Despite promises that several improvements had been made to avoid the debacle of its inaugural run in 2012, yesterday’s second annual Great GoogaMooga festival in Prospect Park came to an abrupt and soggy end when it was announced the entire day’s programming had been canceled out of general safety concerns and the threat of potential damage to Prospect Park. You can’t fault promoter Superfly for the weather, but news of the cancellation was made public only after hundreds of festivalgoers had turned out and were waiting to get in. Meanwhile, the majority of the hundred-odd vendors were suddenly left with the logistical issue of how to dispense with several thousand portions of everything from precooked lamb ribs to whiskey bread to egg and kale sandwiches. While event co-founder Jonathan Mayers admirably and quickly announced that organizers plan to “find financial solutions” to mitigate those food and labor costs, the general consensus on this puddle-filled Monday morning is that maybe it’s time for GoogaMooga the great and powerful to pack it in once and for all. Here’s why.
• Food waste. Less than a month ago, Mayor Bloomberg announced that 100 restaurants had signed on to a new city initiative designed to divert food waste away from landfills and turn it all into compost. Rain or shine, the potential glut of leftovers and waste at an event the scale of GoogaMooga is staggering and requires an effective plan to avoid the kinds of chaotic losses Heritage Radio noted were happening throughout the venue after the cancellation was announced yesterday. Other large-format events, like the annual Specialty Foods Show held for the trade at the Javits Center, have a well-developed and robust plan for waste, which is removed from the venue with alacrity once it ends and, for the most part, is donated to food banks.
• Even after improving, the festival couldn’t catch a break. Last year, long lines, dwindling pork-belly supply, and one fried-chicken fistfight made for an interesting three days of craft beer, indie music, and small-batch food in the park. But it also pissed a lot of people off. “We’ll improve,” said co-founder Rick Farman. “First year, always a lot to learn.” Accordingly, many changes were announced, and on Friday and Saturday this year, lines were down considerably, and there was more than enough food to go around. But now it seems organizers are ready to throw in the towel. Though the festival is already rumored to be expanding to Chicago in August, its future in Brooklyn seems less certain. “I think we all worked so hard so that this could be an annual event,” Mayers told the Braiser yesterday, “but right now we’ll take things as they come and we’re focused on finalizing this year and that’s it.”
• It may be outdoors, but it’s not taking us anywhere new. Even if the festival’s format allows chefs and restaurateurs to tinker with the kinds of things they regularly serve, GoogaMooga’s vendor lineup still consists mostly of local restaurants. As Bloomberg critic Ryan Sutton writes: “Maybe we don’t really need GoogaMooga’s particular brand of an NYC food festival because maybe it’s just bringing together NYC restaurants we can already visit any day of the week, except here, they’re outside.”
• It’s not worth it. City Room reports the Prospect Park alliance gets $75,000 from GoogaMooga’s organizers, but the cost of the festival is the destruction of Prospect Park’s grassy areas. Others lament the intrusion of a for-profit group into a space that belongs to the people of New York City and the alighting of hundreds of Porta Potties onto a space used by thousands for respite, meditation, and exercise.
In theory, Grub Street likes the idea of something like GoogaMooga (and our parent, New York, is a media sponsor), but in practice, the festival is zero-for-two after yesterday’s rainout, and more than ever it seems like organizers may have a difficult time enlisting vendors for a third go. What are your thoughts on all of this? Have we reached an era of peak food festivals?