Acton Institute Powerblog

Food Trucks and Free Enterprise

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The ongoing debate about food trucks here in Grand Rapids took a step forward this week, as this past Tuesday the city commission “voted unanimously to amend its zoning ordinance so that food trucks can operate on private property for extended periods of time.”

As I argued late last year, “There’s perhaps no more basic way to serve another person than to provide them with food,” and food trucks are something that ought to be welcomed rather than disdained in the context of a vibrant and variegated urban social space.

Rick DeVos, the founder of Grand Rapids-based ArtPrize, framed the issue quite well:

It’s called free enterprise and we should be embracing it no matter who is on the receiving end of its disruption…. The more we build the experience of downtown Grand Rapids as a great place to spend time, the more everyone doing business in downtown Grand Rapids will benefit.

Let’s get out of the way…and celebrate greater food choice in Grand Rapids.

While things have taken a step forward in Grand Rapids, the fight for food trucks and free enterprise continues throughout the country, and bears watching. The interaction between regulations and the non-profit sector is of particular interest, as both charitable ministry efforts as well as the formation of non-profit advocacy groups have been impacted by governmental policies.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Please look at what’s allowed for sidewalk and restaurant vendors and compare them to what’s been approved for food trucks. You’ll see that nothing has been approved but further restrictions.

    A sidewalk vendor requires no City Planning Department revue for approval to vend in certain locations. A food truck, which cannot park on the street to conduct business, would require planning department revue. An application for this is upwards of $2,000 and also doesn’t not guarantee the right to vend. Furthermore, this application is submitted for revue, the Planning Department meets once a month, and this process was be done for each private lot.

    Much in the media has portrayed this as a win for the city and food trucks, yet no vendor of a truck or trailer actually wants this. More investigative journalism would show that the City is quite slick in their marketing of this, but it’s still a veiled attempt at restricting business in a free market economy.

    I’m an owner of a brick and mortar establishment, The Winchester, and also an owner in a food truck, What the Truck.

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