food @ chinese festival in mahasarakhamLiving 

Why Thailand should regulate street food

Aaaaah! The world is coming to an end, run for the hills, hide in a bunker! Thailand is banning street food! – the outcry, when this message first surface, was huge (way bigger than when we witness the last coup d’etat here btw! Or when Rohingya refugees died on open waters, or when journalists got arrested for being to critical. Apparently food is where we draw the line). How could the street food capital of the world, Bangkok, be thinking about banning street food?

Well, first of all, they’re not really considering banning street food. Even CNN and other news outlets who first reported on the ban now got that right. It’s more or less a move towards regulating it and all the other sidwalk business that is going on everywhere you go. And I, for once, am not completely against that move. Before you now call me an entitled expat, let me tell you why.

Why it’s ok to regulate street food in Bangkok

First off I’m not on the governmental payroll (but this article leads to me getting my visa easier I wouldn’t mind) and I don’t necessarily agree with how they approach(ed) that whole street food / street vendor regulation problem (ok, now we can scratch that easier visa thing). However  I do think that regulating some pavement business (#pb) might be a step into the right direction.

Of course the argument that comes along with this discussion always is ‘but it has been like this forever‘, ‘people depend on it‘ and ‘that’s what makes Bangkok so charming‘. Let’s break that down.

It has been like this forever. Yeah. So? If we would only do things in the way they’ve been done ‘forever, we wouldn’t see any change and you wouldn’t be able to read this article online. Change is not always bad and nobody says street food has to disappear from our lives! Which leads me to the next point:

People depend on it. Of course selling street food is a source of income for many who do that. Again, nobody says they should lose their jobs. Selling their delicious street food in dedicated areas rather than on some shady sidewalk might also increase their business though which wouldn’t be a step back, but a leap forwards.

That’s what makes Bangkok charming: Do you actually live here? Probably not. Pushing your way through eating crowds on the way home or stepping in spilled beer or having it spilled on you when making your way from the BTS to your apartment is not necessarily what I would call charming. It might look nice if you only see it for a few days, if you live with it however that impression quite certainly changes. Also, let’s be honest, would you really want to eat right next to the road and all the pollution all the time?

Alternatives to street food on the sidewalk

Again, I think we all understand now that the government can not just ban every street vendor from selling their food (they probably could, but won’t) but rather wants to get some order onto the streets. Their approach, as mentioned above, could certainly be smoother (smarter?) but is in some way understandable. I read a few statements in which the government stated they would want to copy Singapore in this regard where ‘hawking’ got banned from the streets but in return those hawkers got a ‘hawker area’ where they could sell their food instead.  Sounds reasonable to me. Of course, since this is Thailand, nothing just happens smoothly. Obviously the government (or the city) would have to support the movement of the street vendors and introduce them to such an area (which I’m sure could be found in almost every district of Bangkok) in order to make them adapt quickly and settle in and start earning money. Several districts in Bangkok actually seem to do that by themselves. Abandoned areas are being turned into ‘pop up’ street markets and former street vendors move to such areas and offer their food there. If this would be supported by the city, it would certainly see even more success and acceptance and could be promoted on a bigger level.

Having street vendors organized could also help them to reduce their costs (equipment, electricity, etc.) and could lead to higher standards and, hopefully, to sustainable business and more advanced waste management. As reports showed that a huge percentage of what clocks up Bangkok’s sewage system comes from street vendors’ food, fat and rubbish, a more organized areal with a professional waste management system could do wonders not only for the quality of their food and own health but also for the whole city and it’s constant battle with enormously flooded streets.

I understand that changing the street food lifestyle can’t be done over night and would probably take lots of patience and education in regards to the ‘why’ such a change is necessary but on the long run it could benefit the vendors as well as the city and its citizens.

What do you think? 

Sascha Funk

Founder / Editor at My-Thai.org
Sascha is the publisher of my-thai.org and switched from an online marketing agency life in Europe to a teaching and education life in Thailand. He also writes about Teaching & Technology.

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