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The Water Table


QUICK—NAME ONE ESSENTIAL ingredient in virtually every recipe in this issue. (Hint: It’s not truffle oil; it’s not Himalayan salt, either.) Quick—what’s the single most volatile sociopolitical issue worldwide? (Hint: It’s not oil.)

What we’re talking about here, it should be obvious, is water, plain and simple. (Well, maybe not so plain and certainly not simple.) Too little, or too much, and there would be no 2003 Amarone della Valpolicella, no Kumamoto oysters, no Louisiana shrimp gumbo, and certainly no Florida oranges or California melons. Nor, for that matter (as many found out last year), would we have local onions, garlic, tomatoes or beef. While much of our attention is directed toward assuring an adequate and safe food supply, and all of us by now are conscious of both mandated and voluntary water conservation measures, the problems associated with “the water issue” have yet to affect many of us here in the Hudson Valley. We’ve talked about it briefly in these pages, but like some mouse chewing away in the bedroom ceiling every night at 3 o’clock, we continue to be reminded the problem is still there and it’s not going away anytime soon.

Never one to shy away from a friendly argument, my brother reminded me recently that water is at the core of what we’re about and that we should pay more attention to it—that it is, in fact, the food issue of the current millennium. (Never one to shy away from a friendly argument, I reminded him that for years we struggled with exactly that issue when we worked for a conservation organization but now we’re on to other things.) Now, he reminded me, while we postulate over the differing definitions of “organic” versus “sustainable” and the proper cooking time for grass-fed beef versus grain-fed beef, multinational business interests (including those of a former president) are very quietly buying up not oil resources (as one would expect), but water resources, worldwide. If this is true, it would be the mother of all conspiracy theories and in one swoop would prove the grand thesis of the post-industrial world: Control oil and you control industry, agriculture and economics; control water and you control life itself.

You don’t have to look very far to see impending problems related to our own water supply and reserves. There is, apparently, growing political and economic pressure being put on New York City to share its upstate water reserves with upstate communities, some of which are at, or even beyond, the capacity of their own fresh water supplies. We’ve only seen the tip of the legal iceberg in the controversy over who should get first dibs on what water is left—agricultural interests, emerging residential areas or new manufacturing facilities. Do the needs of any one of these interests out weigh the needs of the others? Should environmental safeguards be scrapped to favor one segment of a community over another? Do short-term economic benefits justify the possible long-term damage to water resources? These are questions being asked in the Hudson Valley right now—ask anyone in Monroe or Napanoch what they think and get ready for an earful.

Like that annoying mouse in the ceiling, we’re reminded of this problem almost daily, and certainly whenever we go out to eat. (“What kind of water do you prefer: sparkling, bottled, or chlorine from the tap?”) The answer is not quite as obvious as it appears.

Nonetheless, the holiday season is upon us and we’d be remiss if we didn’t extend our best wishes for a happy and safe time to all. Just don’t forget to water the tree.

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