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Mobile Food in 19th-Century Chicago

Peter Engler traces the history of the food truck and it’s legacy of contested dining—from its humble beginnings in the earliest days of the city to the early 1890s, when a new, more elaborate style of lunch wagon appeared and became wildly popular.

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Food peddlers go back to the earliest days of Chicago, but immediately after the Great Fire in 1871 lunch wagons became a necessity. They persisted through the 1870s and ‘80s though their numbers steadily declined. In the early 1890s, a new, more elaborate style of lunch wagon appeared and became wildly popular. This led to a backlash from restaurant owners and the two sides battled for years, foreshadowing the current disputes between Chicago’s food truck operators and restaurateurs.

This talk was part of the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance‘s fifth annual symposium, “Road Food: Exploring the Midwest One Bite at a Time.” Other events from this symposium recorded by Chicago Amplified—listed in the order they were presented—are as follows:

Marked for Life: My Travels on Route 66 in ’53, with Terri Ryburn
State Fair Heirloom Recipe Contest, with Catherine Lambrecht
Mobile Food in 19th-Century Chicago, with Peter Engler
Food Trucks: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, with Louisa Chu
Will Success Spoil Regional Food?, with Michael Stern
The Drive-In Restaurant: Before and After the Dawn of Fast Food, Food Theater, with Mary Bergin
A Gopher Turned Badger Eats Hoosier, and Vice Versa: Midwestern Culinary Traditions in the Small-Town Cafe, with Joanne Stuttgen
What Happened to Horseshoes?, with Julianne Glatz
Pies on the Road, with Shirley Cherkasky
Ethnographic Food Writing, or How I Ate My Way Across Wisconsin and Lived to Tell About It, with Joanne Stuttgen
Culinary Tourism in the Land of Meat and Potatoes and Green Bean Casserole, with Lucy M. Long
Summer Vacations in Northern Wisconsin, with Kelly Sears
Born to be Mild: Oral Histories and Pathways of the Midwest Supper Club, with Dave Hoekstra
Farmers Markets of the Heartland, the Ultimate Road Trip, with Janine MacLachlan
On the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, with Clara Orban
Remarks by Marilyn Wilkinson of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board
Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art Curator-Led Tour

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Recorded Friday, April 27, 2012 at Kendall College

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