Law school hosts symposium on food-related issues in state
The UALR William H. Bowen School of Law hosted the Arkansas Journal of Social Change and Publication Service’s first public symposium, Food For Thought: A Symposium Devoted to Food, Policy, and Community in Arkansas on Oct. 26.
The symposium consisted of six different topics that were discussed among a revolving group of panelists that are experts in their respective fields. The topics, which ranged from the history of street vending to food insecurities on the local level, lasted approximately 45 minutes per topic.
The first topic of the day, “The History of Street Vending in America,” informed the crowd of how street vending was used in the earliest days of entrepreneurship in the United States to the current state of street vending. This segued into the second topic of the day, “Food Trucks in the Little Rock Landscape.”
Panelists for this topic included mobile food vendors and brick-and-mortar restaurant owners. The two sides discussed and debated the difficulties of competing with one another throughout Central Arkansas. The discussion provided heated debates between the two sides on how they are stealing business from one another.
One panelist discussing this topic, Jennifer Harrison of University Market@Four Corners, said some mobile food truck vendors are on a mission to sell food in underprivileged areas of Central Arkansas. Additionally, she said it gets people outside and spurs social interaction.
Some brick-and-mortar restaurant owners, like Eric Tinner of Sufficient Grounds Café, pointed out that people who own brick-and-mortar restaurants have been losing business because of “Food Truck Friday”– a coordinated event that was organized by The Downtown Little Rock Partnership and the Main Street Revitalization Committee.
Last April, Tinner provided the Arkansas Times with data he collected from nearby brick-and-mortar restaurant owners. He noted that Lulav sales were down 31 percent on “Food Truck Fridays.” One of his Sufficient Grounds Café locations saw sales decrease by 23 percent and several Subway restaurants in the area saw sales dip between 20 and 30 percent. Tinner has openly spoken out against the Partnership and Committee.
The next group of panelists discussed, “Trends in food and commerce in Arkansas.”
Jack Sundell, co-owner of The Root in Little Rock, said there is a “ground swell of interest in local food,” but would like to see that it becomes even more local. He said, “If we were in Fayetteville it wouldn’t make sense to call Arkansas ‘local foods,’ because we might be getting something from Monticello that’s five hours away when there’s something in Missouri that’s an hour [away].”
In a discussion about food insecurity on the local level, panelists described problems and offered solutions on how to amend the rising number of people who do not have everyday access to food.
Amanda Philyaw Perez, a UAMS Research Coordinator, raised awareness regarding people who live in rural areas that do not have access to a nearby market or grocery store. The panel used the town of Gould, Ark. as one such example. The town uses an Exxon gas station as a grocery store because there is no nearby market or grocery store.