Many schools in Ho Chi Minh City have turned into food zones because they are now surrounded by mobile stands selling food of unknown origin, and even conducting gambling activities.
The area on Dang Van Ngu Street in Phu Nhuan District that stretches from Le Van Sy to Nguyen Trong Tuyen Streets has become a promised land for street food sellers as there are three schools there: Han Thuyen High School, Dang Van Ngu Elementary School, and Ngo Tat To Middle School
Despite the schools’ effort to call on students not to eat food of unknown origin bought from the mobile stands of these peddlers, the school gates are frequently filled with such stands.
There are often around 13-14 mobile booths on the 4m-5m-long sidewalk in front of those schools in the late afternoon waiting for their customers.
They sell various foods, including snacks and soft drinks, and toys.
During rush hour, those stands work at full capacity. Each can serve 50 students, mainly schoolgirls, in 20 minutes.
Although some schools even put banners at their gates to urge students not to buy street food, those students who do not pay much attention to their health seem to be fascinated by what is on sale at these booths.
However, they have no idea what they are downing.
“It’s very hot, so I drink it because lots of my friends do so,” a student answered when asked about the origin of the cup of red water fetching VND7,000 she was sipping one day.
Other unpackaged foods like rice paper and jerky also give consumers no clue about where and how they were produced.
Those mobile stands also cause social disorder since they even conduct gambling activities in addition to selling food that can adversely affect students’ health, according to Doan Ba Cuong, principal of Ngo Tat To Middle School.
Cuong added that some of his students have been duped into theft and robbery by these peddlers as well.
‘There has been no optimum solution’
While schools and authorities are trying to strengthen control over food safety in school cafeterias, it seems that there has been no effective measure to ensure such safety for students outside their schools.
The principal of Ngo Tat To Middle School said his school has worked with local authorities to rectify the situation many times.
“The number of mobile food stands in front of my school only decreases in the presence of local authorities,” Cuong said. “But competent agencies do not have enough people for that. Last year, our security guards didn’t let street peddlers sell their food at our school gate, and the result was we got ‘warned’ with some glass windows broken.”
“The police couldn’t catch those who shattered the windows so I feel really worried about the safety of our staff and students,” he added.
“We always tell our students not to buy those foods, pointing out their potential harm but we cannot forbid the children from doing that,” he added.
“We’ve tried many ways but there has been no optimum solution. We get stuck now.
“We cannot handle this by ourselves without the cooperation from students’ families and the entire society.”
Some parents said it is also hard for them not to allow their children to buy street food because most of their friends always flock to those mobile stands after school.
“I know nobody can ensure the safety of these foods, even about whether they’re toxic,” a parent said. “But my kids always want to eat them and will get upset seeing their friends enjoy the foods while they don’t have them in hand.”