What It Takes to Feed 900,000 Sweaty Ravers
"Some take drugs, others get heat stroke, but all of them have to eat."
A version of this article originally appeared on MUNCHIES Switzerland.
For over 26 years now, roughly 900,000 techno fans dance for an entire day every year in August by the lake in Zurich, Switzerland. They drink, sweat, and wear the wildest outfits. Some take drugs, others get heat stroke, but all of them eventually have to eat. Jessica Fall has them covered. She’s responsible for the market stands at the Street Parade. It’s a job she’s been doing since 2015—and it's safe to say she's witnessed a lot.
On the day of the Street Parade, Jessica starts work at 4:45AM and her shift doesn’t end until 20 hours later, when the last people from the Street Parade begin to pull themselves back into the city’s clubs to keep partying.
The work Jessica does for the thousands of hungry dancing people who attend isn’t just limited to one day of the year. She begins organizing the stands and what they’ll offer months in advance. This requires her to negotiate with stand operators from Switzerland and surrounding countries. The day of the Street Parade itself is long, often very hot and, above all, stressful for her, her team, and the food stand operators. Sure, sometimes expectations clash, which leads to conflicts. Jessica talked to us about the types of situations she has to battle with from year to year.
“There are many stand operators who've been coming [to the Parade] for years and know how things work. And then there are always a few who, despite having come for years, seem to enjoy . getting on my nerves. Because I have a lot to do in the lead-up to the parade, you can imagine I’d prefer it if you bombarded me with your questions by email or phone.
But there’s one stand operator who always waltzes right into our offices unannounced and then ruins my day. He pays for the stand operating fees in cash—and for all I know, maybe he’s trying to pull a fast one on us, because his dues are sometimes short. He also always tries to discuss the size of his stands. And despite coming here for close to ten years, he still somehow hasn’t understood that there are certain things that we won’t simply change just for him.”
“There are always people—men—who simply can’t wrap their heads around why I’m not the person responsible for the market stands at the Street Parade. 'You’re too pretty for a job like this' or 'you should be a dancer on the stage' are lines I've heard more than once. I know it’s probably meant as a compliment, but every time it happens, it’s a rather uncomfortable conversation to have.”
“The Street Parade is financed thanks to sponsors. That includes our drink sponsors, who we ensure, in exchange, that they are (aside from our own bars and VIP areas) the only ones who can sell drinks. Because of this, I always have to tell stands that they can’t sell drinks. 'Even water or beer?' is often the first immediate reaction that I hear. Yeah, people, no water or beer. Both are liquids and both can be consumed, so they count as drinks.
There was one instance I thought was particularly shameless: after being told about the prohibition, one person emailed me and said that she’d simply sell her beer out of a shopping cart throughout the crowd instead of directly at the stand. She even thanked me for my 'advance warning.'
There was another person who totally ignored my warnings and stocked up on 200 cans of beer. When his stand was inspected, he tried to claim they were for personal use. But no two people can drink that much beer and still run a business.”
“At every street food festival or market, you have to pay stand operating fees. That’s entirely normal in this business. But despite this, there are always those who think they can screw us over. One time someone forged a payment voucher for the rent that had to pay for the stand. Only 35 Franks were paid, but on the receipt stood 2,000 Franks. This person sent me a photo of the receipt after having altered it in Photoshop. Naturally I had to report him to the police.
What upsets me the most is that this person came to us relatively late and had totally lucked out: another stand operator had pulled out just before. I was able to offer him a really great spot and even give him a good price offer. I was accommodating and was scammed in return. Something like that really makes a person distrustful going forward, even though 90 percent of the other stand operators have worked with us openly and honestly.”
“Not everyone has the same view of food hygiene. This is something I discover every year. I was really shocked, though, the time I caught a food stand operator hanging fish in the sun to dry. To this day I still don’t know why he thought it was a good idea.”
Things can be done differently
“But occasionally something good can come from stressful situations like these. A few years ago, one of the stand operators was upset that he couldn’t set up bar tables in front of his stand. They were outside of his allotted area. There was simply nothing we could do. I didn't make the rule to harass people; the City of Zurich did due to safety concerns—to keep escape routes clear and ensure that guests can move freely without risk.
After the Street Parade ended, the enraged stand operator came to our office and apologized for his behavior. To make amends, he brought us a cake he’d baked himself with the Street Parade logo on it. Although he’d acted like a total ass before, this was a nice gesture I didn’t anticipate.”
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