Sweet, Sweet Justice

Feb 17 2015 | 04:04 AM

New York street vendors team up with local farmers for a truly delicious cause If you care about food politics in this town, most likely you fall into one of two camps: the local, sustainable, 50-mile-diet types or the ethnic representation, "give me authenticity or give me death" boosters. Frankly, even if you had secret tendencies to swing both ways, you didn't really have the option. In an effort to preserve the purity of their ingredients, so-called farm-to-table restaurants are often unbearably dull, serving the same stripped-down dishes in which no spices are allowed to sully their precious produce. Conversely, one of the prime tenets of the ethnic food restaurant is "Thou shalt not overcharge," something that has become both blessing and curse to a sector that wants to draw and attract customers within the immigrant and recent expat community, many of whom aren't aiming for a night out at Nobu, and gain respect and attention from the dining community at large. Local ingredients often come at a premium, it's true, but that need not always be the case. Many local produce providers are small business people looking to make a dent in a crowded field that is constantly under threat from Big Ag, and many traditional vendors, who work 16-hour-plus days, would use better ingredients if there were an easy way for them to purchase them. That connection first struck Helena Tubis and Robert LaValva in an idle conversation about the direction of their two organizations. Tubis, managing director of the Street Vendor Program's Vendy Awards, said, "We were just talking about the projects we had going on and it seemed like such a natural combination. There are a lot of small farmers that are looking to scale up, provide to businesses rather than just to individuals at a market. And street food often uses off cuts of meat, the sort of products that don't necessarily sell well at markets, so it benefits both sides tremendously." The idea was an event that would match up her organization's members, the front line of the city's pioneering street vendor community, and LaValva's New Amsterdam Market suppliers, up-and-coming local food craftspeople and farmers. The result is this weekend's International Meats Local. Five of the city's most highly regarded street vendors, from five very different culinary traditions, will line up at the New Amsterdam market on Sunday and serve their classics, made as much as possible with ingredients provided by the market's vendors. For $20 ? $30 for early-bird admission, always a good idea at an event where lines are inevitable and hungry stomachs can't wait-visitors can enjoy each of the offerings, supporting the idea of street vendor food with a mission, or local food with flavor, as you see fit. "They're all Vendy Award participants," Tubis explained, "so they're all delicious, and we wanted to take the opportunity to showcase the diversity of New York street food." Participating in the event are Solber Pupusas, specialists in the Salvadoran stuffed masa cakes and members of the organically evolved Red Hook Ballfield vendor community; Veronica's Kitchen, a Financial District legend for Caribbean favorites like oxtail, callaloo and jerk chicken; Eggstravaganza, a Midtown breakfast cart that became so well-loved it started sticking around through the lunch rush; Guadalupe's Tamales, what started as a one-woman operation on a Bushwick street corner and became a pilgrimage point for homesick Mexican expats; and A-Pou's Taste, whose Taiwanese pot stickers keep late-night East Villagers happy while serving a need for that particular dumpling style, with a sweeter, more spice-heavy pork filling than the commonly found Northern Chinese version. "We see this as an exciting first step toward helping all our vendors better their businesses by providing local, sustainable food," Tubis said. "Ideally, we'll have street vendors all over New York City someday, serving culturally relevant, interesting, diverse food that is as healthy, sustainable and local as possible." For tickets, visit internationalmeatslocal.eventbrite.com.