Food by VICE

New York Health Officials Argue that Street Food Carts Hurt the Environment and Our Health

That kebab grill that fills your neighbourhood with the smell of comfort emits as much pollution as a diesel truck driving 3,500 miles.

by Nick Rose
Dec 5 2016, 10:00pm

Photo by Sofi Langis.

Street food is earning Michelin stars in Asia and creating a huge food trend all over Europe and America. It's cheap, cheerful, and really tasty, and it also provides a viable outlet for service industry professionals burnt out by the mental and physical exhaustion of restaurant kitchens. Few would see a downside to grabbing a taco or shawarma wrap prepared by a street cart.

Wrong; of course there is. You know that spot with the kebabs cooked to smoky perfection over burning hot coals, the one that fills your nose and neighborhood with the smell of meaty comfort? Yeah, that one. Well, on any given day, its grill sends as many nasty particles in the air as a diesel truck driving 3,500 miles, according to a new report.

READ MORE: Britain's Street Food Scene Is Overrun with Bandwagon Jumpers

That's according to New York's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which is is trying to tackle environmental concerns as New York mulls doubling the amount of food-vendor permits. In fact, Crain's reports that approximately 20 percent of pollutant PM2.5s—particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns wide—come from street and brick-and-mortar charbroiling of meats.

And while they may smell delicious, PM2.5 particles can cause increased respiratory symptoms and disease, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function for individuals with asthma, and even premature death. As an unfortunate side note, not all New Yorkers find the smell of charcoal-grilled meats to be all that delicious.

"We know that New Yorkers care deeply about this issue," Deputy Health Commissioner Corinne Schiff reportedly testified during a recent hearing. "We frequently receive complaints from residents about smoke and odor coming from mobile food carts and trucks."

As a result, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene agency officials encouraged City Councilors to put controls on charcoal grilling in an upcoming bills, meaning that the dudes who run New York's charcoal outdoor grills may be treated like the cigarette pushers of the food industry.

Total bummer? Yes. But will this knowledge make your halal wrap any less delicious? Well, only you can answer that.