The call came Friday morning as I was leaving the house. "Ed Levine, this is Sam Schaeffer from Senator Chuck Schumer's office. Tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 p.m. the senator is having a press conference at the Red Hook Soccer Fields to lend his support to the current food vendors. We would like you to come out and say a few words in support of these vendors."
"I'll be there,' I stammered into the phone. After all, we had posted two days before about what serious eaters could do to support the thirteen immigrant families who have been cooking delicious Latino food at the Red Hook soccer fields for the last thirty years.
I arrived at the soccer fields at 12:30. With a half-hour to kill I had time to hit two or three vendors before Senator Schumer and I, along with vendor manager Cesar Fuentes, the local state senator, and A Voce chef-partner Andrew Carmellini were to address the media. I had a pork and cheese huarache the size of my forearm. Excellent. I had a pork and cheese pupusa and ended up tallking to a Ben Benson waiter who was a Red Hook Soccer Fields regular. I was about to head over to the goat taco stand when my cell phone rang. "Ed, it's Sam Schaeffer. The press conference is about to begin." The goat tacos would have to wait.
The turnout was pretty impressive. There were reporters from the New York Post and the New York Daily News as well as numerous local television and radio stations. Bon Appetit editor Andrew Knowlton was there, as was Nina Lalli, who writes Eat for Victory for the Village Voice. Mr. Schaeffer introduced me to Senator Schumer, Cesar Fuentes, and Red Hook's State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz . Senate Schumer addressed the media. He had obviously been thoroughly briefed by his staff, who were clearly serious New York food lovers. Schaeffer had a dog-eared copy of New York Eats (More), the book I had written about New York food that was last published in 1997, before I had even discovered the Red Hook Ballfields food.
Schumer said a lot of things that made sense: "This is a prime example of New York grit and immigrant ingenuity. Many of the vendors work here as a second job. It's a true labor of love. Removing this for something that might make a little more money for the City of New York makes no sense. We don't want McDonald's here."
And: "This park here in Red Hook is what New York is all about. These vendors, they have their roots here. They're like the trees here. You don't uproot the tree that provides shade and substance for an area."
In response, a Parks Department spokesperson said, "Our intention is not to push out the vendors, who we appreciate and want to keep, but to comply with concession regulations."
I know Schumer is a slick, ambitious, microphone and camera-loving politician with multiple agendas, but I have to say I was really impressed with his remarks. He knew what was going on with the Parks Department vis a vis these food vendors, and was able to articulate clearly and convincingly why these vendors were so important to the cultural fabric of New York City and the whole country for that matter. The only thing he didn't tell people was where they could sign the on-line petition.
His remarks were impressive, but they paled in comparison with something else he did to show his support of the vendors. U. S. Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, ordered one of the killer goat tacos. I think he ate the whole thing.
Move over, Hillary. Chuck Schumer for President.
For more in-depth reporting on what was said and done at the Red Hook Soccer Fields on Saturday, check out the Gowanus Lounge.
To show your support for the long-standing Red Hook Soccer Fields food vendors in their efforts to secure a long-term concession permit, please write adrian.benepe @parks.nyc.gov. And head to the Red Hook Soccer Fields as often as you can before September 9th, when the current vendor permit is supposed to expire. And have a goat taco. They rock.
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