Leave The Street Food Alone!
In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, street food is part of the daily routine of the population. You can find a variety of foods, from hamburgers (x-tudo as we call a hamburger filled with everything you can possibly imagine) to traditional arabic snacks like kibbeh. Entrepreneurs set their stands in the streets to sell quality food for a very cheap price, resulting in fierce competition with other stands that can easily move around according to the market demand. These stands are a way for low-income families to try to make a living, and are a strategy in sidestepping the high unemployment rates found in many areas of the country. (Unemployment reached 11.6%, in Brazil last quarter according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics.)
The food stands are abundantly located in low income areas like the favelas (or slums) and are a landmark of popular culture. During political campaigns, it becomes a weapon for demagogues, called politicians. Politicians, mainly those running for mayor or as local representatives — in an attempt to build their popularity and to connect with a very large portion of their voters — use the strategy of going to those communities and taking pictures eating food from these food stands. This became a rule of thumb for political campaign in the Rio metropolitan area.
What is ironic is that the politicians that take pictures eating street foods, while asking for votes, are the ones making the life of the entrepreneurs more difficult by regulating the businesses of these small entrepreneurs. In Rio de Janeiro, most of the food stands are actually not legal because it is extremely costly for a entrepreneur to follow all the regulations and acquire all the permits necessary. It is important to remember that the entrepreneurs running these stands are usually poor people who would otherwise be unemployed. They are trying to make a living and often exhaust their meagre savings to purchase the basic materials to start the business.
In fact, the street-food market is so regulated that the city of Rio de Janeiro has its own regulatory and licensing agency, called the Regional Licensing and Supervision Agency. You can walk every day downtown Rio, or in one of the main avenues in Copacabana and watch law enforcement not only shutting down stands, but also confiscating all their equipment and merchandise. I, personally, have seen entrepreneurs crying in the streets watching all that they have worked for being stolen by the state, run by those same hypocrites that asked for their votes while using their product.
Local politicians instead of acting like they care about these people every 4 years should leave them alone. The street food market is essential for the economy in Rio and is an important opportunity for those who are unemployed to find an honest source of income.
Pedro Favoreto was born in Rio de Janeiro and is a graduate of Ferris State University, with concentrations in economics and finance.