On a sun dappled Saturday afternoon, the San Francisco Street Food Festival celebrated its sixth and final year in the Mission District. Tens of thousands of hungry people flooded 20th-26th Streets to sample handmade food from the more than 80 vendors.
San Francisco sees many food events throughout this year, but the Street Food Festival was distinct in that it was grounded in community. It created a format that made the event accessible to everyone; admission was free and all dishes were priced under $10.
The essence of the event makes sense when you consider its origins. The festival was born out of La Cocina, a non-profit incubator kitchen that provides affordable commercial kitchen space and assistance to low-income and immigrant entrepreneurs. It started in 2009 as a modest block party outside of the organization’s headquarters on Folsom Street as a way to showcase the businesses in its program.
“It [La Cocina] is not just about amazing food, but creating equal opportunities for women who wouldn’t otherwise have them,” Supervisor David Campos told a group before this year’s festival.
In a city where the gap in wealth continues to grow wider, organizations like La Cocina are proving to be more critical than ever. A recent study from the Human Services Agency found that San Francisco's income inequality is on par with developing nations like Rwanda. Campos echoed these sentiments calling San Francisco “one of the most unequal cities in the country.”
In part, La Cocina is taking a step back from the festival so that it can focus more of its attention on the businesses in its incubator. An event at the scale of the San Francisco Street Food Festival takes most of the year to plan, and the load has become too heavy for La Cocina’s staff of eight to carry on their own. Ultimately, it hopes the event will return next year in a new location under the purview of new organizers.
While much of future is still unknown, as endings go, this one was just right.