As Grub Street and others reported yesterday, a letter written last Thursday by Senator Chuck Schumer to Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Friedman may have prevented the forcible closure of the Red Hook Ball Field food vendors this past weekend. While this seems to be a small victory for the food purveyors, doubt remains whether the operating season for the newly food safety-certified vendors will end just after Labor Day, or at the end of October, the date observed by the vendors for the last few decades.
At stake are many issues, encompassing permits, profits, use of public parks, and food safety. The Department of Health is busy calling for refrigerated trucks, more ice for perishable food, hand sinks, and wastewater containment systems. On the other side are people who love the food at the Red Hook Ball Fields, and consider the weekend gathering a bona fide New York institution. It’s not just famous chefs who praise the authenticity and vibrancy of the food- Schumer called the vendors “a cherished community phenomenon” in his letter. David Byrne just visited the ballfields and enjoyed some pupusas and huraches while pondering the plight of the neighborhood.
That phenomenon is still very much endangered. As far as the issue of food safety is concerned, there is no clear-cut solution to the hygiene gauntlet thrown down by the Department of Health. Despite the fact that the intensive food manager’s safety course was taken by more than 60 vendors last week (they passed), it seemingly remains that the DOH will always have a large grab-bag of potential critical violations at their disposal to slap on the Red Hook vendors. And when it isn’t about the health code, it’s about that permit process.
Yesterday, J. Slab of The Porkchop Express, which has become the de facto outlet for Red Hook vendor information and news, reported on Schumer’s statement of support, and also on Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s recent letter in favor of the vendors. Slab has all of the latest ball fields vendor information, as well as many updates from Cesar Fuentes, their official representative. Visit Porkchop Express for the whole story and up-to-date news, but also visit the ball fields. If Red Hook is out of your way this Labor Day weekend, J. Slab has a list of NYC Council members to contact with your letters of support, and more importantly, information about an upcoming hearing that will determine the future of the vendors. In addition to his advocacy, Fuentes has even set up a MySpace page for the group.