The sad state of Toronto food festivals
I checked out Food Truck Festival Ontario this weekend and, to be honest, it kind of sucked. I didn't eat anything, because after waiting in line for 25 minutes at one truck, I asked someone who had just been served how long it took them to get their meal, and well, I just couldn't justify an agonizing 45 minutes for a burger.
I ended up going home hungry and just making myself something to eat instead.
Tickets were $10 in advance and $15 at the gate (plus parking at Ontario Place which is anything but cheap) all for just the privilege of queuing up on pavement for hours.
With one of the city's most established food events, the Toronto Underground Market, finally calling it quits this month after a three-year run, it seems that Toronto's food festivals are in a sad state.
Many have tried to replicate TUM's success (oversaturating the market, some would say), but seemingly few have caught on to some of the key things that initially made it great. Firstly, TUM curated a mix of ready-made edibles along with made-to-order fare, meaning that some vendors never attracted long lines, because all you had to do was pay - and voila, your savoury pie or bacon caramel popcorn was good to go, ready to sustain you while you waited for what was next.
Secondly, TUM knew from the very beginning something that many festival organizers have yet to catch on to: Food festivals can't be exclusively about the food. TUM events were always accompanied by the thumping beat of some DJ'd set; at the very least, you could break up the boredom of waiting with the occasional "Ooh, I love this song!" and some in-line swaying.
Other cities have already gotten the memo. AwesTRUCK held in conjunction with Mississauga's SoundBites festival and Hamilton's Supercrawl are two recent examples of events I'd consider a success. Both festivals incorporated live music, dancing, and/or public art installations. With more to see and do, these festivals attracted diverse crowds with varied interests, and conversations overheard in line were not dominated by hungry grumbling. Above all else, these events were actually fun!
Toronto's food fest organizers have yet to understand that while eating can be a form of entertainment, it can't be the sole attraction. For the cost of admission and food, there are better options out there. For goodness' sake, you can eat poutine and tacos pretty much anywhere in this city - only at a restaurant, there will be music, a full bar, somewhere to sit, and someone dedicated to looking after you.
The summer festival season is wrapping up for the year as temperatures cool - and presumably, there are night markets, food truck rallies and food fests already in the planning stages for next year. Hopefully, they're paying attention - because, seriously, no one should ever have to leave a food festival hangry.
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