This month marked another San Sebastián Gastronomika. This food conference is one of the foremost in the world, and this year the highlighted cuisine was that of London, with an emphasis on street food. A great, timely focus, you might be thinking. Food as performance, stripping away the last remaining trappings of stuffy Michelin frenchness and taking things to the street...what could be more relevant?
Many of you may know that this summer I was baking, making and selling ice cream sandwiches from a bicycle in San Sebastián. So this particular topic is near and dear to my heart. Artisans, selling their wares that have been produced following sanitation laws and city regulations? it's a beautiful thing.
But I am here right now to talk about why the ayuntamiento should be ashamed of itself, and why the chosen theme of Gastronomika was a farce. You see, in San Sebastián, selling food on the street is actually impossible. Permits are no longer given, except in fiestas in which case a "montón de dinero" (as they put it in the ayuntamiento) is required as a way to get your foot in the door. I am sure this law is rooted in ancient, outdated city regulations, but San Sebastián is at a standstill that has no sign of progress. After all, what politician has time to care about street food vending laws?
My head reels from the sheer hypocrisy. No, you cannot sell food on the street. We don't give permits for that. ENTER world-famous chefs, thousands of conference attendees in the industry, and the media and—voilá! Street food is suddenly so San Sebastián.
The logistics are totally legit; the food trucks were located on the "private" property of the Kursaal. And I am so happy for Bubbledogs, that company from the United Kingdom that got the chance to do what many companies in Donosti would love to. The beef I have is that the city (and therefore the ayuntamiento), links itself to the conference...in many food industry minds, San Sebastián is Gastronomika. And it makes my blood boil that the city can align itself with a really cool concept that, with the close of the conference and the exit of the media and food world personalities, will once again become impossible for actual citizens.
This, to me, speaks to a bigger issue. The basic offense here isn't the prohibition of selling food from a moving vehicle. The travesty is that in a city so known for its culinary prowess, the higher-ups are content with paying lip service to innovation versus actually effecting it.
This is how great ideas and great cities become irrelevant. Stagnate, thinking how awesome you are, closing your mind off to the possibility of change, and the rest of the world will move on without you. In terms of the food world, San Sebastián is living its glory days. But you can bet that, as the authenticity is leached away and commercialized summer after summer, the attraction will fade. The city will cease to be a representation of a living, breathing culture and become a museum. With no space for new artists, innovators, and messes and only room for a few lofty curators and bureaucratic ticket takers. And that is how you kill a city.
I believe in San Sebastián, both as a cultural center and a great place to live. I want it to evolve, albeit in a thoughtful, preservationist way.
If you are with me, there is a petition you can sign here. ¡Fírmalo!