Assessing mobile food vendors (a.k.a. street food vendors)-methods, challenges, and lessons learned for future food-environment research

Sean C. Lucan, M. Varona, A. R. Maroko, J. Bumol, L. Torrens, J. Wylie-Rosett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Objectives: Mobile food vendors (also known as street food vendors) may be important sources of food, particularly in minority and low-income communities. Unfortunately, there are no good data sources on where, when, or what vendors sell. The lack of a published assessment method may contribute to the relative exclusion of mobile food vendors from existing food-environment research. A goal of this study was to develop, pilot, and refine a method to assess mobile food vendors. Study design: Cross-sectional assessment of mobile food vendors through direct observations and brief interviews. Methods: Using printed maps, investigators canvassed all streets in Bronx County, NY (excluding highways but including entrance and exit ramps) in 2010, looking for mobile food vendors. For each vendor identified, researchers recorded a unique identifier, the vendor's location, and direct observations. Investigators also recorded vendors answers to where, when, and what they sold. Results: Of 372 identified vendors, 38% did not answer brief-interview questions (19% were 'in transit', 15% refused; others were absent from their carts/trucks/stands or with customers). About 7% of vendors who ultimately answered questions were reluctant to engage with researchers. Some vendors expressed concerns about regulatory authority; only 34% of vendors had visible permits or licenses and many vendors had improvised illegitimate-appearing set-ups. The majority of vendors (75% of those responding) felt most comfortable speaking Spanish; 5% preferred other non-English languages. Nearly a third of vendors changed selling locations (streets, neighbourhoods, boroughs) day-to-day or even within a given day. There was considerable variability in times (hours, days, months) in which vendors reported doing business; for 86% of vendors, weather was a deciding factor. Conclusions: Mobile food vendors have a variable and fluid presence in an urban environment. Variability in hours and locations, having most comfort with languages other than English, and reluctance to interact with individuals gathering data are principal challenges to assessment. Strategies to address assessment challenges that emerged form this project may help make mobile-vendor assessments more routine in food-environment research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)766-776
Number of pages11
JournalPublic Health
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Food environment
  • Immigrant workers
  • Measurement/Assessment
  • Mobile food vendors/Street vendors/Street foods/Food carts
  • Urban/New York City/Bronx

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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