Monday, January 2, 2012

The Life of a Street Food Vendor

Tricia Wang, a self-described "ethnographer, sociologist, and researcher" currently living, working, and studying in China, spent three days this past summer living and working with a migrant family in Wuhan as they pursued a street food vending opportunity. The results of her visit, engagingly written up on her website, were eye-opening. Tourists passing through a city eating the street food don't often have the opportunity to learn about the lives of the vendors they frequent. In this case, the vendors were unlicensed and new to the city. Their main customers were the workers at a construction site. All in all, this means their situation is likely to be different from the established vendors that you're more likely to come across as a tourist. Nonetheless, their experiences are worth knowing. They work a grueling schedule, make barely enough to live on (if they even make that much), live in squalid conditions, and work in constant fear of the police. Because they don't have a lot of seed money, they make do with broken-down equipment (see the picture below of the author pushing the battery-powered bicycle that didn't always work) and a non-ideal system of transporting the food to the selling site, which causes much of the food to be spilled or ruined before they even get to the construction site.

The author pushing one of the family's two electric bicycles

It's sobering to be reminded of the living and working conditions of the people who serve the food we enjoy so much (as well as the sanitary conditions of the food preparation itself). As I said above, this is not the story of all street food vendors, but the migrant culture is absolutely a part of modern China, for better or worse. The more we know about their stories, the better chance there is to improve their situations. I'd encourage anybody interested in modern China, in street food, or just in humanity in general to read Ms. Wang's account of her experiences with this family.


Armon said...

Is that really in China or just a chinatown in another country?=)

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