The other day, while lost in the cadence of a lunchtime run, the rhythm of my familiar route was suddenly interrupted by a new object dotting the landscape — a food truck. It wasn’t the delicious smells of Bon Me’s Vietnamese cooking that caught my attention, but rather the newly arrived bright mustard truck now in my field of vision. For weeks the site had been home to a Chinese fast-food operation, with its yummy old-school staples. But as it sat there day after day, it slowly faded into the scenery — eventually becoming just another truck on the side of the road.
It occurred to me that movement, not stagnation, is the better aspiration of a food truck — offering a variety of culinary options to all corners of the city. After all, these are trucks; by definition, they move.
Toirm Miller agrees. For years, he drove a Boston duck boat around the city; today, it’s a 6,000 pound wood-burning oven that he’s driving. Stoked Wood Fired Pizza Co. is only a month old, but it’s in a different location almost every single day, and finding success wherever it goes. Miller says that at each of his locations he’s cultivating a new audience hungry for wood-fired pizza. When he returns to an area, customers do as well.
Delicious fare is one allure of food trucks, but another has nothing to do with what’s on the menu, and everything to do with what’s going on inside our minds. It turns out that we are attracted to newness. Consider what happens when a new brick and mortar restaurant arrives in a neighborhood. Nearby residents are excited and want to know what it’s like. Food trucks are no different. They’re the mobile version of a new restaurant, creating a culinary experience that offers something new and exciting.
This isn’t just a food thing — we are attracted to changing scenes, whether we want to or not. When someone gets a haircut, when a neighbor’s house is painted, or when we see a new billboard installation — these are things we notice, and when we do, we further investigate.
So what’s going on in our minds that makes us aware of even the smallest changes to our immediate environment — like noticing a tiny spider high up on a wall? According to Jason Fischer, a post-doctoral fellow at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, our brain simplifies the world around us by not letting our senses notice everything all at once, a sort of mental blurring of non-essential objects. This phenomenon, called change blindness, protects people from overloading on the endless bombardment of sensory stimuli within the environment. Awareness kicks in when something triggers the brain to conduct a more detailed exploration — like a fast moving foul ball at a baseball game, or noticing something that wasn’t previously there. It’s that awareness that prompts us to take the next step — like ducking out of the way, or deciding to order an ice cream sandwich from the Frozen Hoagies truck.
Increasing the variety of food trucks in the city isn’t something that should happen simply to respond to our physiological makeup; it should happen because it is also good urban planning. So bring on the parade of trucks, Boston, and we’ll make sure we respond with our attention and our appetites. Our minds are made up on this one.