Tron Martínez’s Some Taco Trucks utilises photography to discuss culinary identity and the politics of space
Plotting out the Bay Area’s various taco trucks, Tron’s research-heavy title is a reminder of the community built by immigrant entrepreneurs.
- Lucy Bourton
- 12 February 2021
- Reading Time
- 5 minute read
A few years back, photography-focused visual artist Tron Martínez read a study detailing how analysts could predict which neighbourhoods were gentrifying by reading Yelp reviews. As Tron relays from the study, in areas “where ‘reviewers mobilise their racialised biases to effect redlining’ and essentially ‘encourage, confirm or even accelerate processes of gentrification by signalling that a locality is good for people who share their tastes’,” it could indicate a possible rapid change. “Basically,” Tron tells It’s Nice That, “foodies beget foodies and change the culture of a neighbourhood through their disposable income.”
Interested in the theory, Tron decided to develop his own research, beginning a keyword search for eateries described with terms such as “sketchy, hood, ghetto, and ratchet” in reviews. Around the same time, he also noticed a hashtag trending on Twitter #tacotrucksoneverycorner, relating back to a Latinx Trump supporter’s appearance on Fox News “sounding the alarm against the Democratic immigration policy which would result in a taco take-over,” explains the artist. With both of these instances in mind, Tron’s latest project came into focus – a series, and subsequent book, photographing taco trucks across the Bay Area. The result, which has just received a reprint (growing in size too) is Some Taco Trucks, a title which uses photography and sits “at the crux between culinary identity and the politics of space”.
At first, inspired by many artist books utilising a similar approach, Tron thought he would plot out taco trucks via Google Street View. Finding the images to not be quite satisfying enough, he began to trek out armed with a camera, after all: “The ambulatory nature of the trucks left their locations somewhat unpredictable.” Plotting out journeys by searching food blogs and Yelp for taco truck reviews, the artist also noted locations likely for a taco truck to make a stop, such as construction yards, industrial parkways, warehouse parking lots or soccer fields. Literally travelling around the area in conjunction with the trucks feels not only creatively apt but it opened Tron’s eyes to the original points in the study. “After visiting the trucks, the food spaces created by trucks was evident, then the communities and culture being exchanged became essential,” he adds.
Over the course of the book Tron displays a long route across the Bay Area, spanning “as far south as the suburb of San Bruno and north to the industrial city of Richmond, just 20 to 30 minutes from San Francisco,” he describes. Although now widely referenced as the area inhabited by Silicon Valley, “what most people don’t realise about the Bay Area is, despite its liberal reputation, it is segregated and classist,” explains the artist. And while the effects of the “foodie phenomenon” a few years ago can be seen in areas where food markets collate together the most popular food trucks, positioning them in affluent areas, “these are the trucks I avoided,” says Tron; instead, eating and documenting trucks parked by motels, at the airport, or across the distribution centre for Amazon.
In turn, as a description of Some Taco Trucks clearly points out, Tron’s “pursuit of authentic tacos and taco trucks contains its own cultural politics, a democratic acknowledgement of blue collar food.” Via photography, the artist’s documentation displays how “even that space is in jeopardy with the rise of food delivery apps,” a juxtaposition which runs as a thread throughout the book, especially when you consider how the Bay Area houses many tech-focused startups, as well as this segregation the artist describes. “Diners can remain at home without having to interact with the working-class people making their food,” reads an introduction to Some Taco Trucks. “Now, customers merely tap their screens and, eventually nod to an anonymous (usually POC) delivery person.” This combination the artist so thoroughly documents, therefore, serves as a “reminder of the immigrant entrepreneurs and the communities they create with their trucks, both culinary and physical.”
While developing the project, Tron’s initial research continued into wider areas discussing the topic, such as Robert Lemon’s book, The Taco Truck: How Mexican Street Food is Transforming the American City. Featuring three case studies on urban policy behind food vendors and public spaces, the artist also coupled this research with looking into the policing of mobile food vendors in various cities’ reactionary legislation, “specifically the food truck bans in New Orleans, Louisiana and Santa Ana, California,” he relays.
This level of consideration is particularly evident in Tron’s approach to the book’s design, a title which is published in collaboration with Colpa Press. Some Taco Trucks’ typology hints back to Ed Ruscha’s Some Los Angeles Apartments, in which the artist documents the Los Angeles experience through architecture in a banal but beautiful approach (which you can view more widely here). It’s a similar attribute Tron references in his photographs, describing how his images of taco trucks “individually are full, even banal, but together in a set, they become a document.”
Reflecting on the title now, Tron adds that the crux of Some Taco Trucks is how “Taco trucks feed blue collar workers not catering to affluent techies,” he adds. It’s on each of us to notice these developments in our own areas too, whether it be the Bay Area, over to New York, London or elsewhere, with the artist pointing out details like, “when you see a food truck with a glossy vinyl wrap advertising an exotic fusion that’s a sign of gentrification, a sign of inauthenticity. When you see a crudely drawn painting depicting a pastoral scene with a carnitas special, that might be closer to home-cooked food.” He continues: “This is inexpensive food served well to accommodate workers who don’t have the time or freedom for a sit-down meal at a restaurant. These unassuming taco trucks create a public space with inexpensive food for service workers, now often called essential.”
Continuing his fascinating research, Tron recently published two more titles both on Mexico City, Garibaldi and Donceles, focusing on street buskers and used bookshops. He is also busy running StreetSalad, a publisher with titles activating knowledge and promoting crucial discourse via bootlegs, zines and printed ephemera, which you can check out here.
Tron Martínez: Some Taco Trucks (Copyright © Tron Martínez, 2021)
About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.