Red Hook Food Vendors Respond to Health Dept. Enforcement
If you've been following the numerous threats to the existence of the Latino vendors at the Red Hook Ballfields, you know that the latest comes from the Department of Health, which discovered the vendors this month and started cracking down on them for a variety of reasons. After a couple of meetings and outlining both problems and needed solutions, health inspectors have been making the rounds with clipboards. Cesar Fuentes, who heads the Red Hook Vendors Committee and negotiates with the city on their behalf sent out an update late last night. He says that the Department appears is willing to let the vendors live out the season and says they've shown "good will," but that some of the "solutions" it wants are a long-term threat to the vendors. (Assuming they overcome the main hurdle, which is securing a long-term contract from the Parks Department.)
Among the issues the Department cited are no hot and cold running water, not enough ice to keep food cold, vendors operating without mobile vendors' licenses and some vendors preparing food at home. Solutions include portable running water and a freezer truck or more coolers with ice. The vendors would also need a mobile kitchen truck, individual food service pushcarts or be require to prepare food in a DOH approved establishment (restaurant, community kitchen, etc.). Vendors (and assistants) would also have to get licenses and get all the training required by the Health Department.
Here's some of what Mr. Fuentes writes:
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.We truly hope that all of the extra demands being placed on these mom and pop vendors doesn't end up making it infeasible for them to continue--assuming the Parks Department's bidding process doesn't kill the entire affair.
While we are fully commited to meet and\or 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 committee 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, accommodating 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 and\or 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.
Labels: Red Hook