It’s a tempest in a taco truck. A Buffalo, New York, food truck called Lloyd this week finds itself in the midst of a national shouting match—which has escalated to involve a state senator and a branch of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—because it chose to roll up and serve lunch to some federal workers. The saga is microcosm of a larger national movement toward the politicization of food: No decision, not even where to park a taco truck, is immune from scrutiny.
The controversy began last week, when Lloyd served lunch to federal ICE workers at a detention center in Buffalo. Reacting to criticism that it served employees who work for an agency that detains immigrants, Lloyd’s management issued an apology via Twitter. In the apology, it vowed to review its internal procedure “to ensure future truck stops and events align with our company’s values” and pledged to donate proceeds from the lunch in question to a local Justice For Migrant Families chapter. But that hardly put the issue to rest.
The apology drew the ire of ICE Buffalo Field Office Director Thomas Feeley, who told CNN he considers Lloyd’s stance “discrimination” against his coworkers: “We are doing our jobs, enforcing the laws passed by Congress. Just like we have for many presidents. We will not apologize for doing this, not even to a food truck that now chooses to discriminate against us.” New York State Senator Robert Ott also voiced his criticism of the apology via Twitter, calling it “pathetic pandering” by Lloyd.
So what’s an embattled taco truck to do? Lloyd decided to apologize for its apology: “We make tacos, not war.” In a televised news conference, Lloyd’s owner said the truck’s statement was “hasty” and that the business “reacted too quickly to criticism we received.” Now, the business is affecting a neutral stance on which customers it serves: “We want to emphasize that we don’t take sides.”
It’s hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for a small business caught in the crossfire of a sensitive national political debate. But Lloydgate serves not only as an embodiment of our discursively fraught times, but a cautionary tale to other small businesses: If some aspect of your work even tangentially touches on a politically sensitive issue, you better have a unified, thought-out plan to deal with any potential backlash. These are just the times we live in.