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Now or Never


THERE WAS A LITTLE MANTRA we used to chant around here for the first few years—when we hand delivered every copy and our balance sheet could fit on a business card: Everybody eats. It was a pretty good little confirmation and justification for our niche existence, and we figured it was the underlying natural law that kept us going and growing for a decade. Our raison d’etre was (and is) to keep people in and out of the Hudson Valley aware of what (we believe) is good to eat and where to get it, regardless of their social, economic, political, cultural or religious requirements or restrictions. Everybody eats, but not everybody eats pork, and hardly anybody eats seitan, though the people who make it swear up and down it’s delicious.

As bad as the jokes get at times, we manage to keep a fair-to-middling sense of humor and a moderate level of amazement that we’re still here, still producing this little magazine, despite the odds. By any account, the food consciousness (if there is such a quantifiable thing) has risen almost everywhere in the valley. The explosion of farmers’ markets, the emphasis and importance of seeking local products as much a possible, and the growth of regional wines and spirits and the niche culinary markets for herbs, mesclun, meats, dairy products, breads, gourmet oils and vinegars—things that seem common today, even mundane, did not enjoy this level of popularity 10 years ago (in some cases, the concepts didn’t even exist).

But the proverbial shine is off the apple, it seems. To be honest, we’re not as happy as we were a year ago. We don’t have quite the same kick of confidence or satisfaction when we attend a soft opening of a restaurant or market. The food business is brutal anyway, and current economic conditions have left many restaurateurs we know shaking their heads. A couple of years ago, when gas and oil prices first began to chip away at what economists call “discretionary income,” the weekly dinner out became the monthly dinner out, then not even that. Then the real estate market softened and lots of the easy money went south. Now the big money houses, which floated billions on non-collateralized residuals, are bust—except that our government has decided to bail them out. You see, no matter how stupid they are, no matter how badly they run their businesses, the corporate rich in this country no longer go broke—they’re given the equivalent of a foreign aid package. A fraction of that money could help hundreds of Northeastern farmers get new equipment or irrigation systems, or give them mortgage or tax relief to ease them through a bad harvest year.

Ordinarily, the misfortunes that befall the high and mighty would be fodder for comedy. But it’s no longer funny—the profiteering, golden parachutes and government bailouts underscore the truly frightening reality we will face this winter: What was once the hard-working “OK, it’s Friday, let’s go bowling” middle class has been split into those who can afford to eat and pay their utility bills, and the working poor who, as fuel, food and other costs continue to rise, are being driven to the precipitous choice of eating or staying warm this winter. This is the kind of social stratification that hasn’t been seen in this country on this scale since the 1930s. It’s not fiction.

The incompetence of the current president and the seeming criminality of his cronies is practically irrelevant at this point. Assuming the election will be held as scheduled in November (though the gang’s greed and social objectives led to the apparent hijacking of the last two presidential elections, so almost anything is possible), it should be considered one of the most critical elections in modern history, and is likely to be the most critical election in the lifetime of the youngest generation of voters.

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week is back this April 8-21!