Today, we begin our fight for the food vendors

Matt Miller Goldwater Institute
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Every December, The Economist magazine comes out with a special feature that looks at the year ahead. In the sneak peak they provided for 2011, we saw a glimpse into one of the hottest culinary movements in the country: mobile food vendors. According to the magazine, “some of the best food Americans eat may come from the food truck.”

Practiced since ancient times, street vending is more popular than ever. Certain cities across the country are rightfully embracing mobile vendors for the vitality and creativity they bring. But, unfortunately, other cities are taking the opposite approach.

That’s why today my organization, the Institute for Justice, is launching a National Street Vending Initiative — a nationwide litigation and activism effort to vindicate the right of street vendors to earn an honest living.

Consider El Paso, Texas.

Officials in El Paso have recently made it illegal for mobile food vendors to operate within 1,000 feet of any restaurant, convenience store, or grocer. The city even prohibits vendors from parking to await customers, which forces vendors to constantly drive around town until a customer successfully flags them down — and then be on the move again as soon as the customer walks away.

Thus, instead of embracing their vending entrepreneurs, El Paso has decided to threaten them with thousands of dollars in fines and effectively run them out of town. This anti-competitive scheme is illegal because vending entrepreneurs have a constitutional right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable regulations.

And that’s why today IJ filed a major federal lawsuit against the city.

We teamed up with several El Paso vending entrepreneurs. Their stories are as inspiring as they are admirable. Maria Robledo says in our case launch video above:

I came to El Paso in 1981 to have a better life for my son and myself. My son wanted to start a little business selling candies, so we decided to buy an ice cream truck. We should have a chance to make a living. I don’t want to be living on food stamps or welfare or anything like that. We work and work and work. Is it a crime to work?

It boils down to this: Should the city of El Paso, Texas, be allowed to turn itself into a No-Vending Zone in order to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants from competition? Thankfully, the U.S. Constitution prohibits such abuses of government power. Simply put, naked protectionism is not constitutional.

That’s why vending entrepreneurs teamed up with IJ to sue El Paso today in federal court. And keep an eye out for us; we may soon be teaming up with entrepreneurs near you!

What are your favorite foods that you buy from mobile vendors? And do you know about any other cities that have similar laws? Please let us know on our Facebook page.

Matt Miller is the executive director of the Institute for Justice’s Texas Chapter, where he fights to secure property rights, economic liberty, freedom of speech and school choice.