So, You Think You Want to Go to a Food Festival?

Here's a warning: That food festival you're hell-bent on attending might be terrible. It might, on the other hand, be an utterly delicious frolic. All this really depends on you.

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Here's a warning: That food festival you're hell-bent on attending might be terrible. It might, on the other hand, be an utterly delicious frolic. All this really depends on you.

It is long-held tradition that with the warming seasons comes the need to gather in the out-of-doors among crowds and attempt to eat things off of paper or otherwise disposable plates and drink things out of plastic cups. Sometimes people do this en masse, buying tickets for the privilege of eating food from some of the best restaurants in their towns at something generically termed a "food festival." These exist all over the country, but there is one in particular that's gotten a lot of attention, and it's again on the horizon. It happens this very weekend, in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. This is, of course, the "Great GoogaMooga." Last year, a lot of people became very angry about said Mooga (to occasional comedic effect) because it was too difficult to get food, because the lines were too long, because the prices were too high, because there was no cell-service, because of the barbaric nature of the event (everyone swarming the food offerings, and an actual fist-fight over fried chicken!) because they didn't get a thing to eat, because the bathroom line was abysmal, because everything at a food festival can and will be terrible if you want it to be. (Apply this to any food festival near you.)

Other poor souls complained that their park was taken up by food festival types.

That's the thing. It's a food festival. If you don't want to pay money and then wait in line among crowds to get some food, and maybe find that vendors have run out of food, and maybe get sunburned, or rained upon, or sweaty, or have to wait in line to pee, maybe you should make a sandwich at home and bring it to (a different part of) the park and eat it under the shade of a beautiful tree and then go back home again and sit in the air conditioning.

Nonetheless, those who irrationally (or maybe rationally) hate food festivals are gearing up to get peeved again, because it's that time of year again. And already, people are complaining, though it's really just a rehash of last year's complaints because the festival hasn't happened yet. According to Michael Kaplan, writing in the New York Post, people are "Fed Up!" Because ... last year, vendors ran out of food and drink. People got sunburned (and were still hungry!). Lines were too long. "It's as expensive as going to a restaurant," said one, but "not as good as going to a restaurant." One woman "barely fended of dehydration" when she had to wait in line to buy water. Food festival outrage is not reserved for GoogaMooga. At another event called Le Grand Fooding, which took place a few years ago in New York, the price of the $50 ticket did not convey its worth in tasty delights. 

So why, oh why, would anyone want to go to a food festival? Frankly, I'm not sure, but I presume "it's fun," "it's something to do," "I want to try a smattering of that stuff without going to a restaurant," "I'm in the industry," "the weather's going to be beautiful," "I like the headliners" (in this case, at GoogaMooga, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and "Why not go to a food festival?" might have something to do with it. Enough people are convinced that this thing might be good that two of the three days of this year's Mooga have been sold out. Organizers, who did issue refunds for some ticket holders last year, promise infrastructure will be better this time around, and will include temporary cell towers, whew.

Still, even if it is better, perhaps there should be a bit of psychological preparation done before one attends a food festival. It's not a restaurant. It's a collection of pop-up venues offering some food. You are going to have to wait in line, unless you get there first, or maybe second. The vendors might run out of food. You might get hot and thirsty. You should probably wear sunscreen. There will be loads of other people there. It could be noisy. The food temperature might not be ideal. There could be bugs. There might be shoving! You might not be able to eat at a table. You may, in the end, not feel that you've gotten your money's worth. You will certainly feel that you haven't dined in a restaurant. You can remedy some of these problems by paying even more money, like one participant: "Her friend obtained a Fast Pass ($125, with $100 redeemable on food and drink), allowing her to jump the lines while Diamond held a table." (Be aware: If you pay more money, you might have to complain more.) You can have a game plan — get there early, strategically target lines, eat precisely $50 worth of food! You can bring a blanket to sit on, and some water to drinkYou can grin and bear it.

Or you can just not go to a food festival. There are, after all, plenty of restaurants, if that's what you're after. One thing that's worse than a food festival is hearing people complain about the terrible trials they faced at a food festival. On the other hand, sometimes complaining is its own sort of pleasure.

Inset: "Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill's life-changing Fried Chicken" via Flickr/Meng He. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.