Street food vendors in Indonesia: Conflicting representations under COVID-19

Date

2023-09-06

Authors

Milligan, Maeve

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Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions on public life had a significant impact on street food vendors in Indonesia, with reports suggesting that vendors’ incomes decreased by 50% on average during this period. In the wake of the pandemic, scholars and organizations published statements and rolled out programs to support vendors or correct vendors’ behavior in light of changing requirements relating to the pandemic. These interventions aimed, among other things, to reduce the risk of vendors spreading the COVID-19 virus. They also hoped to support vendors as they navigated state-imposed restrictions on street food vending and changes to customers’ spending behavior. Statements and programs relating to street food vendors were informed by assumptions about street food vendors, such as that street food vendors help low-income consumers access food, contribute positively to employment and the economy, practice poor food hygiene, and are negatively impacted by state policies restricting street food vending. This thesis explores how these assumptions compare with street food vendors’ self-understanding. It also asks how assumptions about street food vendors informed interventions in street food vending before and during the Covid-19 pandemic. Drawing on 39 interviews with street food vendors, as well as program documents and public statements from relevant organizations, this thesis examines how street food vendors and the scholars and organizations involved in vendors’ activities represented vendors and the challenges they faced during the pandemic. It concludes that street food vendors understood themselves and their experiences differently from pertinent scholars and organizations. This thesis suggests that often taken-for-granted understandings of street food vendors appearing in academic literature and commentary from pertinent organizations should be considered critically, and the ways in which these representations inform interventions in street food vending should be carefully examined.

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Keywords

street food, street food vending, street food vendor, Indonesia, food security, representation, Satpol PP, APKLI, UN agencies, hygiene, employment, restrictions on street food vending, South Tangerang, informal economy, street vendor, food safety

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