clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Sesame Street food truck that defies economic logic

New, 3 comments

And teaches our children valuable, if unpleasant, truths about the market

STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images. Banner Society Illustration.

If you have not watched Sesame Street in the last three years or so, first of all, congrats on the interesting vacations you took and plentiful sleep you got not having a small child in your house. Second, you probably don’t know about “Monster Foodies,” a segment centered around Cookie Monster, a new Muppet to the show, Gonger, and the food truck they run together. The beats are pretty simple: A child calls the truck with an order, Cookie Monster and Gonger discover they’re short one key ingredient, go to the farm or factory where that ingredient can be found and learn about its production, return to the truck and cook the order, and finally launch the meal to the child by way of a spring-loaded catapult.

Wondering if I made that last part up? Here’s an entire segment you can watch that proves I did not.

Many aspects of Monster Foodies could be quibbled with. There’s never any handwashing, for example, and nobody puts on a hairnet, so I have no idea how these two aren’t getting pink and blue fur in absolutely every dish. But for now, let’s just focus on Monster Foodies as an economic entity, by asking a few simple questions.

Is the business model any good?

While Monster Foodies takes place in a food truck, I have yet to see a single customer walk up to the window and place an order. All transactions are handled via video call, and all deliveries are accomplished by the catapult. Which raises the question: Why have a truck at all? It embraces none of the advantages of a mobile restaurant, and it isn’t used to bring food to customers. It’s just a very small kitchen.

There does not appear to be a menu, unless you’re counting this blackboard.

Sesame Street

I am not, because each order seems to be entirely custom. Some children ask for a specific food, but others just sort of lob food characteristics and Cookie Monster and Gonger and ask them to take it from there. And they do!

This is the strongest part of the business model: The service is unquestionable. Monster Foodies will make whatever you want, seemingly without limitation, to order. They will never tell you they’re out of something, since the whole premise of the segment is “Cookie Monster and Gonger run out of something and go get it while learning where it comes from.” And every customer appears to be nothing short of completely satisfied.

There’s clearly a market for this service (though we can only guess at the revenue, since we never seen any actual transactions).But the revenue per sale would have to be pretty significant to offset what must be enormous costs, given that they’re putting astronomical mileage on this truck. They drive to farms of every kind, factories producing ketchup, peanut butter, and pasta, an apiary, and a cranberry bog. (These ingredients are extremely fresh.)

What’s really baffling is that, at most of these locations, the proprietors explain how different food products are farmed/made, packaged, and shipped all around the world. Yet Cookie Monster and Gonger stubbornly insist on going direct to the source for every purchase.

Maybe that’s built into the cost of each dish. If Monster Foodies is charging, I don’t know, $700 for a peanut butter sandwich with immediately-sourced jelly, the math could work. Absent that kind of high-end positioning, I have a hard time seeing how this business breaks even.

Are there secondary opportunities for the business?

Let’s start with the catapult, an admittedly amazing piece of technology that:

  • Flings food to its exact destination without breaking any windows or colliding with any birds
  • Leave the food entirely undamaged and presentable
  • Does not require any special training or data input to operate (Cookie Monster literally just pulls the lever)

The catapult proves that Sesame Street is not part of our world: If a real small business had developed it, Amazon would have stolen the design and stalled the ensuing patent lawsuit for years until Monster Foodies went bankrupt.

Still, this is the product they should be selling. The applications are almost limitless, though inevitably this gets turned into a way for the U.S. military to deliver explosives to targets. Perhaps Gonger knows this (Cookie Monster likely does not, or would ignore this concern if promised enough cookies) and has decided to keep the catapult rather than let it fall into hands he’s ethically uncomfortable with. It’s kind of an Iron Man situation.

There’s another possible revenue stream for Monster Foodies, though it’s just as morally questionable. The children who place orders are likely checking whatever box the Monster Foodies app requires, and giving Cookie Monster and Gonger their parents personal information in the process. They sell it to the highest bidder, and it turns out this food truck was really just a phishing scam.

So yes, there are non-culinary ways this business can work. Cookie Monster and Gonger just have to abandon any principles they might have.

Is the business good for the local community?

Let’s look at where every Monster Foodies segment begins.

Sesame Street

That’s Hooper’s Store, which has been operating on Sesame Street for almost 70 years according to the show’s canon. It’s a combination general store/newsstand/lunch counter, and you can see a customer inside, which means the store’s open. Hooper’s is one of the main places to eat in the neighborhood, and these two park in front of it exclusively.

This decision either ignores what the possible business impact will be to Hooper’s, or knowingly seeks to leech customers from this longstanding small business. (Maybe not all that successfully, given the lack of walk-up purchases, but still.) There are other options; Monster Foodies could set up outside the Fix-It Shop in the same way there’s usually a hot dog truck outside a Home Depot. But they pick Hooper’s every time.

To make matters worse, think back to all those trips Cookie Monster and Gonger make to the farm for pineapples or avocados or milk. Many of those items could be purchased at Hooper’s! One small business could patronize another and run more efficiently in the process! Instead, the staff at Hooper’s has to watch every day as Cookie Monster and Gonger drive dozens, if not hundreds, of miles away to buy from someone else. Can they possibly see this boycott as anything other than petty and cruel?

Ultimately, the real lesson of Monster Foodies has nothing to do with how cinnamon is made or what a corn harvest involves. It’s a far more important lesson for children: There is no ethical consumption – or production – in capitalism.