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Cesar Fuentes, who organizes and runs the Latin food vendor operations in Red Hook Park, dropped an email in our box this morning detailing the current Health Department situation. There’s some good news, in the short term: the Health Department made a deal with the vendors that they could finish the season (which goes into the fall) if the cooks and their “assistants” (ie: brothers, daughters, etc.) took food food protection courses. Cesar reports that over 60 people have completed the course, so things look good — for now…
As a new page unfolds in the struggle to preserve our affair, we feel it is important to provide you with an update on the latest developments affecting our normal operation, as well as our perspective on it.
About 3 weeks ago -1st week of Aug.-, I was told by NYC Parks Dept.(Parks) about the NYC Health Dept.’s(DOH) interest in inspecting our operation that weekend. An impromptu meeting was held on Saturday Aug. 8/4 in Red Hook Park’s Recreation center between officials from Parks, DOH, and NYC District 38th Councilmember Sara Gonzalez and myself in representation of the food vendors. An inspection of the food stands followed by DOH Asst. comm. Robert Edmond, who made recommendations onsite and stated a full list of health-related concerns found in our operation would follow. I was called to a meeting on 8/8/07 that was held at DOH offices, where I met with DOH Assoc. Comm. Elliot Marcus and other DOH and Parks representatives to discuss such list. Some the outsdanding andor critical issues found were the following:
-There is no hot and cold running water.
-There is not enough ice to keep foods cold.
-No food preparation at home.
-Vendors are operating in the park illegally (lack of proper mobile vendors’ licenses, food protection course, etc.).
Some of the remedies to these issues as suggested by DOH include:
-Provide portable running water and grey water containment system(s).
-Acquire a freezer truck or at the very least, maintain enough ice in coolers.
-Acquire a mobile kitchen truck, individual food service pushcarts or at the
very least, prep. foods in a DOH approved establishment (restaurant, community kitchen, etc.)
-Vendors (and their assistants) should acquire all licenses and trainings required by DOH and any other city agencies with jurisdiction over our affair, if they are to continue operating the market.
DOH inspectors have been assigned to come down and observe our operation every weekend since these meetings took place. They have done so religiously, inspecting every stand and making on-the-spot corrections (about food prep. & handling) to each vendor as needed. A temptative agreement was reached between DOH and our committee, by which DOH would allow our operation to continue until the end of the season, provided all vendors (and their assistants) take a 2-day, 8 hour food protection course and be in compliance of the critical issues mentioned above. All vendors & assistants committed their time and effort to attending this course, which was set for 8/20 & 8/21. I am proud to report 60+ people attended & passed the required test.
While we are fully commited to meet andor comply with any rules or regulations that may govern our affair in order to preserve & continue this most beloved tradition, we feel it is very important to portray our perspective on this situation. For most of its 33 years of existence, the Red Hook food vendors have -and continue to- operate from small, modest, and traditional food stands that reflect traditional Mercados (food markets or Bazaars) found in small towns across Latin America. Very little has changed in its appeareance throughout the years. Although to some it may seem unappealing, or even unsanitary to eat from these food stalls, some of the most authentic, delicious, and traditional Latin American dishes that are now becoming part of the American culinary mainstream, such as the taco, pupusa, and huarache, hail their origins -and earned their fame- from such establishments. Much of the methods involved in the preparation of this ethnic dishes are still faithful to their origins.
In complying with DOH regulations, these artisan vendors are now faced with the difficult task of adapting tradition in order to meet these standards. While some of these regulations are common sense and easy to comply, such as licenses & permits, some others -such as a possible requirement of heavy mobile equipment or push-carts for each vendor, or the provision of permanent running water- will be more difficult as it may require major capital investment that the vendors or our committe cannot afford. In addition, and provided we are successful in winning the Parks permit which would grant us right to operate our affair for seasons to come, DOH won’t allow our affair in its current form and without every vendor and their assistants being fully licensed.
It is important for us at this moment to assure all our patrons that the quality of the foods served by the food vendors is still held at the same standards- as it has been for over 30 years- our patrons have come to exect. There is love, care, and tradition behind every plate served by the artisan vendors.
It is also very important to understand DOH’s enforcement was not caused by a food-related complaint. Their explanation of this sudden enforcement is based on the fact that our humble affair went under their radar until we became prominent. We understand that their intention is to protect the consumer & we agree with that. In addition, we must thank their decision not to strictly enforce and close our affair at once. Instead, their decision to train the vendors, accomodating to their schedules & waiving a fee shows good will towards the vendors. Parks Dept. has also been increasingly helpful and sensitized to our needs, assuring our group assistance and support to help comply with DOH’s demands andor requirements.
In all truth, it is because of your staunch support, advocacy, and requests to local elected officials on our behalf that we still have a fighting chance to preserve our affair. Special thanks to Sen. Schumer’s office (Sam Schaeffer), as well as the offices of councilmember DiBlasio, congresswoman Velasquez, and congressman Nader for their offering of support. Above all, our staunchest advocate and official ‘spokesblog’ the Porkchop Express, and councilwoman Sara Gonzalez, who went above and beyond to make time of her busy schedule and come on last moment’s notice to personally represent us and her constituents before Parks and DOH officials. Her presence certaintly sent a message of solidarity and strenght from all parties interested in preserving our affair.
Our deepest thanks to all.
Food Vendors Committee of Red Hook Park Inc.
PO box 48
New York, NY 10159
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