent and trend-seeking--at high prices. Today, we see top chefs serving up dishes of offal and matzo, hamburgers and hot dogs, all prepared like precious delicacies.
Why not just stick toothpicks in it? Everybody knows, toothpicks = class.
For Mustafa and the Party Girl, it's a happy ending. Pre-Twitter, she somehow manages to spread the word through the downtown party circuit, and club kids descend on the old falafel cart, leaving the newbies without customers. Today, of course, it works the other way around--hype goes to the new. This isn't the movies, and it certainly isn't 1995 New York.