Foods on the Street and the People Who Eat Them
The fact that people eat what street food vendors sell distinguishes this trade from most other microenterprises. All cultures attach powerful meanings to individual foods, as well as to cooking and mealtime practices; thus patterns of street food consumption are shaped not just by what foods are locally available, but also by local norms about what kinds of food are appropriate to consume, where, when, and by whom. That people eat the vendors' products, usually without any further processing, obviously also raises a number of health and safety issues.
This chapter first presents an overview of the types of foods generally sold on the street, and then discusses who makes them and where. Definitions of appropriate textures and attributes of street foods vary by culture and custom, as do the attitudes of the customers concerning whether the food represents a snack or a meal. When considering who made the food, the EPOC studies distinguished between home- and industrially processed foods, and between sellers who produced their wares and those who bought them preprocessed. In the latter case, the vendors are defined as traders, not producers.
The second section focuses on the customers of street foods: who eats them, when, and how they define the food they buy. Data are drawn both from interviews at the point of sale and from household surveys. These findings illustrate the dietary importance of street foods to urban dwellers, particularly for the poor.
The third section examines nutritional concerns. The EPOC study was most interested in the nutritional content of those street foods eaten on daily basis, especially by children. In Bogor, the staff experimented with nutritional enrichments for children's favorite snacks. In Nigeria, training programs featured discussions on balanced diet. Often street foods reflect changing food habits due to international food aid and "modernizing" tastes; the nutritional implications of such shifts are briefly discussed.
The chapter's fourth section explores the health and safety aspects of street foods, an issue of critical concern to governments. A number of studies show that food consumed immediately after cooking and eaten directly from a stick or banana leaf is gen